How to Treble Your Trade Show Results

How to Treble Your Trade Show Results


Trade and consumer exhibitions offer great business opportunities. They are a means for companies to achieve a range of different objectives through one versatile and far-reaching medium. They should not be treated as a ‘store away from the store’ however, which is a mentality that persists amongst exhibitors and limits the overall success of the show.

“Exhibitions are not another form of retailing,” says Joy Donovan, founder of the Trade Show and Event Training Company and a stalwart of the local events industry. “Many companies exhibit at shows because their competitors are there and previous shows have attracted thousands of visitors. Typically, upper management or the company’s ownership makes the decision to secure a stand, then they staff it with students because the sales reps should be out selling and not wasting their time at a show and they measure the show’s success by how many bodies passed through the stand.

“The problem is that unlike a retail store, exhibition stands are about showcasing a company or product, not selling goods there and then. The approach needs to be completely different. In order for a company to truly get the most from its exhibition experience, management needs to have a clear picture of what it wants to achieve with the expo and how that goal can be reached.”

Donovan is quick to point out that exhibitions have proved to be a highly successful form of marketing, experiencing year-on-year growth of 10% each year. “But simply being at an expo does not mean it will be a success,” she warns. “The tool is there, companies just need to know how to use it.” Here are five ways to ensure that your business makes the most of exhibitions and trade shows instead of wasting time and money without reaping any rewards:

1. Set multiple objectives

Potential exhibitors should determine their objectives in exhibiting at a show before signing up. Objectives can help a company determine the right show, what size their stand should be and how many people need to staff the stand. “Objectives are a crucial first step to exhibiting because they allow companies to ask the questions: what is valuable to me, what do I want to achieve with this show and who is my target market?” explains Donovan.

Objectives can be diverse and far-reaching, which is one of the beauties of expos: they are the ideal platform to achieve multiple goals.

Depending on a company’s situation, objectives can range from building a contact base and generating sales leads, to marketing a new product, researching brand awareness, finding distributors or agents, or even solving customer problems and enhancing the company’s image.

“There are over 100 standard objectives that companies should consider, although successful exhibitors will narrow their list down to between seven and 12 key objectives and most companies have between three and five,” adds Donovan. Each objective should have its own target audience. By identifying the correct target audience, potential exhibitors can then choose the right show and how they are going to approach the entire expo experience.

“A good example of the importance of identifying your target audience is the case of an author of children’s books with whom I worked a few years ago,” says Donovan. “He kept thinking his target audience was the parents of children who bought his books. What he needed to realise was the fact that those parents were not buying the books directly from him. They would buy the books from a store. Therefore, his target audience needed to be retailers. He ended up exhibiting at a pharmaceutical expo and securing contracts with pharmacists who then sold his books in their stores.”

2. Pre-show promotions

According to Donovan, one of the biggest mistakes exhibitors make is thinking of an expo as a three-day show. “Exhibitions are a 365-day show,” she notes, explaining that of the marketing spend dedicated to an expo, 50% should be spent on the stand and 50% on marketing, with 15% on pre-show marketing, 10% on demos and show marketing and 25% on post-show follow-up marketing.

For exhibitors, shows are the ideal opportunity to connect with their client base, not only during the show, but before and after as well. “Companies should tailor promotions or special events around the show,” says Donovan. “This provides them with the perfect opportunity to interact with their client base through pre-show information and invitations.

”It is better to mail 100 people ten times, than 1 000 people once. The trick with shows is that you can add value to these mails through special promotions for visitors or personal invitations to events held at the show, or even lunch with the MD. Because these mails have value, they are not annoying your customers. It’s fantastic marketing,” she adds. “Find a way to tap into your clients’ needs. If you get the angle right, you’ll not only attract people to your stand, but you can enjoy months of interactive pre-show contact with clients who are perhaps not always as responsive to your communiqués.”

3. On-stand promos and demos

Your stand needs to attract visitors. Simply creating a fancy stand and filling it with pamphlets is not enough. Find an angle, promote a new product, and get smart and creative in how you present your company.

“There are two exhibitors that stand out for me in terms of creative use of space,” says Donovan. “The first was a designer who had just launched a beachwear line. He had limited funds and could not compete in terms of investment with some of the bigger exhibitors, so he got creative instead. He invited local art students to paint a beach scene as his backdrop, he filled the stand with sand, brought his cane furniture from home, and sat in his ‘beach paradise’ with a live parrot on his shoulder. The stand was an instant hit.

“Another interesting exhibitor was a pharmaceutical company that had developed an Alzheimer’s drug. Little pills are not interesting, and so instead of having pamphlets describing Alzheimer’s and what the medication does, the company set up a camera that was linked to a computer and TV monitor. Visitors to the stand could have their pictures taken, and then a programme on the computer would age them by 30 years. Suddenly Alzheimer’s was more of a reality to the visitors, and the demo garnered huge interest. Once again, through simple ingenuity the stand was a great success.”

Natalie Naude, MD of Three City Events and national chair of the Exhibition Association of South Africa (EXSA), draws attention to the importance of face-to-face marketing and utilising the press. “Face-to-face marketing is a powerful force that can help you achieve strategic and long-term relationships for your brand,” she says. “Expos allow you an unparalleled opportunity to educate your customers and offer them the chance to physically interact with your brand.”

In terms of the media, stands that attract attention will receive free publicity from members of the press who have been invited to the show. “Give your stand a unique angle, promote a new product or find a way to make an old product fresh and you will have instant, free publicity,” she explains.

Donovan also advises on the importance of putting the right amount of people on the stand and understanding how their time should be utilised. “Exhibitors often start a show believing they will speak to thousands of people over the course of three days, which is completely unrealistic,” she adds.

“Over the course of three, eight-hour days, the stand will be manned for a total of 24 hours,” she elaborates. “If each sales person spends 15 minutes with a client or potential client, never leaves the stand and is constantly talking to someone, at the absolute maximum they will speak to 96 people during the course of the show. Realistically that number is closer to 75.” In other words, companies need to be discerning about who they attract to their stands, focusing on the right clients rather than numbers alone.

4. Post-show lead management

It’s vitally important to remember that the show doesn’t end with the exhibition. According to Donovan, 80% of trade show leads are never followed up. “This is a worldwide statistic,” she says. “The 20% that are followed up are the clients who wanted to buy then and there at the show. Anyone who showed interest but did not place an order is ignored.” Donovan often conducts an exercise in which she attends a show and leaves her business card with various exhibitors. In many cases she does not receive a single follow-up call after the show.

Follow-ups are the process by which a sales representative makes contact with the client or potential client after the initial contact, which in this case has taken place at an expo. Without follow-ups, the company cannot know whether the potential client is interested in its product or service, whether the client wants to do business, or what the client’s needs and values are.

“You get the best result after your seventh post-show contact,” Donovan insists. “This is why value-adds are so important. Hold a competition, follow up on an event you hosted, send a post-expo gift, anything to maintain that contact and generate leads. That’s what expos are about, but if there is no follow-up after the three days are done, the opportunity has very likely been missed entirely.”

5. Stand-staff selection

Having the right staff on your stand is crucial. “Many companies don’t put their best salespeople on their stands because they want them doing ‘real’ work,” says Donovan. “That is their first error. Visitors to a stand want their questions to be answered. They view how they are treated at the stand as how their relationship with the company will be, so it’s important to get that first impression right.”

Naude agrees. “People buy from people they like, it’s as simple as that,” she says. “When you look into a prospective customer’s eyes and create a personal relationship, you are already half way towards achieving the key objectives of your brand.” According to Naude, in an exhibition environment companies have the possibility to connect to their most active and motivated buyers, so it’s important for you to research your potential buyers and really understand what it is they value in a business relationship and what they are looking for in a product or service.

“Once you understand that, you can choose the right staff to man the stand. They should relate to your current and potential client base. It’s important for your visitors to trust the people at the stand.”

Maximise Your Exposure

As a potential exhibitor, always remember that:

  • ‘New’ trumps ‘free’ –  people are always more interested in a new product than in receiving freebies they will probably never use
  • Objectives should be specific, measurable, actionable and realistic
  • It doesn’t matter how many people walk through the doors, what matters is how many of your potential customers walk through the doors
  • People buy from people they like, trust and relate to
  • The owner/MD of the company should always be there to show potential customers he is invested in them and he views the show as worthwhile
  • Your success is 100% in your control
  • Trade shows are too expensive to choose ‘ad hoc’ and then hope for success
  • Trade shows level the playing field between small, medium and large businesses

Case Studies

Exhibitor impressions

The Importance of Choosing The Right Expo to Attract The Right Audience

The Culinary Equipment Company exhibited its range of wine-related products at the 2010 Wine Show Jo’burg. This event is one of South Africa’s fastest growing wine trade shows. Open to the public and trade community, visitors taste and buy wines from over 130 wine estates.

The perfect vehicle to build brand awareness

The show is not just a vehicle to promote wine estates, but also features other wine-related products. “This was the Culinary Equipment Company’s third trade show event,” says marketing and design manager Robert Hunt. “Our aim when exhibiting at the show is to build brand awareness and get exposure. Although we sell over 6 000 culinary products, our focus at the show is on specific wine-related products that the target market is interested in. These include glasses, decanters, champagne buckets, cork screws, foil openers, aerators and so on.”

Exposing new products

“The reason that we exhibit at this trade show is that we get a lot of interest in our existing products and it’s a good platform to introduce new product ranges to our target market,” explains Hunt, adding that even though the company didn’t get as many visitors to the stand as it had hoped, nevertheless it was a very successful show for them.

A strong market

This year’s show attracted 200 exhibitors and 8 400 visitors over the course of three days. Visitor spend was over R2 million. “We thought that due to the downturn in the economy the visitors’ spend would be less. Surprisingly, we were wrong. Visitor spend was actually better than the year before,” says Wine Show Jo’burg operations manager, Natalie Campbell.

“We are still waiting for exact figures but 90% of all visitors purchased wine,” she adds.

Creating Brand Awareness

Villa Tuscana Wedding Village exhibits each year at the annual Wedding Expo, one of the most respected and well-attended expos in South Africa. Held twice a year at the Coca-Cola Dome in Northgate Johannesburg, 12 500 people attended the April 2010 event.

Wedding Expo is the right target market

Villa Tuscana Wedding Village is the only purpose-built conference and wedding village in the southern hemisphere. “We always exhibit at this particular show because it works so well for us. Although we focus on weddings at the expo, we also use it as a vehicle to promote conference facilities,” says marketing manager Natalie Frisby.

“Besides a brochure pack, we don’t rely on giveaways of any kind. We are there to create brand awareness, whether it’s for weddings or business conferences, and we achieve this by talking to visitors who come to our stand,” she adds.

Expo success means you have to follow up on leads

“We always get good results because we are very careful to get details from visitors and then follow up. The Wedding Expo runs competitions and we arrange with the organisers to supply us with their database of guests who enter. We then follow up with them after the show is over,” says Frisby.

“This expo is exactly our target market and we work hard to get leads and most importantly, to follow up on each one of them,” she adds.

Nadine Todd
Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.