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Larger businesses know that trade shows are an incredibly valuable resource. Trade shows are a great place to launch a new product, can help to build brand awareness, and are fantastic for networking, among other benefits.
However, small businesses do not always take advantage of all that trade shows have to offer. Often, small business owners are reluctant to attend trade shows as they feel their business is not significant enough. Or other times, small businesses do take the leap only to be intimidated by the strong presence of their competitors, or underprepare and do not reap the potential benefits of the event.
In this article we aim to equip you with the knowledge to attend that next big trade show with confidence and ready to accept the benefits for your business!
Identify Your Goals And Objectives
As with any activity your business conducts, it is important to be clear on your goals and objectives from the start. Why do you want to attend a trade show? What do you want your business to get out of it?
It can be helpful to set detailed sales goals ahead of the event. For example, you may decide you want to make a certain number of sales, sell a certain amount of product, or secure a certain number of leads at the show.
By having a clear picture of your goals and objectives, you can map out what you need to do to get there. This will help with choosing the right trade show (more on this below), as well as your approach to the show itself. You can also use your goals and objectives to decide what level of resources (time, staff and expenses) you should put toward the event.
Choose The Right Show For You
Your choice of show is crucial, especially if it is your first time exhibiting or if your resources mean you are limited in how many shows you can attend. There are many different types of trade shows around which vary in terms of size, industry, audience and format.
Make sure to choose the show which is best suited to your business. You may already have some knowledge of trade shows in your industry, and of course you can research online. Check the list of exhibitors to see if your direct competitors are exhibiting. The higher the number of your competitors who are in attendance, the more likely the event is relevant to your customer, and the more important that you are there to compete.
Ask your contacts – mentors, competitors, peers – for their recommendations. If they have attended shows in the past ask them about their experience: what did they like, and what didn’t they like? Of course, just because a show did or didn’t work for them this doesn’t mean the same will apply to your business. However, you can assess the advantages and disadvantages of each show and stack these up against your own goals and objectives.
Set a Budget
You should treat the trade show like any other project, and of course as a project it must have a strict budget. There are a range of costs associated with attending a trade show, including exhibition costs, show services fees, shipping, promotions, as well as travel and extra wages for staff.
Research these costs well ahead of the show, and preferably before you make a final decision to attend. Set a detailed budget, incorporating as many costs as possible, and track it religiously. Make sure you note down all costs associated in any way with the event. This will be important for afterwards, so that you can assess the success of the show and how this compares to your investment.
Have a Booth Design Which Talks
When setting a budget, make sure to make booth design a priority. Although you may be on a limited budget, booth design is important and shouldn’t be overlooked.
Your booth is crucial to drawing in customers, as well as projecting your brand: a big value of trade shows is as a brand building exercise, after all. Strong booth design elements include interesting shapes, vibrant colours, and distinctive graphics.
Many companies, such as FretFreeProductions, offer options for small businesses which do not cost the earth. Modular designs can be a great option which cater to a low budget while still having an impact. Having a specialised company design and build a customised stand for you can make all the difference.
Prepare Thoroughly In Advance
Preparation is probably more important than the event itself. In the weeks leading up to the trade show, make sure you are fully prepared to take advantage of all the benefits it presents for your business. Put together a sales pitch which is tailored to the event. Think back to your goals and objectives for the event make sure your message ties in with this. Tighten up and practice your pitch in order to be competitive against big brands who may be attending.
Make sure your team is prepared. If you only have a small team, it is even more important that everyone is on the same page and knows what they need to do and what their objectives are for the event.
Push Marketing Before The Event
The impact of your attendance doesn’t have to be limited to the trade show itself. Having a strong pre-show marketing strategy can make a huge difference in getting your customers to come along to the show, and to visit your booth once they’re there.
Let your customer base know will be attending the event. Create some buzz be posting stories and videos about your booth, and your preparations. Reach out to your mailing list via email to tell them how excited you are to be attending the event, and give them the full details so they may come and visit your booth. Send out press releases to local media outlets.
The show should be integrated into your online marketing: fill your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn feeds with exciting updates in the weeks leading up to the event. You could also blog about the upcoming event on your website.
Other than sales, one of the key objectives for any trade show attendee should be to network. With all the main players in your sector in attendance, this is a great opportunity to strengthen and extend your network of contacts.
Don’t overlook the importance of this in your fervour to staff your booth. Make sure you hit the floor and network as much as possible. Take business cards with you as well as any flyers or brochures you have, and hand them out to absolutely everyone you meet. Take the opportunity to connect with other vendors and small businesses even if they do not seem directly relevant to you – you never know when a contact may be useful!
Take Detailed Notes
You will be meeting a large amount of people and having a number of different conversations during the trade show. By sure to keep comprehensive and well organised notes about people you met, details of the conversation and their contact information.
This doesn’t mean just scribbling down a mess of names and phone numbers. There is nothing worse than wanting to follow up a sales lead or potential new supplier but not being able to remember which name it was who worked for the correct supply company, or that important detail about your potential new customer.
It may seem like a time consuming activity in the midst of a busy trade show, but noting everything on the spot before you forget important details will pay off in the long run.
Feel The Pulse Of Your Industry
Trade shows aren’t just about selling and generating sales leads. With most or all of the key people in your industry under one roof, this is the ideal time to pick up on new and emerging trends.
When you can, take a walk around the show and note what your competitors are doing. What are the latest products they are pushing? What sales and marketing strategies are they using? Take a look at their price lists and special offers, to see how they stack up against yours.
Most importantly, take note of which booths are the most successful. This will tell you which tactics and trends are resonating with customers, and which aren’t. This is knowledge you can apply to your next trade show and to your business in general.
Take The Opportunity To Close Sales
One of the biggest challenges for any business is getting the opportunity to talk to sales prospects and close the deal. Cold calling and following up leads can have mixed results (not to mention being intimidating to carry out). However, trade shows present the perfect opportunity to pursue sales prospects without the negative responses. Most people visit trade shows with a view to buy or at least get information on products.
Take full advantage of this and close as many sales as you can while at the trade fair. Don’t afraid to push sales hard: people are here to buy, and already have an interest in your company’s product and services. In this context it is more than appropriate to be direct in asking for a sale.
Try to finalise the sale on the spot rather than scheduling a follow up for later: this is important to take advantage of the buying mood associated with visiting a trade show. That being said, if your prospects aren’t willing to close make sure to set up a follow up appointment on the spot.