Running an exhibition stand is an exhausting job but it can also be one of the most rewarding; seeing first hand your customer’s reaction to all the hard work and effort which has been undertaken to bring new products and services to market is a big pay off for the long hours on your feet at a trade show.
After the first day, no matter what size or type of show it is, the tendency to switch off and zone out as your customers walk by is surprisingly high – costing you potential leads. So how do you survive a trade show or exhibition and how can you make them more productive and profitable for your business? Here are our top ten tips which we have learnt over the many years of designing and building exhibition stands around the world for our clients:
1. Preparation, Preparation, Preparation!
However large or small a trade show is, there will always be a long list of things you need to bring with you, so spend some time making a checklist and keep adding to and referring to it to ensure you have everything you need. From key contacts you want to meet, appointment schedules, business cards, order forms, POS and brochures to the little things often missed such as staplers, Sellotape, pens, empty folders for paperwork and scissors – sometimes the most innocuous items are the ones you find you desperately need!
2. Plan Your Stand Staff
For smaller businesses and sole-traders, it can be very difficult to ensure there are more than one of you available on the stand, but staffing your stand is a really important consideration. Every time your stand is left unattended, it is losing you money, so having someone else with you who can allow you a break every so often, or liaise with customers when the stand is busy is critical. For larger stands, it is not only important that you have enough staff present, but that breaks are scheduled in to ensure everyone doesn’t leave for lunch at the same time! If you are heading to an international event, consider manning your exhibition stand with people who can speak a few foreign languages to cover all bases.
3. Communicate A Dress Code
This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to all dress in suits – it varies industry to industry, but making sure you are smart and reflect your company’s brand and persona properly is important. It is also worthwhile checking the weather during the show, if it is hot outside and the venue is likely to be busy, dress to be smart but comfortable so you can work the whole day maintaining a professional image. Exhibition venues can vary from being too hot to incredibly cold, so comfort is a key consideration for you and your team.
4. Arrive Early
This doesn’t just apply to setting up your stand, it applies to the actual day of trading too. Arriving early gets you the best parking spaces, gives you time to tidy your stand and undertake any final checks but it also gives you time to introduce yourself to the organisers, see who else is exhibiting at the show and do a bit of networking with other exhibitors. If you arrive just in time for the doors to open, you may start the day in a panic if there are problems to sort out.
5. Get to know your neighbours
You never know when you will need the help of a neighbouring stand! From equipment to a spare pair of hands to help you move something on your stand, anything can happen at a trade show so being friendly with those who are exhibiting close by is a good tactic to success. You will want anyone who is not competing with your business to recommend you, and they will want the same - collaborations can really help generate leads at shows.
6. Review Your Stand Display
Once the doors to the show have opened, make sure you are monitoring what is working well and what needs more focus. If your stand is flexible enough, at the end of the first day, see if you can quickly re-configure anything that needs to be improved and if something is working well, look at how you can really capitalise on it the following day. If your competitors are handing out gifts and you don’t have any – make sure your stand is loaded with chocolates and goodies the next day, if your stand is too cluttered with product, take some away and put it in storage somewhere to give your hero products space to breathe and be seen. Being reactive to what is working, will increase your chances of success throughout the show’s duration.
7. Establish A Sales Strategy
Whatever this might be, it should start with not pouncing on visitors and frightening them off! Engaging visitors through eye contact and a friendly face, is all it takes to make the first move. If they respond to that, try to ask a question which is not related to your product or stand; comment on an accessory they are wearing that you admire or asking how far they have travelled, or a simple “how are you” will start a conversation. Then follow that by trying to work out what your visitors are looking at and lead the conversation to that product or service. To be successful at a trade show, you need to be very observant and use those observations to draw your customers into a conversation which drives a sale or creates a lead.
8. Don’t Judge By Appearances
In our experience, some of the most scruffy visitors can be the ones with the biggest budgets, so take time to get to know your visitors and in a gentle but direct way, qualify them by asking specific questions which will help you understand more about them and where they are from. If you find you have a timewaster on your hands, develop an exit strategy to help you politely move onto the next customer as soon as you can. Developing a number of exit strategies directed to different levels of visitor will help you create a hot, warm and cold lead list to work on. It goes without saying, that any hot leads you meet, should be given your undivided attention there and then to ensure they do not head towards your competitors!
9. Data Capture
With GDPR in full swing, sometimes data capture is difficult to achieve, but making sure you collect business cards and make notes next to them for every person you meet, will not only help jog your memory once the show has closed, but it will also provide you with data to use during your follow up, ensuring you are targeting each customer with the right products and you prioritise the leads by how hot or cold they are. It is also prudent to ask each visitor if they would like to join your mailing list, making a note of who said yes, including the date and time to satisfy GDPR legislation.
10. Clear Your Diary
After the show, you will need to make time to undertake all the necessary calls, reports, sample submissions and follow up from the show. This will maximise the likelihood of your leads converting into sales. Setting aside a few days after the show to purely focus on contacting your leads will yield its rewards, so don’t be tempted to put your feet up and rest – the hardest part of attending a trade show is always what comes after it!