Tips for trade shows: Exhibits that sell

Regardless of what industry you are in, there is probably some regional or national trade show designed to showcase the product that you sell. Attending such an event provides your business with an opportunity to gather market information, network with competitors, court new customers, and ultimately generate product sales. Trade show attendance does come with a cost — exhibitor fees, travel costs, meals and staff time, so it is important that you take some preliminary planning steps to maximize the potential for payoff from such an event.

First, identify your purpose for being in the show. Are you there to:

  • Introduce a new product or service,
  • Create awareness for your business,
  • Encourage trial of your product or service,
  • Cultivate potential sales,
  • Keep pace with or ahead of competition or
  • Generate positive public relations?

Determining your objective/s will give direction to every aspect of your company’s trade show participation. They become the basis of your marketing strategies, budgets, exhibit architecture, graphics, products, literature and staffing.

Secondly, develop a pre-show marketing plan. About 76 percent of trade show attendees leave home already having decided which booths they want to visit. On average, attendees spend time at 25-30 booths per show, about half of which were on their original list. It’s important to develop pre-show promotions that will make attendees regard your booth as a must-see. Use any or all of the following techniques to let people know that you will have a booth at an upcoming event:

  • Take advantage of local media specials offered in conjunction with the show — i.e. publications, radio, TV spots.
  • Make modifications to your current media advertising to indicate your presence at the show. Consider offering a show special to attract attention.
  • Direct mail information to existing clientele to let them know you’ll be at the show.

Next, design an exhibit that sells. Consider the following points in designing an effective exhibit:

  • Make your booth graphics grab the viewer’s attention. More important than your company name or product is a sign that states a benefit. In eight words or less, your sign should provide an answer to the question, “What can your company or product do for me?”
  • Identifying new products helps stop prospects. The word “new” stops the viewer’s eye and creates a double-take. The prospect is challenged by the word new and wants to investigate.
  • Color captures attention. Don’t be hesitant about using colors like red, yellow or orange in signage. These colors draw the viewer’s eye to your booth and display an important message. Black lettering on a yellow or orange background is 60 percent more likely to be read than if on a white background.
  • Don’t stack brochures on a table. Less is more when it comes to brochures — the fewer brochures on display the higher the perceived value. Restock you literature rack often. The best brochures are one-page fact sheets.
  • Create a browsing area. Offer open spaces within your booth that allow visitors to browse materials without feeling that they are in the way of others.
  • Avoid “pitch posture.” Don’t appear like the palace guard. Don’t cross your arms or place your hands in your pockets; you may be giving off signals that say, “don’t approach me.” Stand off to the side near the front corner of your exhibit. Turn at a 45-degree angle to the aisle so that you’re viewing the isle with your peripheral vision. This creates a more inviting appearance.
  • Increase the value of giveaways. Key chains, pens or other giveaways stacked on a counter can lead to grab-and-run behavior with attendees. The best way to use giveaways is to carry a few with you, and after each conversation, present the item as a token of your appreciation for their visit.
  • Round tables are better than square counters. Square and rectangular shapes create the impression that the visitor should stand on one side and the seller on the opposite. They serve as a barrier and reduce the quality of interaction. Round shapes remove the perception of positioning and create a more friendly side-by-side conversation with the visitor.
  • Good lighting enhances visual impact. The viewer’s eye is attracted to the brightest spot. Adding a few extra spotlights to your exhibit can increase the visual pull power by 50 percent or more.

Fourth, instruct booth staff on how to work the crowd. Even with the flashiest of all flashy booths, your product will not sell itself. This is where the importance of well-trained staff comes to play. Provide the following instruction to your staff:

  • Maintain an open, approachable stance when manning the booth.
  • Approach visitors in a friendly manner — smile!
  • Ask visitors if they want to learn more about your product or Provide a list of the major benefits provided by the product or service — don’t just list “features.”
  • Have printed material available that reinforce this information and states your company name and contact information.
  • Provide interested visitors with a business card.
  • Listen to the visitor’s situation, note their needs and offer a response/sales pitch based on this information. Be able to customize your presentation to that individuals needs.
  • Secure follow-up contact information from visitors you classify as prospective customers. Note along with their name, and contact information what they are interested in, so follow-up contacts can be personalized.

Finally, conduct post-show follow-up. After the show, it is important to follow-up on all leads secured soon, while the customer still remembers visiting your booth and meeting your sales staff. Respond by:

  • Sending a direct mail piece, followed by a phone call,
  • Making a phone call — seeking to schedule a personal visit,
  • Scheduling a personal visit.

“Rarely, will your attendance at a show result in immediate business. Two thirds of all sales from trade shows aren’t achieved until 11-24 months after a show. So set realistic expectations for sales lead generation. If you accomplish your target number, count the show a success.”
– Troy Waugh, CPA and author of Trade Show Can Create Good Leads.

– Jackie Rasmussen, business development specialist, MO SBTDC