Carolyn Bentley – trade show and export consultant

Having recently returned from supporting a client at a trade show in Germany, it seems a good time to dwell briefly on the benefits of exhibiting, share some tips and good advice on exhibiting.

Whilst  international trade shows have dwindled in importance in some sectors, there are still a large number that are well supported and worthwhile. They give companies a chance to show off their latest products or services, reach new customers, and as a great meeting point for people from all over the world in the sector, and a chance to share ideas and learn about latest innovations.

Trade shows are a big investment both of time and money, so it is worth ensuring you get the most out of them. It may seem obvious, but the first thing to do is sit down with your team and work out your objectives in exhibiting at a particular show. Is it because you need to be there because otherwise all your competitors will be and you will be forgotten, is it that it is a great environment in which to find new agents and distributors, do you have new products/service that you want to announce to the world?

If the trade show you’re considering is new to you, then why not just visit the first time and check it out to see if it’s right for you before committing to a stand the next. A lot of information is online, who is exhibiting, the profile of exhibitors etc and you can do research without it costing a fortune. Refer back at every stage to your objectives too.

So let’s say you have decided to exhibit next year at a big trade show in Europe. You need a project plan and someone to take ownership of that. There will be deadlines to meet, such as booking stand space, the catalogue entry, booking accommodation and transport.

Some years ago I remember a colleague exhibiting in Munich. He left it rather late to book his accommodation and had nearly an hour’s drive every day to the exhibition centre. It also meant that it was not as easy to get together with potential clients in the evenings.

So do plenty of research on contacts you want to meet, and set up some appointments in advance. Also, make sure that you leave time for those opportunities that will inevitably come up during the show.

The key questions you should be asking

  • Are all your team on board with your trade show?
  • Do they understand the purpose of you exhibiting?
  • Are they briefed on how to handle stand visitors?
  • Do they know how to politely see off timewasters?

This will depend on the location of the show, but do you have marketing materials in languages other than English – you may get by, but you won’t come across as a serious international business if you don’t. Do you have anyone with foreign language skills on your stand to speak to visitors with limited English.

Ensure you have sufficient manpower on the stand to allow for breaks and for individuals to look round the exhibition – it is great for market research, meeting people and getting ideas. Take photos of particularly striking stands and anything else of interest.

And plan in time when you get back to respond quickly to promising leads. You will no doubt have a stack of business cards and lead sheets, so it’s essential to categorise them by importance so you don’t delay contacting the most promising ones.