Exhibiting at a trade show can not only be time consuming but also costly. As a result, it is wise to make sure that the trade show will be worth your while, in terms of the quantity and quality of the attendees. If you’re satisfied with the number of quality prospects who will attend, and decide to exhibit, the next step is to set your objectives.
You can have more than one objective, such as test-marketing a new product and expanding your base of potential customers. Whenever possible, you should set a goal you can measure quantitatively (such as selling product worth a certain sum). This serves as a barometer of success or failure, which is important when deciding to exhibit again.
Which products or services will you exhibit? Consider the competition, the total number of prospects attending the show, the likely number of qualified prospects attending, the economy, and, above all else, the financial health of your industry.
Keep your overall marketing plan in mind when setting objectives for a trade show. You should have thorough and carefully-analysed market statistics, so you know how many customers you have in a given area and how much business they represent. You can compare these regional breakdowns to the number of expected attendees.
This provides key information for pre-show planning, helping you target the most desirable markets through pre-event mailings and other promotions.
Calculate your booth space
Now that you’ve decided to exhibit and have begun setting objectives, you have to decide how much exhibit space you’ll need, taking into account show rules. Booth dimensions vary, depending on the particular trade show you’ll be exhibiting at.
Usually, they’re between a minimum or 3m x 2m and a maximum of 5m x 3m (obviously, if larger sized items – such as motor vehicles – are on display, booth space will be larger). If there’s enough space available it’s sometimes possible to occupy multiple booths.
To determine the amount of space you’ll need, start with your estimate of the number of qualified prospects attending the show – that is, those attendees who represent your market and who will likely drop by your booth.
Divide this number by the total number of hours the show will run; this will approximate the number of visitors per hour and tell you how many sales reps to assign. On average, one sales rep can handle about 15 people per hour, though this rate varies with the product the rep is selling.
Figuring that two people talking need approximately 5 square metres of space, multiply the number of sales reps required by 5 to get an idea of the amount of clear space you should have. Then add the space you will fill with displays, furniture, and so on. The total is the amount of space you’ll require.
Here is an example. Your research might indicate that you can expect some 1,000 qualified prospects to drop by your booth at a given show.
The show runs a total of 50 hours (10 hours a day over the course of five days). Based on our formula, you’d divide 1,000 by 50 to get the average per-hour number of visitors – in this case, 20.
Since one sales rep can usually handle about 15 people per hour, you’d divide 20 by 15, for a result of 1.3. To be on the safe side, you’d round the number up instead of down, assigning two reps. Next, you’d multiply the number of reps (2) by the amount of square feet needed for each rep and a visitor to talk comfortably (5), arriving at 10 square metres of booth space, not including areas set aside for equipment and product demonstration.
If the product were fairly small and the equipment minimal, you’d allocate at least 5 additional square metres. The total, then, would equal 15 square metres. A booth measuring 5 x 3 metres, would meet your needs well.
Designing your booth
The design of your booth will depend on several factors, not the least of which will be location. Location is an all-important consideration and can mean the difference between success and failure at a trade show, which explains the wide price range among booths at most large shows.
If you’re unfamiliar with the exhibit hall, consult show management and choose a location according to price, paying the most you can afford. A smaller booth in a prime location will produce more results than a large booth in an obscure corner.
There are design companies that are available to help you put together a professional booth. As the exhibitor, you would provide the designer with basics such as the show date and location, show rules, graphic requirements, the themes and messages you want to get across, how the show fits into your overall marketing plan, and how much money you can spend on your booth.
Cost, however, may force smaller companies to design their own exhibits. However you design your booth, keep one basic rule in mind – the design must catch the eye.
You only have a few seconds to attract the attention of those passing your booth; in those few seconds, the design of your exhibit should draw their eye to you.
Eye-catching design incorporates the following:
Eye-level product displays.
Illumination that includes overhead lighting and spotlights.
Easy access to display areas by visitors.
Clean and well-designed graphics.
Most importantly, an unobstructed view to passersby.
Regardless of the design and planning you put into your booth, you may initially be taken aback when you arrive at your first trade show.
Your assigned space will consist only of a “walled” area and a sign bearing your
company name. You can use this space any way you want, within the show rules.
Read these rules carefully before you even design your booth, as they often stipulate booth size dimensions and impose other construction limitations. Rules cover the total cubic footage of the overall display area that you can used; how to order lights, electricity, furniture, etc.; and generally what you can and cannot do.
These rules usually appear in an exhibitor’s manual, which should also tell you when you’re allowed to enter the centre for set-up and when you need to dismantle your booth.
You should follow the manual to the letter. If you deviate from it, you can create problems for yourself and other exhibitors. Many of the guidelines are tied to local management rules which may not make much sense to you, but are the results of years of mounting complicated shows.
The design of your exhibit will depend on the overall message you’re trying to convey and your product, audience, and budget.
Depending on the product and type of show, some exhibitors do well with just the basics – a table or two on which to conduct a simple demonstration.
Others need elaborate, custom-designed structures, including a suite of conference or seminar rooms. Most likely, your design will fall somewhere in between. You can order simple custom-made booths, or rent modular structures to which you can add your own graphics and other touches.
You will have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each against your requirements.
Effective exhibition, of course, is the result of meticulous planning that begins weeks – perhaps months – before the show begins. When analysing cost factors, consider that the total cost of each trade show will be about three to five times the cost of the booth.
Construct as much of your booth as possible before the show and transport it ready to assemble, which will let you save substantially on labour costs. Also, plan ahead so that shipping, packing, unpacking and booth setup are confined to normal working hours, so you don’t have to pay for overtime.
Perhaps most importantly, make sure you have insurance covering your products while they are in transit and while they are on display.
One of your principal jobs during the pre-show stage will be to contact the media in the city where the trade show will be held, writing or calling the editors and executives of the major newspapers and radio and TV stations.
If your company is about to release a new or unusual product, you could obtain substantial free publicity by enclosing a professionally prepared press release.
Include a glossy photo of the product, requesting interviews on local radio and TV talk shows, or the publication of an article about the product.
During the show
Monitor booth activity constantly. Notice what works and what doesn’t. Be flexible, making changes as they become necessary.
Be open to personnel shifts if certain teams aren’t working well together or if individuals request different hours. No plans should be set in stone, particularly ineffective marketing plans. Be open to change. A switch in midstream could mean the difference between increased sales and disappointing returns.
While your employees work the booth, take frequent tours of the show, observing other exhibitors’ displays and marketing techniques, the degree of interest they seem to be generating, their location, the interaction between booth workers and visitors, etc.
Jot down your observations and immediately use any new ideas you get. You can also use these notes in planning your attendance at upcoming exhibitions.
After the show, compare your objectives with the results, in a meeting with employees as well as an internal company report. Did you reach your goals and stay within your budget?
Was it the right show for your market? Did you target that market effectively? Were your exhibit and its location effective? Did you have too little or too much space? Only by analysing these and similar factors can you adequately judge whether to exhibit at the same show again, and if so, how to improve your results.
In addition, compile a report on the show for any reps or salespeople you might have who weren’t able to attend, emphasising the reaction of buyers, executives and other attendees to your product(s) and company.
Make the report as dramatic and exciting as possible, and include photos. Outline the marketing and promotional goals achieved. Send letters to all prospects you obtained at the show and send copies to reps so they can follow up.
Compose a direct-mail piece outlining how well your product(s) were received at the show, and include a photo showing your booth packed with visitors. If you gave seminars at the show, include a photo of attendees lining up to get in, or listening to the speaker.
If applicable, emphasise the guest speaker(s). Extend any “show specials” you promoted, and include in the mailer a special limited-time offer.
Send this piece to any of your accounts who did not send representatives to the show, as well as the show registration list of companies, reps and executives attending the event. Add this list to your mailing list for future mailings.
Start planning next year’s show while this year’s exhibition is fresh in your mind. Plan to rent a better space at a more strategic location, keeping in mind the show’s traffic patterns. According to industry experts, booth location is a factor responsible for at least 50 percent of overall success.
Making contacts at trade shows does little good if you don’t follow up on leads properly. Consider establishing a lead-tracking system; such systems provide broadened prospect and customer bases, higher lead-to-sales ratios, and enhanced market analyses.
When formulating a good lead-tracking system, take the time to define what the system should do for you. You might want to keep the following criteria in mind as you develop such a system:
Make it adaptable to future needs.
Establish criteria for expenditures over a period of time.
Keep elements such as forms and reports as simple as possible.
Define key problems and gaps in your communications and marketing program.
Communicate the role of sales personnel to be sure they understand their prominence in the lead-tracking program and their overall effect on its results.
The more information and involvement you’re able to obtain in getting prospects, the more effective your lead-tracking system will be. You might run a competition requiring entrants to provide detailed information about themselves.
Any seminars you offer, either in the booth or elsewhere, should require attendees to fill out mini-questionnaires. The questionnaires you have attendees fill out should ask for most or all of the following (depending on the product and other variables):
Date and name of show.
Full identification of the prospect (name, employer, position, company address and phone).
Product needs and applications.
The company’s traditional and current product usage.
Names of other company decision makers.
Concerns, objections or other comments about the product.
Requests for further information.
Only with the proper information can you generate a lead-conversion program, involving telemarketing and field contact, that makes your trade-show investment worthwhile.