Industry trade shows can be one of the most cost-effective means for getting your name and products or services in front of a large audience of targeted customers. A study conducted by Exhibit Surveys shows that more than 80 percent of attendees at tradeshows have the ability to influence buying decisions, and more than 50 percent of attendees make a purchase as a result of attending a show.
Buying and selling isn't all that businesses do at trade shows, either. Beyond the frenzy of the selling floor, business people make important contacts with key industry leaders, develop relationships with new distributors, form strategic alliances, and work out new comarketing deals.
Although many trade show exhibitors are big corporations with massive eye-catching displays, you don't have to be big to profit from trade shows. Whether you're ready to fast-forward your small company into the big leagues or just want to make a few contacts, you may be able to profit by exhibiting trade shows, too. Here are some tips to consider as you make your decision to exhibit or not to exhibit at tradeshows.
Decide what you want to accomplish at the show
Before you decide to exhibit at any trade show, know exactly why you want to be there. Don't settle for a hazy objective like "to boost sales." Be specific. List each objective you expect to attain. Among the objectives to consider:
- Introduce new products
- Get new orders for existing products
- Find new distributors
- Find sales representatives
- Sell to the end user
- Gather sales leads for future follow-up by your sales force
- Build name recognition
- Meet with current customers
- Reach hard-to-get prospects
- Test market products, services and promotional material
- Find strategic partners
- Learn new skills and industry information
- Keep tabs on your competition
Compare costs to expected benefits
To determine whether exhibiting at a trade show is worthwhile, add up all the costs you expect to incur if you exhibit at a show and compare them to the benefits you hope to derive. Be sure to account for booth space, signs, artwork, product literature, press kits, shipping, and for transportation, hotel, and meals for the booth staff. Consider whether you could gain the same benefits for less money through sales calls, direct mail campaigns and other marketing efforts.
For example, an engineering firm that targets small industrial firms with its services, spends an average of $1400 for booth space plus lodging and meals for each show at which it exhibits. The company spends approximately $800 more for pre-show promotional materials, including the postage to mail them. Shipping and setup costs can tack on significant sums to the show costs, too. The investment pays off, however, because the company only needs one client to make enough money to pay back the company's yearly cost of exhibiting in trade shows.
Bigger and more expensive shows come with bigger price tags for booth space. If you are considering a show where booth space is expensive, determine in advance how many sales or how many sales leads you’ll need to get to make your presence profitable.
On top of those costs are one-time costs such as the cost of having a reusable, portable display created for your booth if you decide to exhibit regularly. Those costs can run anywhere from about $500 (for a very basic tabletop display unit) to tens of thousands of dollars or more for elaborate, free-standing display booths.
Choose shows carefully
One of the keys to profiting from trade shows is picking the right shows to attend. Your hand-crafted wooden mailboxes won't sell to buyers looking for cheap metal mailboxes to be sold through a national discount chain. And, if your goal is to meet corporate bigwigs, you may not find them at small regional shows. To avoid such unpleasant surprises, get as much information about a show as possible before you agree to exhibit. Among the questions you should ask:
- What segment of your industry will the show target?
- What percentage of attendees are like your typical customer?
- How many times has the show been held?
- How many times has it been held at this location?
- How many people attended in the past?
- How many exhibitors were at the last show?
- How many exhibitors are expected this year?
- Is your competition exhibiting?
- What other businesses will be participating?
- How and where the trade show will be publicized?
If you've never exhibited at trade shows, get your feet wet with smaller local shows. By doing so, you'll get a better understanding of how long it takes your staff to set up your display, how much literature to take with you, what you need to do to get people to stop at your booth during the show and how to talk to visitors at your booth to make the best use of staff selling time.
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