Businesses have been exhibiting at trade shows and fairs since the Middle Ages and for good reason. Trade shows are like magnets, bringing together buyers, sellers, suppliers, and media. The right show puts you in front of buyers seeking what you sell as well as connecting you with suppliers. You can generate more sales leads in a day than you might in months.
But if you have been to trade shows lately, you may have noticed attendance has slipped. A major factor is the cost of travel and people not spending the way they have in the past. The major reason is that business people and consumers increasingly use the web for contacts, product information and to know what their competitors are doing. As a result we’re seeing the growth of virtual trade shows with 3-D exhibit halls, show floors, exhibits, and even social networking. You may have participated in one and may agree with us, they are not a substitute yet. Some businesses get virtually all their leads from trade shows, so trade shows, so particularly if you’re an outgoing person, consider carefully your decisions about trade shows.
With so many ways to market now, like drawing more traffic to your website with search engine optimization (SEO) and AdWords, using social media, investing in mobile marketing, or setting up a store front on Facebook, how do you decide whether to invest your time and money in exhibiting in a face-to-face trade show?
Here are some things to consider:
- Are you apt to see customers and suppliers you’ll have a hard time reaching online or in other ways?
- Will the show draw sufficient numbers of the type of attendees you want to reach make it worthwhile? To find out, if the show has a history, chances are it has a website where you can look up past exhibitors and ask them. You can also contact the show management to find out what promotional plans and budget they have planned for.
- If you do exhibit, can you make your exhibit effective? This is not so much a matter of how much you spend, but how well you focus your exhibit on attracting the attendees you want.
This means having a display that draws people to you and then engaging them.
- A good way to see how this work is to go to trade shows and watch for which exhibits with the most activity both draw traffic and keep people there interacting with the exhibit staff.
If you decide to exhibit, here are two things to keep in mind.
If you’re making sales on the show floor, you make payment very easy by using services like Square and Google Wallet with your smart phone or iPad so you can accept credit card payments on the spot.
Be sure to follow up. Too often exhibitors get busy and are slow to follow up with show leads. Some never do. But with smart phones and tablets, today your follow up can be instantaneous. You can send follow-up information from your booth or at least before you get back to the office where the demands of the day can crowd following up off the agenda.
If you’re looking for a trade show near you, a useful resource is the free database provided by the Trade Show News Network.
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Adapted from our 2011 column in Costco Connection by Paul and Sarah Edwards