When you haven’t prepared for a trade show or exhibition before, it can be a little daunting. However, thousands of businesses every year participate in these types of events successfully and pull them off nicely, so don’t panic!
Running an exhibition stand is something completely different to anything else. For many employees, they’ve never worked in a public venue before, performed public speaking or presented in front of other people. For them, being approachable towards attendees who wander over to the exhibition stand takes a bit of practice. After all, you don’t want to give people the feeling that you’re pouncing on them. Working at the stand for many hours on your feet is challenging too. Everyone must be personable and friendly, which is difficult on the 10th approach when being asked the same basic questions.
Here is how to approach an exhibition or trade show to get the most benefit as a business.
Team Work Makes the Dream Work
Think about the process of running the stand. If you’re a solopreneur, understand that you won’t be able to manage the stand all by yourself. You’ll get involved talking with one attendee (or a regular customer you’ve been waiting to meet) and then two more visitors will wander in. You don’t want to ignore them! Appreciate that you’ll need a team, even if that means hiring some temporary staff to handle the office while most of the staff is on-hand.
Hire some students who are studying languages because it will be useful to have at least one person who speaks Mandarin, French or Spanish. Beyond that, work out a rota system to give everyone both a break from being on their feet all day and from having to be personable non-stop. Quite often, staff rotate in and out on different days to keep the office functioning properly and to avoid putting the burden on the shoulders of only a few people.
Discuss Dress Code with Staff
Venues range from being a bit on the chill side to stuffy and a little uncomfortable. As the space fills up, the heat level naturally rises too. Talk with staff about their dress code. If the company has a uniform or an approved dress code, ensure everyone is dressed accordingly. You don’t want anyone wearing something that strikes the wrong tone or attracts the wrong type of onlookers. Dressing demure is the way to go when there isn’t a uniform to wear.
When wearing casual attire like a polo shirt with the company logo on it, be careful not to dress more casually than the attendees. That will come off wrong and make the company seem unprofessional, especially if the company peers are dressed more formally in suits.
Packing, leaving and navigating to the venue takes longer than people expect. Finding a space to park won’t always be easy. Getting inside the building, finding your spot and getting organised, especially when the team has little expo experience, is also more time-consuming. The last thing you want is to not be ready when the doors open.
Leave with far more time than you think you’ll need even if it means people standing around. Authorise the overtime. Once the stand is ready, scope out where the toilets, refreshments and other important areas are. Also, have a look around to note what other companies are exhibiting this year, so when attendees mention having seen other companies there, you don’t have a blank look on your face.
Checklist, Checklist, Checklist
Use the checklist that you’ve hopefully prepared well ahead of time. The checklist will have a note of all items to bring to the exhibition. To get you started, when selling items, you’ll need invoice facilities even if they’re hand-written. Bring business cards, flyers and other marketing materials in boxes with enough so you won’t run out (you likely cannot get more printed fast enough if you do not have enough).
Also, bring the odds and ends that people usually forget. This includes a first-aid kit, power adapters, pens, pads of paper, spare cables etc. Make sure that the staff have what they need to do their jobs well and be taken care of. Cover the cost of food for the staff while exhibiting; it’s the least you can do.
The exhibition display stand can make or break the event for you. Companies like Discount Displays that have been producing stands for exhibitions for three decades are worth strong consideration, especially if your company is new to being an exhibitor. Let a professional deal with the design aspects so your team can focus on everything else.
Balance promotional materials so it’s clear what your company does but doesn’t visually overwhelm attendees. Once at the event, keep the stand clean and clear of clutter. Immediately remove any stray food or coffee cups that attendees discard while there. Keep staff focused on the task. When someone is becoming unfocused and it isn’t their break time, have them look around the expo to give you a personal update about what’s happening. This will give them a new focus and get their blood flowing by moving around rather than standing still.
Don’t Treat Other Companies as the Enemy
While it’s natural to get competitive with other companies at an event, especially if they’re selling similar products, it’s a better idea to befriend them. They may meet someone who is a better fit for your company than theirs and makes the referral – or visa versa. Being approachable and friendly is a better way to handle things.
You may also get unstuck if a fuse blows or you need something small that wasn’t brought from the office but is difficult to source once at the event. A kind word about how their exhibition stand looks goes along way later.
Master the Approach
You’ll see all sorts at exhibitions. Some people will make a beeline for your stand because they’ve wanted to meet the people they’ve been dealing with for the past year. Other attendees may have vaguely heard of your brand or just found the display interesting and it peaked their interest. Then there is a last group who don’t really know what they’re looking for and are just wandering in and out of booths.
Gauge your visitor to see what approach works best. Avoid asking salesperson questions like, “How can I help you?” Instead, either opt for a neutral opener or ask them if you can help them find what they’re looking for. Keep things friendly and ask open-ended questions. Use eye contact, smile, and an open stance to denote friendliness. People talk to others who seem approachable.
Know Your Visitor
When approaching attendees, find out if they’re an existing customer, interested or just passing through. Adjust your approach based on what you learn to make the conversation most useful to the attendee. Potential customers come in all shapes and sizes. Don’t judge how they look and dismiss them because some Managing Directors and senior staff may be dressed down to be comfortable while attending.
See if you can find out whom they represent if your company sells mostly to other businesses. Look to offer an online newsletter or to send out some promotional material; this way you can get their email or other contact details without seeming pushy because you’re helping them.
Bear in mind when running an exhibition stand, you’re usually not going to sell many items directly. It’s far more possible that you’ll develop in-person leads instead. Potential buyers are directly reaching out to your business when getting into a detailed discussion at the booth. Take this as an opportunity to create a new business relationship or have it lead to another contact later.
Keep track of the people who have visited the booth and make a note of each one. Otherwise, you have no way to follow up after the event is over. If anyone on the team says that they’ll follow up with an attendee, create a centralised way to keep track of whom the person or company was, the staff member they spoke with, when the conversation took place, what is expected in the next contact and their contact details.
The Follow-up Is Everything
Without the follow-up, little direct benefit is gleaned from the time and money that went into an exhibition or trade show. These events are all about standing out and developing new leads for potential joint ventures, deals, and sales. At the very least, you should want to expand your email list or mailing list. The idea is to grow your customer base and the number of people happy to receive communication from the company rather than asking, “Who are these people?”
Following up is key to get the most benefit out of the exhibition and it shows that your company cares about customers and potential customers alike.
Being successful at an exhibition is all about sensible preparation and good execution by the entire team. When you have only a couple of days to make the right impression with attendees, there’s no time to lose. But when you prepare the entire team properly, it’s possible to expand your customer base and contact list considerably.
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