Alexis Exhibits

Trade Show Secrets to Success

For small businesses, trade shows can be a great opportunity to reach out to a targeted audience and deliver your marketing message. The goal, of course, is to ultimately convert potential sales leads into satisfied, happy customers.

Despite brutal economic conditions, trade shows still offer a significant payoff for small businesses. Even in today’s business world of websites, social media, emails and voicemails, trade shows still offer one of the best opportunities for companies to build relationships with face-to-face contact.

Let’s take a look at some trade show secrets (shhh, don’t tell anyone) that could help your company succeed in the trade show world, regardless of your budget.

Pick a show in a vertical, niche market. Instead of exhibiting at a trade show at which all your competitors will be, fighting to gain the attention of the same audience, pick an offbeat, smaller show. Every business has smaller, vertical markets in which they would like to gain a foothold. The advantage is these shows typically will cost less, and you can focus on delivering your message to a new audience, not on besting your competitors’ efforts.

Don’t listen to the hype. Instead of relying on the word of salespeople desperate to sell you a booth, talk to other exhibitors to find out what type of experience they’ve had not only working with the exhibit management but also the results they have experienced from exhibiting.

Attend the event first. If you’re considering exhibiting at a really large (read: expensive) trade show, attend it first. Walk the floor and ask both the attendees and the exhibitors about their experience at the show. Find out whether they felt attending or exhibiting was worth their time and money.

Skip new trade shows. Don’t invest in unproven commodities, especially in these tough economic times when even the larger shows can struggled for survival. Save your trade show budget for shows with a proven track record of success that you know can deliver the ROI you need to justify the expense.

Speak up. If you’re a small business with limited resources, exhibiting at trade shows might be beyond your economic means. That doesn’t mean you can’t add trade shows to your marketing mix. Contact the show management and inquire as to any possible opportunities to be a speaker or panel expert.

Get them while they’re hot. After the show is over, don’t let months go by before contacting sales prospects. Follow up with those attendees who took the time to stop by and hear your company’s pitch within two weeks of the show.

The Key to Tradeshow Exhibit Success: Location, Location, Location

When you’re planning for the upcoming year of trade shows, it’s important to remember that the location of your booth at trade shows can be key to getting the maximum amount of traffic. Lots of traffic can equate to a higher number of qualified sales leads, which you need to justify the expense of attending these shows.

The first step is to plan for the trade show early. When you book early, you’ll have more options to choose from for your booth location. If you wait until the last minute, you’ll be limited to choosing from whatever booth spots are not sold. The only plus of waiting: you might be able to find out in advance who your neighboring exhibitors will be. If a show doesn’t sell out, by booking later, the show organizers might offer that accompanying booth—if vacant—for free or for a greatly reduced price just to fill it.

If a particular show is a success for you, sign up and reserve your spot for the following year’s event while at the event or shortly thereafter, which might get you a better location and better deal too. Keep in mind that if you are a returning exhibitor, the event management’s sales folks want you back. Use this as a bargaining chip in your negotiations for next year’s booth rate and location.

So what are the prime locations when choosing your booth location? Let’s take a look at a few of the primo spots that exhibitors crave.

Close to the exit from the restrooms. You might balk at getting seated near the restroom at a restaurant, but tradeshows are an exception. Everyone eventually has to go to the bathroom and as they leave, they are often in strolling mode and more likely to stop.

Adjacent to food kiosks and/or Internet cafes. Be the first booth they see after they grab that cup of coffee, eat that bagel or check their email. Once their hunger is sated or their caffeine withdrawal has ebbed, they will be ready to give you their full, undivided attention.

Close to the entrance/exit of the exhibit hall. It’s guaranteed that everyone will have to walk by your booth multiple times a day. Be the first booth they see when they enter the hall, before they are worn out from hours of schlepping up and down the aisles.

End of aisles or on back walls. People often look to see how long aisles are and stop to get their bearings before they embark down an aisle. Seize this opportunity to grab their attention.

Which Trade Show is Right for you?

It is an age old question – should we exhibit? This question surfaces on a regular basis in all marketing departments. There are certain shows, based on their great performance in the past, that are no-brainers. But there can be others which you may not know much about.

Ask Customers and Prospects about the Trade Shows They Attend

The first point is to simply ask others about the trade shows that they like and attend. Make it a habit to ask customers and prospects alike “which trade shows do you attend?”

  • Which is the “best” one for finding new products?
  • How are the shows different and what makes them different?
  • If they often attend more than one – which one is most important?
  • Which one would they skip if they had to choose?
  • Which show(s) have caught their attention, but haven’t yet made a priority?

You might consider conducting a short survey that can be sent out to your prospects and customers to solicit their responses. There are many free survey tools available to use, like Survey MonkeyZoomerang, and others.

Talk with the Trade Show Organizer

The show organizer’s job is to be an expert on who attends their events. Typically they have concrete, measurable registration surveys and audits for you to view. Initially, you can review their prospectus; then, if it looks like a fit for you, call them directly. They know that a successful show is predicated on the right buyers finding the right vendors.  Consequently, they make a science out of profiling their customers, and you should too.

To begin profiling your customer, start with these questions: Who do you want to attract to your exhibit booth? Who are the ideal customers for your product and/or service and what is important to them? Depending on whether your market is, business to consumer, or business to business, the criteria will be different. Regardless of the specific terms, you will need to define your customer. The broad range of data categories are: demographics (who is my customer), psychographics (what do they do), behavioral (how do they do it) and causation (why they do what they do). According to Barry Siskind in an article called The Right Place to Exhibit – A Strategic Approach, “causation is the sum total of all the demographic, psychographic and behavioral data you have accumulated. It matches up your features and benefits with your customers’ perception of their importance.”

As you profile your target audience, you can ask questions to find out where they are and the best way to reach them. Given that shows have various geographic focuses (regional, national or international), you will want to choose those ideally suited to both you and the audience you serve. Ultimately, you have plenty of choices, though finding the right trade show can be challenging. “The right show is a blend of audience, cost and logistics. Good event selection is a solid base upon which the rest of your exhibit program is built,” Siskind reminds us.

Resources for Locating Trade Shows

If you need to look up a show, here are several online resources for you.

Events in America: www.eventsinamerica.com

Trade Show News Network: www.tsnn.com

The Trade Show Calendar: www.thetradeshowcalendar.com

Selecting the right trade show is just the beginning of the process.

Trade Show Targeting – What Makes My Customer Tick?

Understanding the business concerns, issues and problems of your prospects and customers is paramount in crafting a marketing message. This message is a critical component of your trade show plan, as well as your business marketing plan as a whole.  However, it is not easy to tap into their minds.  This process requires market research to effectively derive their characteristics for purchasing.  During the last few years, the buying patterns have changed and possibly your customer persona has evolved into a totally different person.  Keeping up with the shifts and changes can be difficult.

One way to tune into the mindset of a customer base is using focus groups.  They can be quite effective in uncovering the thought processes and preferences of an audience.  If you are not familiar with this research form, let me provide some additional information.

What are Focus Groups?

Focus Groups are great at capturing the attitudes and opinions of a “selected” group(s) of individuals.  The moderator poses questions to the group affording the participants the opportunity to share their views.  It is important to remember that these groups are qualitative in nature and sometimes would need to be followed up with a quantitative research project to ensure statistical reliability.

However, the catalytic nature of focus groups can provide direction as to what the next steps should be in the evolution of the idea being tested.

In essence – you are testing ideas or communication messages to determine if they are on target or not.  Customer and prospect language or what they “hear” can be TOTALLY different from what you are communicating.  Being in tune with your audience can spell s-u-c-c-e-s-s.

Using Online Research to Probe the Minds of Your Customer

Rather than in-person focus groups, participants are recruited for the online experience.  Typically, 12 – 15 are secured and they commit to the process.

  • A research moderator posts questions over the course of several days as the conversation evolves and probes respondents for details and clarifications when needed.
  • Respondents can log in and answer each days’ questions whenever it’s convenient for them – some folks are online at the crack of dawn, some like to log in and take a break during work hours and others log in after dinner is done and the kids are in bed.  Being convenient means that respondents can take time to think about the questions and provide thoughtful answers.
  • Clients are able to log in and observe the discussion and leave private messages for the moderator regarding comments they would like clarified or suggestions for new topics.
  • They last over a three-day period which allows for reflection on questions answered and possible modifications to the moderator’s script.

The participants interact with each other and the moderator as they provide their valuable insights to questions posed.  In the process, all sorts of light bulbs are illuminated and most often a new, enhanced direction is revealed.

Mike Courtney from Aperio Insights shares these insights when considering online focus groups to determine your trade show messages.

Most likely there is a current marketing communications campaign going on within your company.  Does your audience really understand the campaign or is there some confusion on the message you are attempting to convey?

Or you can assess whether your prospects deem you as a trustworthy resource.  Or do they trust your competition more than you?

Have the prospect or customer “explain” your services or products to the moderator of the online focus group.  Are they accurately defining your offering?  Note: this question can be quite revealing as to how far off the mark your audience is to what your product does or what your marketing message is.

One other word of note – research can beget research.  The more you uncover – additional questions will surface.

As you research and make your trade show marketing plan, consider taking the pulse of your customers.  If you can translate their heartbeat (the business issues) into your marketing message, a match is made and most likely you will have a new customer.

A Perfect Tradeshow Vendor Relationship

Finding the perfect vendor to support your tradeshow program can be challenging, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but with the right things in mind, you can hit your target. As with any other decision, the preparation you put into it will greatly affect your level of success.

Typically, the decision for an exhibit supplier is made during the purchase of a new display. It may seem logical that the company that built the display would be the best choice to manage it. Sometimes that may be true, but often the problem is that the companies that do the best job of design and presentation are not always the best at program management. Their company’s focus might be on designing and building new exhibits, leaving program management to take a back seat.

A good start in your search is determining how much help you will need, and the size of your program:

  • Pharmaceutical companies might exhibit in over 100 shows per year, not including other events that are a large part of their face to face marketing. Auto manufacturers exhibit in 65 or more shows in the span of a few months. These types of companies usually prefer to deal with the largest exhibit companies.
  • Companies that participate in fewer shows each year in smaller configurations may not get the level of service that they need from a huge exhibit company, and often end up being the proverbial “small fish in a big pond.”

In order to find the best match for your needs, give some thought to how much support you will need from your exhibit company. Some companies need only basic assistance, such as storage, preparation and minor repairs. Others rely more heavily on an exhibit company to handle the entire show including show services, graphic design, shipping, etc. Be sure to consider how important your scale of business will be to your new vendor and whether you will have access to senior management in the event that problems occur.

While experience in your specific industry is a valuable thing, use caution in looking for a company that has several other clients in your most important show, as you may find that they are stretched too thin to provide the best service. Also, there are many other factors that contribute to the success of a vendor/client relationship, but a vendor’s efforts to become the best partner should always involve a willingness to listen and adapt to the client’s preferred ways of doing business.

Are you considering changing tradeshow vendors? Let’s Talk.

Staff Your Trade Show Exhibit to Win!

Anyone who has attended a trade show can tell you that the best booth, in the best location, with the best promotion, may not get the sale if you do not put together the right team to represent your company.

Overall, you are looking for people who are fun to be with and who can help bring your booth to life. Here is a checklist of critical factors to consider when selecting your team.

  1. Make sure you have the right number of people to staff the booth. It depends on the type of show, your business sector and the type of promotional campaign you plan. A good rule of thumb is one person for every 50 square feet of booth space, including break coverage.
  2. Make sure that the people staffing your booth have an appearance that is consistent with your brand and trade show campaign.
  3. Look for people who are naturally friendly and outgoing, and who smile. You want people who are eager to meet attendees.
  4. Select people who are good listeners and who know how to ask open-ended questions that encourage prospects to talk about their needs.
  5. Choose team members who know your business sector or who can be quickly trained to knowledgeably answer questions. It is best to select people who know your product, your company and its capabilities, and who know the competition.
  6. Think about attire and set a dress code. Don’t leave this critical element to chance. Make sure your entire team is willing to follow the dress code.

Once you have selected your team, make sure they have the tools they need and are properly trained to represent your company, qualify leads and secure sales.

Tips for Selecting the Right Trade Shows

Making the decision to exhibit at a trade show is a significant commitment—in both time and expense—for any size company. Trade shows can deliver significant bottom-line benefits by generating valuable sales leads, increasing company awareness, launching new products or services, building brand recognition, finding new channel members and gaining media attention. In order to successfully achieve any of these, however, you must first select the right trade show for your company.

If you are the person tasked with this selection process, the burden is on you to make an informed decision, selecting shows that will deliver the right target audience for your marketing message. Here are a few questions to ask when evaluating your trade show options:

What are my goals? You first must determine your objectives for the show so you can choose the show that will give your company the best return on investment (ROI) in terms of your goals. If your goal is on-site sales, picking a show where there are dozens of competitors selling similar products will be a bust and a colossal waste of money.

Who will be there? Your first step will be to quantify the total number of relevant prospects, buyers, and influences who will be interested in your company’s products or services. Obtain an Exhibitor’s Registration Kit and look at the attendee profile of previous shows, including job title, industry representation, type of business, and geographical distribution.

Does size really matter? Bigger isn’t really necessarily better. Really. The size of the show should match your goals sales leads, units sold, etc.). If you’re a smaller company, it might be difficult to stand out at big trade shows, whereas at a smaller one you might be more noticeable. Smaller ones, however, won’t generate the same high number of leads as larger shows so you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of both and how they relate to your overall objectives.

Will your competitors be there? Though you might not like competing for the same mindshare, the proximity of competitors in one place can be a boon for your business. Find out in advance which of your competitors are going to be there. This actually can help you formulate a winning strategy and effective marketing message specific to that show. What new products are you introducing? And, how and why are they better than your competitor’s?

Is it the right choice? Though you’ll never know for sure in advance whether a trade show is going to deliver a return on your investment, there are some ways to hedge your bets. Ask yourself whether this show is well aligned with the core competencies of your business or just one facet of its offerings? Is the right audience going to participate? Can my company stand out and be unique on the show floor?

What about media coverage? Ask for last year’s press list. Do any of these publications reach your target customers? Do you have a compelling story to tell them? If so, this show might be a good fit.

Make your Trade Show Exhibit a PR Showcase

Every trade show is a public relations opportunity.

Your Trade Show Exhibit plan should be designed to target your target customer markets and the event, but here are a few tips that will help you make a PR impact.

Determine your PR objective

The best PR efforts have a singular, focused objective. Are you trying to increase awareness of your company’s products, services and/or brand? Are you trying to reach new prospects? Do you want to expand your distribution channels and recruit new distributors or dealers? Are you most interested in maintaining a presence and enhancing your company’s visibility?

What is your news?

If you want press, you need to create a story, you need to have a news hook. Are you introducing a new product or service? Has your company achieved a new milestone?

If you do not have news, looks for ways to create news value. For example, did your company recently complete a new research study about the industry or your products, and can you release some of this information for the first time at the trade show? Can you provide insight into current industry trends?

Build media interest before the show

Look at past events and see how much press coverage exhibitors received. Generally, national and international industry trade shows and conferences get the most coverage. Before the show, contact trade and local reporters who are likely to cover the event. Also, connect with any media representatives who are pre-registered for the show. Your overall goal is to secure media interest in your company, and if possible, schedule interviews during the show.

Work with the event organizers

Most trade show organizers engage in media promotion throughout the year. They are often the best source of information about who will be covering the show.

Put together a press kit

At least a month before the show, put together a press kit. Include information about your company, products and services, performance reports, past articles, key executive bios, and other material that will help reporters feature your company and your products. Include one press contact in your press kit.

Arrange to have your press kit in the media room or delivered to reporters. And, always have a few extra copies in your trade show booth.

Issue a press release from the show.

Make your news the focus of the press release and include a senior executive as the contact from your company.

A carefully planned tradeshow PR strategy can help you attract positive press coverage at your next trade show. It can also make your trade show exhibit investment more productive.

Trade Show Strategy: Plan it Like an Expedition

I like to think about a trade show like an expedition. I’m headed off to some exotic land in search of treasure. I will be deep in the jungle, cut off from civilization for days. It will be hard to get supplies. I know that my team should expect no outside help. The fate of the entire expedition rests in the hands of the people I choose to man the booth, careful planning and how well equipped we are to meet the expected – and unforeseen – challenges.

The treasure is, of course, new customers and sales. And getting those new customers requires an action plan.

Plan your targets in advance

About 75% of show attendees plan booth visits and meetings before the show starts. Review the attendee list in advance of the show. ID your targets. Start to invite people to visit your booth a few weeks before the show. Personal phone calls are most effective and harder to ignore than e-mails and mailings. Think about pre-show communications that will create anticipation of your booth – it can feature a special promotion or some buzz about a new product release.

Make sure you and your team are outfitted for this adventure

Select clothes that look professional or that support the theme of your booth, but also make sure that everyone will look great all day. Plan on it being either too hot or too cold – attire with a jacket that can be removed is a great choice. And wear comfortable shoes. (One of the biggest mistakes I ever made was wearing beautiful, brand new shoes that were not a great fit to a trade show.) It is almost impossible to really smile if you have been standing for 6 hours and your feet hurt.

Have enough staff or find a partner

Ideally, you will have enough staff in your booth to meet with prospects and give your team breaks. If you have limited staff or have only one person at the booth for a show, find another larger company to partner with. It is best to do this before you select your booth location so that you can be located next to each other or share a larger space.

Pick the right team

Who you pick for this “expedition” is essential to making it successful. Fill your team with high-energy people who have an upbeat attitude. And make sure that everyone who is representing your company has deep product knowledge.

Plan your sales material carefully

People who attend a show are bombarded with information and the best way to be remembered is from your sales literature. Make sure it is easy to carry and packed with valuable information – your goal is to make sure people take your material back to their office. If you have a really valuable prospect, make sure to get their contact information and send material to them after the show.

Carefully select your bait

Over 90% of exhibitors bring a premium or free sample to give away at a trade show because offering an attractive free gift is great way to attract people to your booth. You will be the best choices and can usually save money if you plan this in advance.

What do you do before a show to make it more successful?

Tradeshow Exhibit Packaging 101

Tradeshow exhibits can be packaged in a variety of ways including:

  • Crates
  • Skids or pallets
  • Molded plastic cases
  • Or no packaging at all, (pad wrapped)

Crates

The vast majority of custom or modular trade show exhibits are packed in crates. Properly constructed crates reduce the likelihood of damage and can greatly enhance the useful life of the display. The downside of crates is the cost (usually around $1,500 each for average sizes) and the weight of the crates (around 300 pounds each). While properly designed crates will take full advantage of the space in a truck, their weight will add cost to shipping (if based on weight) and material handling. Crated displays can usually avoid the “special handling” fees charged for material handling.

 

Skids or Pallets

Skids are essentially crates without sides or a top. They are easily moved with a forklift and are commonly used when the items are too big or bulky to fit in a crate, e.g., structural beams, truss, furniture and rolls of carpet and padding. The disadvantages to skids are that they are difficult or impossible to stack, increasing storage and shipping costs, and they do not afford the protection that crates do. Skids do reduce shipping weight when compared to crates.

Molded Cases

Manufactured exhibit systems and portable displays often pack in molded plastic cases. In some instances, the cases are compartmentalized to secure the individual parts of the display. Manufactured displays break down into smaller pieces that lend themselves to being packed into these pre-engineered containers. They are much lighter than crates and are very durable. Some displays that are packed in multiple molded cases are then stacked on skids for ease of handling on the show floor.

Pad Wrapped

Some exhibits are shipped as individual pieces without crates or skids. The items are wrapped with packing pads and loaded into moving vans just like household goods are handled. This process adds considerable time to the packing, loading and unloading process and increases the likelihood of damage, but might be worth considering in some cases.

Trade show display packaging is not as simple as it might seem, as there are many variables involved in deciding which method will be most cost-effective. Your exhibit supplier should be able to describe how your exhibit is going to be packaged and why. A detailed cost comparison of each option, accounting for all potential areas of impact on cost, might be of value before you make a decision.