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To Show Or Not To Show…That Is The Question

Show what? Why, your stuff, that’s what! And where do you show it? Well, material handling dealers show their stuff most frequently at their dealership locations. They also get a chance to strut their stuff whenever they do an equipment demo at the prospect’s location.

But these opportunities sure are limiting. After all, it can take a lot of phone calls and personal sales visits to interest a prospect in your products and services. For example, a typical cost-conscious purchaser in the market for a new forklift will want to get at least three quotes to determine which machine provides the best return on investment. That means they may have to visit more than one dealership and view several different demos in order to narrow their focus.

All this activity takes time, and we all know what a valuable commodity that is. Therefore, whatever you can do to save time and shorten the purchase cycle for both you and your prospects is beneficial.

The Role of Trade Shows
An outgrowth of the medieval marketplace, a trade show is a mass collection of exhibits or booths, each representing a different company. They are the leading source for purchasing information, one of the most cost-effective ways to promote your company’s products and services, and the last vestige of face-to-face marketing. Shows provide a unique opportunity that cannot be replicated in any other type of marketing activity, as it is the one time prospects come to you. In short, trade shows put buyers and sellers together in a selling environment.

Besides the importance of the face-to-face interaction at shows, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) cites other reasons why a company should exhibit:

  • 88 percent of attendees have not been seen by a member of your company’s sales staff in the preceding 12 months.
  • Seven out of ten attendees plan to buy one or more products.
  • 76 percent ask for quotes and 26 percent sign purchase orders (average all shows).
  • 72 percent of show visitors say the show influenced their buying decision.
  • 87 percent of attendees will share some of the information obtained at an exhibition.
  • 64 percent of attendees tell at least six other people about the event.
  • 58 percent attend only the show in which you are exhibiting.
  • 40 percent are first-time attendees.
  • It costs 22 percent less to contact a potential buyer at a show than through traditional field sales calls.
  • 54 percent of exhibitors do not set objectives, and a much larger percentage have no formal process to either measure objectives or report about what happened at their events.

Trade show exhibition is a more than $70 billion industry. In the United States and Canada, over 13,000 major exhibitions take place each year at more than 2,000 venues. The Las Vegas area alone has more than 10 million square feet of convention space. At these shows, more than 75 million attendees view the wares of over 1.5 million companies.

The exhibit industry suffered a setback after 9/11 but is now recovering. The number of attendees has declined in that time, but the quality of those attendees is rising. Roughly 84 percent of attendees have buying authority and 50 percent do not require a sales call to close, including the 35 percent who are owners, CEOs or partners. It is estimated that 53 percent of CEOs will attend three to five exhibitions this year.

Things to Consider
Now that you’re considering taking the plunge, here’s the best way to get a positive impact on your investment.

  • Plan ahead. Begin early by setting objectives with measurable results. Assign responsibilities to your staff, and notify all persons concerned. Be sure to place only one person in charge to avoid confusion. Develop a schedule of local, regional and national shows you wish to attend, and determine the space required to exhibit at each.
  • Design a compelling display. Don’t skimp on your image! The booth layout must accommodate your needs, such as easy access, space for product demos and audio/visual connections. Good lighting and flooring are critical, and counters should be a comfortable height. (Be flexible if attending shows with different-sized booths.) For pictures, it is better to have one forceful graphic than many smaller images.
  • Select an exhibit house. Be sure to consider the manufacturer‘s reputation, their design/creative services and show services/logistics support (if required). Determine what warranties and trade-in allowances are provided. Remember, the lowest price is not always the best value!
  • Staff the booth appropriately. The most important component of your exhibit is your booth staff. They should be people-oriented, enthusiastic, observant and knowledgeable of your product. They should be good listeners who are empathetic to the needs of prospects. Proper dress and clear company I.D. are mandatory. Develop firm written schedules and allow time for rest breaks. All staff should be able to see the show! Meet regularly and distribute a profile of show visitors. Train the staff on all aspects of the show: goals, products, pricing, contests, promotions, literature and the selling process. Provide a list of Dos and Don’ts.
  • Utilize pre-show marketing tools. The pre-show tools available to you include direct mailings, e-mail, your Web site, trade publication ads, news releases, blast faxes, telemarketing, articles in relevant publications, publicity kits, show incentives and/or an in-house awareness campaign.

It’s Show Time!
Come early and come ready! Don’t be caught setting up when the doors open. You’ve paid good money and blocked out time to be there. Trade shows are notorious for having things go wrong at the worst possible time, so set up early to prevent disasters. Be sure to have adequate supplies of product information. Prepare clearly detailed instructions for your booth personnel. Double check all equipment and have backups for everything. Obtain emergency information from the show management. Buy any necessary insurance and take photos.

Two More Trade Show Show Tips

Once the show is underway, you can perform many other promotional activities, including seminar presentations, sponsorships, hospitality events, door prizes and much more. Take advantage of advertising opportunities like show literature, directories, airport signage, billboards, taxis and shuttle buses.

Follow Up Quickly
The leads you get from the show should be acted on quickly. Set aside one full day to complete show efforts. Place any orders that were acquired and fulfill personal requests for information. Give salespeople any leads that were developed for them, and be sure to follow up and track the results. Send thank-you notes to important new prospects, saying when you will visit. Update your records.

Read More Online
Interested in a distributor’s trade show exhibition experience? Julie Duvall and William Fillmore offer tips on Planning A High Performance Trade Show Exhibit in this article from Spring 2001.

Lastly, you should evaluate the show results. Did the show/booth meet your needs and goals? Did you meet new buyers? How many? How many visitors? Prospects? How much literature was distributed? Did you receive any post-show publicity? What mistakes did you make? How can you correct them? What should be done differently next time? Will there be a next time? These are all important questions to ask.

In summary, trade shows are a lot of work. They can be expensive and time-consuming. But, if done right, they are worth it. Give it a try. Go out there and strut your stuff!

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association
Meg Merritt Meet the Author
Meg Merritt is president of Trade Show Navigators LLC, located in Las Vegas, Nevada, and on the Web at www.tradeshownavigators.com.


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