As anyone who may have been poking about on our website might gather, I’ve been at Alchemis for a VERY long time. But prior to that – in the final 6 years of the last millennium in fact – I had a somewhat different role. I used to work in contract publishing. Not just any contract publishing though – our market was very niche. The company I worked for produced the official catalogues for a whole range of trade exhibitions.
Some of these exhibitions were absolutely huge, such as the International Spring Fair at the Birmingham NEC which was one of the largest trade shows in Europe and had several thousand exhibitors. This event had become so large that the NEC (already an absolutely massive venue) actually had more halls built onto it which, I was told at the time, were needed to cope with the ever-growing number of exhibitors and visitors for this specific show.
With this background, I’ve always been convinced that exhibitions can be a great source of new business as long as you maximise your full potential not just at the show, but before and after it too.
So let’s break this down to the basics:
If you’re spending a load of money to get a stand at an exhibition (or even if you are only spending a little bit of money), you need to let your target market know you are going to be there.
Don’t leave this to chance and hope people will just flock to your stand on the day. Some might, but more will if they know in advance and have a good reason to see you. There are various ways to let people know you’re going to be there – trade press ads, direct mail/email to the prospects you are most keen to meet, with a compelling reason outlining why they should see your stand. For your highest value targets, a direct phone call to them in order to arrange a meeting at the show may well pay dividends. Alchemis have run these sort of campaigns for various clients over the years with great success.
At The Show
The most obvious benefit of exhibiting is that it provides opportunities to engage directly with potential customers and showcase your products or services. You have a captive market of people who (by the very fact they have turned up to the exhibition) should be interested in buying, providing you can drive them to your stand.
Following directly on from this, having a stand at a show will allow you to have direct face-to-face interactions with visitors. At Alchemis, we are great believers in the mantra that people buy from people and this level of personal engagement helps build rapport and trust. It also enables you to address any questions or concerns a visitor may have then and there.
Whilst you’re at the show, you are in a unique position to collect data from what is likely to be your most relevant target market, so make sure you take full advantage of this. Whether you are using sign-up sheets, collecting business cards (do people still have them these days?), or digital lead capture tools to gather contact information from interested attendees, do not let this data go to waste! You could also run incentives, such as discounts, etc to encourage people to provide their details willingly and increase the overall volume of these leads.
Having an interesting/engaging stand design could draw people in and you should ensure your branding is clearly visible and consistent. At the same time, if you have promotional branded merchandise make sure that is available and given to your target customers (particularly if it is the sort of thing people will use after the show has finished).
Finally, don’t forget to check out your competitors – it’s a good chance to see what they are doing/offering – at the very least just to increase your level of awareness within the market.
After The Show
Please do not make the mistake of thinking that just because the stands have come down, that is the end of your involvement. If anything, this is where you should be increasing your activity.
Ensuring that you make the effort to follow up the visitors/potential buyers you met at the show is essential – after all, they may be the warmest leads. But what about the vast pool of potential buyers that may not have got round to you? Or, for whatever reason, didn’t make it to the exhibition at all on this occasion?
Think of it this way: a robust, proactive new business strategy can be like having a successful exhibition every day. It will put you in front of a constant stream of decision makers that you know are in a position to buy your services, regardless of whether you met them at an event or not.