Step-by-Step Guide to Successful Trade Show Preparation, Delivery and Follow-Up
1. Why exhibit
Trade shows are a popular marketing component of business. Trade shows allow companies to interact and forge new partnerships with a diverse group of potential buyers and clients, all within one location. Many businesses recognize these advantages and incorporate trade show exhibition as an important part of their company's export strategy.
Fact: 76 percent of companies indicated their return on investment is the same or higher at participation in international trade shows compared to their participation in domestic trade shows. Source: EXHIBITOR Magazine, 2019
Trade shows are:
- A global marketplace for buyers and sellers to meet, do business and make sales
- A forum to increase your profile and differentiate yourself from competitors
- A unique, highly effective, non-mass media marketing tool to promote existing products or to launch new ones
- An opportunity to network and find new clients and generate new leads
- A venue to find new investment opportunities
- A cost-effective way to gather market research and learn about industry trends
2. Building your marketing strategy
Once you have decided to participate and exhibit at a trade show, it is very important to create a marketing strategy to promote your brand both leading up to and during the event. Having a marketing strategy in place will allow you to take steps to increase your profile at an earlier stage and differentiate yourself from competitors. You want to give attendees a reason to visit your booth and do business with you at the event.
Fact: Attendees are more receptive and engaged with marketing messages at special events, increasing the likelihood of short term marketing at trade shows successfully converting to sustained brand recognition and value. Source: Center for Exhibition Industry Research
Identify your objectives and target audience
Common objectives include increasing brand and product awareness, expanding market presence, meeting new clients, researching industry trends, launching or testing a new product, and maintaining relationships with existing clients and partners. Defining your target audience will ensure a more tailored and efficient strategy.
Marketing is just as important as participating at the event and should be included as part of the overall budget. If exhibiting internationally, be mindful that some marketing costs may be incurred overseas and will be affected by foreign exchange rates.
Select the right marketing tools
Common marketing methods include:
- Direct marketing to consumers
- Individual appointments and meetings
- Advertising and listing in event directories
- Media and public relations packages
- Marketing and sponsorship of events and functions at the trade show
- Social media
Social media tools
Effective use of social media can boost your trade show strategy by providing real-time client interaction and tailored content for your target audience. It can provide attendees with new channels to learn about, communicate and recommend your company and products.
Fact: 91 percent of exhibiting companies currently incorporate social media into their face-to-face marketing mix. Source: EXHIBITOR Magazine, 2018
Businesses and consumers are increasingly incorporating social media as part of their marketing strategy to communicate, share and promote their brand, services and products. Popular tools include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Flickr, and YouTube.
Leveraging social media:
- Decide on the best social media tools to reach your target audience. Find out what social media tools and online forums they are using.
- Look into what social media tools trade show organizers are using and connect with them.
- Develop engaging and innovative content to differentiate yourself from the crowd.
- Ensure that the social media tools for sharing and embedding your content are displayed prominently, strategically located, and easy to access whether it is on promotional material or on your website.
- Regularly track and monitor the content viewed and feedback received through social media. Your clients are your extended sales force and acknowledging their feedback can help further develop and improve your business.
- Use social media tools to interact with existing and prospective clients. Engage clients to help share your story about who you are as a business and a brand. Remember, social media is supposed to be social.
Canada Brand is an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) branding initiative designed to help Canada's food and agriculture industry differentiate their products as Canadian at home and internationally. It includes a suite of tools including graphics, images and messaging that can help you brand your products and leverage consumers' positive perceptions of Canada.
Implement the strategy
The strategy must then be continually monitored and each marketing activity recorded and evaluated on outcomes achieved and lessons learned. Establishing a timeline for execution is critical to stay on track.
3. Choosing the right show
There are hundreds of trade shows around the world to choose from. Many companies spend time and money on travel and booth creation and fail to spend resources on researching shows, and setting goals. Research and careful assessment will ensure that the trade show selected aligns best with your objectives and goals.
Use Trade Commissioner and Agriculture and Agri-Food (AAFC) Canada Regional Office expertise
Trade Commissioners are stationed around the world to promote the Canadian agriculture and agri-food sector. Trade Commissioners located in your international market of interest, as well as staff at regionally located AAFC offices throughout Canada, are familiar with conducting business within specific markets, the key stakeholders, as well as international trade events held in specific locations.
Identify objectives and goals
The clearer your export and business goals, the better you can identify which trade show will offer the most value to your company, and the more focus your overall exhibit will have. Your goals can pertain to interested markets, theme, down to the number and type of quality leads you hope to generate.
Questions to ask include:
- Is your product or service ready to enter the market?
- What are your objectives in participating in a trade show?
- Who is your target market and audience?
- How will this trade show complement your export strategy?
- Do you have the necessary resources: people, finance, time, commitment?
- Do you have the capacity to follow-up on new leads?
Consult exhibitor and attendee information
Proactively contact show organizers, websites, and all other available sources well in advance of your commitment to exhibit. This ensures a well informed decision is made regarding whether the event will be a value added business activity for your organization. Understand your options – you may choose to exhibit or instead simply attend to gather contacts and market intelligence if you have insufficient resources.
4. Planning your participation
The effort and time dedicated to pre-show preparation may impact your success during and post show. Pre-show training sessions are often offered on-site prior to the show and during the show. This kind of preparation can benefit your level of efficiency and professionalism within a trade show setting.
Set goals that compliment your marketing objectives and overall business strategy
It is important to understand that trade show participation extends beyond the few days you are exhibiting; it is a marketing tool that must be integrated into your overall business strategy and one that must be done properly in order to obtain results. Setting goals and developing a roadmap are key ways to achieve this.
For example, your company may sell 100 different products, but through goal setting you choose to focus on 10 of your products for trade show promotion and sales development. Refining the items you plan to display, sample, or discuss with potential clients gives your exhibit a stronger, more cohesive, and tailored focus.
Inform clients of your participation
As you prepare to participate in your trade show, you should communicate with your current and potential clients:
- Contact current business partners. Use your trade show presence as a forum to not only generate new business, but to solidify and build on current ones.
- Notify prospective clients of your participation. Use your trade show presence as a tool for setting up first-time interactions with your desired target audience.
Fact: 71 percent of companies say their primary reason for exhibiting internationally is to increase leads and sales and to build relationships with clients/prospects. Source: EXHIBITOR Magazine, 2019
To aid in pre-show preparations and ensure that you make the best use of your time at the trade show, it is a good idea to book appointments with prospective clients and buyers ahead of time if possible. Trade Commissioners in local markets and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Regional Offices can provide information on meetings that may be taking place with potential buyers that Canadian exporters can participate in.
Designing a booth display
Trade shows require professional displays, promotional materials such as product or service samples, staffing, shipping and travel fees. It is important for an exporter to budget for these expenses in designing their booth display.
The importance of creating a fresh, innovative and unmatched display and selling technique is vital to trade show success. A booth that is not accommodating or welcoming to attendees will reduce the time they are willing to spend at your booth.
- Avoid confusing displays. Have distinct focal points as opposed to numerous competing designs. Within a few seconds a passerby will appraise each booth and decide on approaching.
- Pavilions and booths are often exhibitor-friendly, but also have to be attendee friendly. Counters or free standing displays should not block the view of backdrops or inhibit visitors from entering the booth.
- Attempt to communicate the spirit and flavour of your organization. If you are participating in the Canada Pavilion, find out what the pavilion looks like and how your exhibit can complement the overall image and reputation your country is endorsing.
- Use strong colours in displays that work in conjunction with the overall pavilion look and feel, but remember the eye appreciates and is drawn to less aggressive colours; seek a balance.
Regardless of whether you are exhibiting independently or as part of a larger pavilion, it is important to pay attention to detail to ensure the impression and atmosphere you are creating is conducive to successful business activity.
Begin developing promotional material early
- Understand the true nature of the event. Some trade shows are primarily focused on showcasing goods and services, while some are focused on actually conducting business and negotiating contracts. You need the appropriate materials in either situation.
- All sales literature and marketing materials should be printed in the local language if exhibiting internationally, this emphasizes a professional image.
- Product samples should be offered to qualified booth visitors with high clientele potential as opposed to every passerby. Remember, smaller sample sizes often send out a higher perceived value.
- Consider promotional methods that extend beyond merely product samples and the handing out of written materials. Consider mailing product samples and written information of a larger quantity to qualified leads after the show. This addresses the importance of follow-up and ensures costly samples are being dispensed in an effective manner.
Customs and import regulations
Find the best methods and approach to getting your exhibit and samples or products to the trade event location. Consider the customs and import regulations, as well as licenses needed for your sample products. Knowing these requirements in advance will ensure a smooth transition from pre-show to at-show execution.
Understanding the market access issues in the market you are interested in will also help determine where you will have the greatest chance of exporting success in the long run.
A pro-active, friendly and well trained booth staff member is often more effective in attracting attendees than a free sample or giveaway. Sample engagement and qualifying questions should be given to staffers prior to the show. Avoid a scripted feel, but ensure there are guidelines on appropriate staff/attendee dialogue.
Fact: The majority of exhibiting companies train their staff on how to qualify leads at trade shows. Source: EXHIBITOR Magazine
The clients you gain become your company's ambassadors. If attendees are happy with the interaction with your staff, they are more likely to think positively of your company, more willing to do business with you, and more eager to spread the word about your product or service to others.
- Develop qualifying questions for staff to use to pinpoint the audience you are looking to reach and to verify booth visitors as potential clients. Perform these types of activities before getting into product sampling or demonstration.
- Do not employ booth staff that cannot answer questions. Not only should booth staff be able to answer basic questions pertaining to your product or service, they should be able to answer extensive questions pertaining to your company's capabilities, export intentions, current market exposure and efforts to expand into other markets.
- Ensure booth staff are clearly identified and professionally dressed and focused on being open and approachable to attendees.
- A translator may be required at your booth for attendees who may prefer to do business in their local language.
- Provide staff with business cards and other promotional material that can be handed out to booth visitors if appropriate.
- Never leave the booth vacant. A booth staff member must always be present.
Fact: Attendees spend on average 8.4 hours per show visiting exhibits. Source: EXHIBITOR Magazine
5. Participating on-site
No matter how much preparation goes in, there will bound to be changes and surprises. Be prepared for change and be prepared to adapt.
- Aim to arrive at the show at least 24 hours in advance. You may need to allow for extra time if exhibiting overseas.
- When you arrive, get in touch with your local contact if you have one to stay updated on what is happening locally.
- Check that you have all documentation related to shipping invoices, booth registration etc. with you.
Booth set up
- Ensure you obtain a floor plan and take time to familiarize yourself with the surroundings and other exhibitors.
- Check that your display is set up properly.
- Ensure all promotional material is ready.
- Organize a final staff briefing to go over objectives, plan of action, and schedules.
- Reconfirm your upcoming trade show appointments.
Trade show crowds exhibit certain behavioural patterns. Taking the time to understand the audience will ensure that you develop a good approach to getting them interested in your booth, products and services. Cues can be taken from the type of workshops or seminars organized in conjunction with the show, local events, as well as the local/regional culture. Trade Commissioners and regional office staff can also provide advice.
Your staff have to understand your organization's business plan and target audience and not just push a product. Their efforts will be lost on attendees if they are not able to transfer important product and company information as well as provide a professional and competent representation to prospective clients.
Spotting genuine leads
The key to garnering successful leads is being able to recognize a genuine prospect. Building a profile of your target audience beforehand and being aware of whether you are seeking local partnerships or international business alliances can aid staff in identifying the right leads. Developing qualifying questions beforehand can also help staff.
Fact: 95 percent of companies say lead acquisition is one of their most important exhibit-marketing objectives. Source: Center for Exhibition Industry Research, 2018
Clear business goals will assist in the identification of qualified booth visitors. For example, if you have decided to focus on business expansion into the United States, then all visitors to your booth from the United States have already met one important qualifying variable. The more variables met, the greater the significance of product samples and information.
- Be prepared to have your company information and contact details on hand, whether it is using business cards, pass scanners or Quick Response (QR) codes.
- Be proactive in approaching prospects. Introduce yourself. Develop an elevator pitch or opener that highlights your business and product.
- If your staff need to sit, provide stools rather than chairs so that staff members can greet booth visitors at eye level.
- Avoid closed questions – you want to understand what your prospective clients are looking for and what has caught their attention at your booth.
- Ensure booth staff know your key messages. Active listening is important and booth staff should pay attention to body language, use of words, and tone of voice.
- If you are conducting a demonstration, spot individuals who express above average interest in your products or services. Get them involved in the demonstration or ensure you reach out to them afterwards.
Fact: Trade shows attract attendees who have a major say in purchasing decisions. Half of all attendees have a buying plan in place before their visit. Source: Center for Exhibition Industry Research
Your exhibit should target specific prospects that are interested in the products you are selling. Once targeted, the next step will be to initiate person-to-person contact. A system should be developed to record down the contacts made. Capturing the leads generated can be done by filing away business cards received or noting down each interaction in writing or electronically.
Tips and best practices:
- Ensure there is a lead management system in place during the show. Staff can break down leads into several categories, such as high, medium and low interest/potential to prioritize who to follow up with.
- Decide on a common method of follow-up prior to a show for staff to follow and allocate sufficient time and resources for post-show lead follow-up.
Fact: Nearly half (49 percent) of exhibitors are able to track what percentage of leads sourced at a given show ultimately convert to sales. Source: EXHIBITOR Magazine, 2020
6. Post-show and measuring performance
After a trade show ends, it is easy to fall behind on lead follow-up. In most cases trade shows are about generating qualified leads and not about conducting final sales. The longer one leaves leads unattended, the less likely they are to evolve into business opportunities.
Within one month
Professional follow-up within a recommended 30 day period helps to ensure your business reaps the most benefit from trade show participation; otherwise the effort and time invested in participation can be lost.
Initial follow-up can be conducted in a variety of ways. It can be made by a simple phone call within a few days of the show, while more intensive follow-up should be made within the span of a month (timeframes can vary depending on the nature and seasonality of your business). Examples of follow-up include thank you letters or e-mails, trips to visit leads, and distribution of product samples and information packages.
You may also decide to extend your stay following a trade show to conduct immediate face-to-face follow-up with serious leads.
From six months to one year
Stay in touch with your leads by keeping them informed about new and upcoming products and services, as well as updates on existing ones. You may offer a newsletter for subscription or develop social media content to disseminate your company's latest news.
Are you thinking of attending or exhibiting at other trade shows? As your company plans ahead for future trade show opportunities, let your leads know which upcoming trade shows you are looking to attend, as they may be considering attending too, providing additional opportunities to connect.
However formal or informal, ensure an event debrief and show evaluation is conducted analyzing what worked, what did not, and what could be improved. It is best to hold a debrief soon after the event has concluded while the experience is still fresh in your mind.
Feedback can be useful to ensure that each trade show experience is an improvement from the last. It can also serve as the basis for selecting the "right" shows to attend in the future. The quality of the leads generated, sales revenue generated, as well as visitor traffic are examples of what can be measured to get a picture of the overall success of your booth.
A post-show report covering show description, market opportunities, new trends, lessons learned and recommendations for future trade shows can be useful for future event budgeting and planning. In addition, a debrief on your marketing strategy and its impact and correlation to results achieved can aid in crafting future marketing plans.
Use your trade show participation, however frequent, as an opportunity to consistently refine your approach to business within a trade show setting. Ensure it satisfies your business needs, fulfills your business goals and provides some form of return on your time and financial investments.
There is no definitive approach to trade show participation, only suggestions as to how to better approach this valuable marketing method. It is important to customize your approach to exhibiting to maximize your success.
7. The Canada Pavilion: Why exhibit with us
AAFC has a presence at several prominent trade shows around the world through its Canada Pavilion Program which aims to make trade show participation easier for Canadian companies at the world’s premier food and beverage events ‘where the world shops’.
The pavilion is designed to present a cohesive country brand on the international stage. The program provides streamlined access to financial support, with a focus on new to market, first-time exhibitors, and innovative products.
Your presence as a Canadian exhibitor at the Canada Pavilion gives your business an opportunity to interact with new and established contacts in the world's most dynamic markets backed with first-class support. Canadian exhibitors receive, at a competitive and reasonable cost, premium exhibitor space on the exhibition floor, as well as high quality services and one-on-one support from our staff.
Sample of Canada Pavilion services:
- High quality Canada branded pavilion
- Turn-key booths with basic furnishings: Panel graphics, company signage, common lounge and refreshments, telecommunications and meeting rooms, selected Canadian promotional aids, product showcase, counter, table and chairs, wastebasket, basic electricity and wireless Internet services
- Show and official directory registration
- Pre-show market intelligence and briefing
- On-site and on-going marketing support
- Printed catalogue of pavilion participants distributed prior to the show
- Networking sessions with potential buyers and invitations to key international buyers
- Opportunity to meet Canadian Trade Commissioners and buyers one-on-one
Canadian companies who wish to exhibit under the Canada Pavilion are advised to visit Agriculture and Food Trade Show Service for more information on how to register.
For additional funding opportunities for events outside the Canada Pavilion Program, small and medium sized Canadian companies can visit CanExport, while Canadian industry associations can visit AgriMarketing Program for more information.
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