Exhibiting done right should be a cost-effective way to get new business

Just like any other marketing method, exhibiting at a trade show or conference can be a cost-effective way to get new business, or it can be a complete waste of money.

Often, business owners or marketing managers will say that they just didn’t see a return on investment from their exhibition, or they didn’t get as many new leads as they would like. The good news is, the mistakes they’re making are quite common and avoidable with the right know how. When deciding which event to exhibit at, don’t just ask around your business owner friends and see if they got good results from the exhibition, make sure you properly prepare and plan, just like you would with any new marketing strategy.

Here are 8 mistakes businesses make when exhibiting

1. They did not have the correct marketing literature.

You’re not going to have time to talk to everyone at the exhibition, and a lot of people simply aren’t going to want to engage with you. They may be hurrying round stands on a time limit, trying to pick up as much information as possible. Your marketing literature is vital here, it’s a chance to fully explain your business offering and is a way to stick in attendees minds for the long term. Your marketing literature should represent you in a professional way; the printing, design and copywriting should be premium quality.

Business cards are important but cannot give a comprehensive explanation of what you do – neither do pens, bags, mugs, golf balls or any other items which may even be completely irrelevant to your target customer. A well written, professionally designed brochure is key.

2. Their stand was poor quality.

Your stand is your shop window for the day. A poor quality stand which is badly designed will not attract customers and will send a negative vibe about your business. When printing large items, the logo and graphics need to be in the correct, large file format. Too often businesses use pixelated, poor quality graphics, or even use a pinboard to present pictures they’ve printed in their own office! A high-quality stand shows that you are a high-quality business who gives good attention to detail.

3. They failed to understand the sales and marketing funnel.

People attending your event are cold leads. They may never have had any contact with your business before and may not yet need your products or services. Events are a way to network and find leads, if you go there with the aim to sell and sell alone, you may not have much luck. Often businesses will go in for the hard sell, and cold call any leads they picked up from the event. This will have a limited success rate, it’s much better to consider where these leads fall into your sales and marketing plan. Perhaps the leads you collected need to stay in the pipeline a bit longer. To do this, consider offering the leads you picked up something extra; such as a digital e-book or guide, a free consultation or review, or a subscription to a helpful newsletter.

Remember to segment your leads into categories such as:

  • People who interacted with you but expressed no interest in a sale.
  • People who expressed interest in a sale.
  • People you had limited contact with (perhaps they just dropped off their business card or filled in their details on a form.)
  • And people you had no contact with (if you have a list of attendees).

Sales and marketing need to align and work together to decide who needs to do what with these leads.

It’s very important to mention that any leads you pick up need to be followed up on enough and for long enough. It may be a year or more of regular activity before you see the results of your sales and marketing efforts.

4. They did not collect enough leads.

When you’re exhibiting, you need to have a way of capturing data so that the leads can be used afterwards. The best way of doing this is to create an irresistible prize that visitors need to hand over their business card or email address to enter.

The prize needs to be carefully considered. If your prize is irrelevant, you may as well just input the attendee list to your database. For example, if you’re giving away a prize of a years supply of doughnuts, but you’re a web development agency, you will only attract people who are interested in doughnuts – not web development! If your prize is a brand new website, you will attract lots of people who really want a new website. Whether these leads have the budget for a new website can be deciphered later, but it’s a much better starting point than giving away a bottle of gin or a mini iPad.

5. They did not attend the right exhibition.

If you want to show anywhere and everywhere, this is a great way of getting your name out there, but it’s a very expensive form of networking. Don’t just show at an exhibition because your competitors are showing there or it’s a good price. Even if you already have your stand and marketing literature printed up, your time is valuable.

Ensure that you properly research who is going to be attending the event and how long they are likely to spend there. Look at things like the location and whether there are any special speakers or workshops there that would attract your ideal customer. The last thing you want is a disaster like attending a trade show for very small businesses when you’re a large accountancy firm. Or even attending a show where hardly anybody turns up!

It might work out better for you to attend one large event in London which is specialised for your industry, than five smaller local shows. Ask around, review prices and plan your budget properly.

6. They did not market their attendance.

With social media, there is no excuse not to have contact with the event attendees before the event. If you have a list of attendees, connect with them on social media beforehand. Advertise your purpose for attending the event and let people know what they can expect from your stand and how you will be able to help them. Are you able to give them a free consultation, are you giving away special gifts or do you have a prize draw? Shout about it!

Remember to market during and after the event too, take photographs and share anything interesting that happened. Make sure you are using any particular hashtags that the event is promoting and of course, the correct geolocation tags.

7. They did not have clear objectives for the event and their message was muddled.

If you offer a lot of services or products, you may need to focus on one message. If the event is themed, make sure your message is cohesive with this.

As an obvious example, if you were a photographer attending a trade show for weddings, you’d want to promote your wedding photography specifically. Perhaps you could refine your offering by giving a special deal or discount for people who book you during or after the trade show.

If you were an IT support business showing at the IT Support Show, you might wish to talk about one particular current and relevant issue to separate yourself from the other exhibitors.

8. They weren’t welcoming and friendly enough at the show.

There needs to be a gentle balance at exhibitions, you don’t want to give it the hard sell and yet you want someone with enough sales experience that they know how to promote your business properly.

Sometimes, staff exhibiting at events don’t come prepared with a short elevator pitch and a warm smile. You’ll need to actively engage people as they walk past the stand, don’t expect them to come to you with questions every time. Instead of asking people what they’re looking for or how you can help them, tell them how you can help them! Avoid starting with a closed question that you can get a stiff ‘no’ to, such as ‘are you looking for a recruiter or new job?’

Needless to say, being sat down, staring at your phone or eating a sandwich will be a waste of time and money at the very least.

Contact us for Exhibiting & Digital Print Solutions

Properly preparing for an exhibition, ensuring your sales and marketing plan is drawn up and having a high-quality stand and marketing literature will help you have measured success. If you’d like some help with printing, writing and design, we can help. Take a look at some examples of our work. We’ve worked with many businesses to help them create exhibitions which have lasting impact.

For all enquiries telephone 01924 455999 or email us on sales@dennisondigital.co.uk.