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Posted by Sarah Brown on 28 Aug '15

Why no one talks about exhibiting anymore and 54 ways to prove them wrong

How to make exhibitions work for you

Everyone knows, and the smart people are doing social media, content marketing and maybe some bulk SMS for good measure! In fact, the buzzwords are inbound marketing, so meeting people, that’s just an expensive waste of time. Attending exhibitions is just not seen as ‘cutting edge’.

On the 18th September some brave people who have paid for stands will rock up at the Business Networking Show at Wolverhampton Racecourse and set up their stand and wait for people to come. After all it’s good to get your name out there whatever they say about digital marketing.

Others will think they ought to visit and they may have got a discounted a ticket from 4N and even a lift with someone so it’ll be a good day out won’t it? They’ll probably meet some people they know and maybe some new people and so it should be worth it.

At the end of the day these exhibitors and visitors will have got business cards and met some people. They may have felt that they had had a good day or been a bit envious of other stands that seemed to do better or visitors who seemed to be clear about what they had achieved.

The bags of bumph and cards will lay in their office for a few months until they are thrown away and when people ask, was it worthwhile, they’ll say:

“I don’t know”

Digital content supporters will sneer and say we know what results we achieve with the money we spend why waste your time going to things like that?

But though they can’t prove it these people will think exhibitions should work, and I hope I can show how you can make it work for you.

So are you going to waste £2,595 at the next event you exhibit at?

Don’t underestimate the cost. Just for two of us to go to a one day exhibition using mostly existing materials will cost over £2,500. We would be mad if we did invest this time and money if we did just mosey on up on the day, and sometimes we have, when its local and that was mad.

Now we have goals a strategy and a plan, so here is what we have found works even if you are just visiting.

Step one - Working out your why – 26 potential reasons

Why are you going to the exhibition?

Here are twenty six potential objectives that you might have for exhibiting and many of them also apply if you are visiting:

  • get orders
  • sell on the stand
  • book future sales appointments
  • launch new products or services
  • test new products and services and see what reaction they get
  • open new markets or geographical areas
  • test new pricing or offers
  • enhance your relationships with current customers
  • conduct market research
  • get contact names for your database for email marketing (of the right type of prospects you want in your sales funnel!)
  • get mobile numbers for permission based mobile marketing(as for 10)
  • get media coverage
  • check out the competition
  • enhance the company image or brand - particularly if the other exhibitors are prestigious
  • conduct sales meetings at the show(pre-planned) ‘let’s meet at…’
  • provide education or information to the visitors including sampling of products
  • recruit new employees
  • purchase bargains at ‘show only’ prices from a shopping list of things you need, like printing, promotional items, business support
  • meet people you have only previously met or networked with ‘virtually’
  • renew relationships with your existing network of contacts
  • identify potential collaborators
  • look at what’s available and if any of it would be good to add to your products or services, to enhance your offering
  • get inspired by speakers
  • learn some useful information at seminars/workshops
  • meet people who can introduce you to people you want to work with
  • learn what’s new in areas like marketing and technology

This is a pretty impressive list and I bet you can think of more reasons than this, but I had to stop somewhere.

They all sound good don’t they but even if all were possible at a single event, one, you would die trying to achieve it all, two, you could never do them all justice, and three, it gives you no focus.

Step two – decide on your focus and main goal

If you are deciding whether to attend an event then you need to think what you might want to achieve and then assess whether the event can actually do this for you.

Ask people who have previously attended what worked for them and what they got out of it. Look at who the organisers are targeting to attend and exhibit. Look at what is on offer in terms of speakers and workshops which you might feel worthwhile or you feel will attract the right type of visitor/person you want to meet.

This is all much easier if you know who you are targeting and have a clear strategy on what you sell with some entry level products that are suitable for people to purchase immediately on the day.

So, for example, for us we decided that the Business Networking Show was likely to attract business owners and entrepreneurs who wanted to grow so it would be a good fit for us. It would also allow us to meet people in 4N that we had only met online.

Do a cost benefit analysis – does it make sense?

The cost of Business Networking Show was too much to just use it for getting names for the database, market research for more PR and general promotion. It was high because to really use the networking opportunities we would need to stay two nights and we know it would take preparation and time afterwards.

We decided to justify the cost we needed to develop clear services/products that we would be able to explain and sell on the day and at a ‘show price’ so we had to develop a strategy to make this work.

71% of exhibiting companies don't set objectives - stand out from the crowd by knowing what success will look like at the end of the day

Step three – develop a coordinated strategy and plan

To maximise the value out of the show think in terms of planning before, during and after.

Early on we decided part of our strategy was to speak if possible at the event so we applied early and got a spot.

This mindmap was our strategy document and plan in one. As time has gone on we have identified a better payment method having used the 4N forum for research.

The stand layout is still to be finalised as at a 4N meeting we met someone running a workshop on how to dress your stand for impact and I go on that this week.

We’ve ordered branded clothing and developed a booklet of the new products. We’ve tested the products so we can get feedback and quotes to put in our marketing materials and we are doing pre-publicity about our attendance.

Publicising your attendance

Tell people you are going.

  • When you meet people tell them
  • Have it on your signature of your emails
  • Put it on your facebook page
  • Tweet
  • Use social media groups like LinkedIn and the 4N forum if you’re a member and it is an appropriate event
  • Send emails to your database telling people
  • Do a blog like this

Do your research

Find out who is going to be there in terms of speakers and exhibitors and identify who of these you would like to talk to and see if you can contact them beforehand to at least make the contact warm.

If you have other people who you would like to meet, email or phone them to ask if they are attending because you would like to meet them/catch up.

This could be at the show or before or after if they are around. It is particularly useful for people who are based at a distance as you can save time and money by arranging meetings around the event.

Plan your diary, but be realistic – if you have a stand there is no point leaving it unmanned or under manned so you don’t capitalise on the opportunities

Step four – make your stand work for you.
9 tips for getting the most from an exhibition stand

Get your strategy right to maximise your impact:

1. Make your stand interesting - come to our stand to see whether this time we will have seven lettuces, a cartoon film and a bunch of sunflowers like we did at our last exhibition!
2. Give people reasons to come to your stand. We are offering:

a. a free e book

b.a chance to win champagne if you complete a survey - the survey will give us information for a press and social media campaign

c.show discounts on exciting marketing products and business and sales boosters

3.Convert objectives into personal goals for the people on the stand

4. Have a timetable and clear guidelines for everyone on the stand

5. Have icebreaker questions which identify potential prospects. For example, for us one question is "what current challenges are you facing as you grow your business?", another is “what calls to action do you have?”, and another “do you want to sell more?”

6. Allow time for networking with other exhibitors and for people to rest – its hard work

7. Classify leads so you follow up hot prospects urgently

8. Get contact details rather than giving leaflets at the show - it is more likely to be read if you send it afterwards and you also get details for your database

9. Follow up - this is just the start of the relationship

10 ways to stop your stand being a success

If you prefer to have a quiet day without too much disturbance then this is how you can do it:

  • Look miserable and sit with your arms crossed
  • Leave your stand unattended
  • Chat to your colleague or neighbouring stands – visitors are so rude when they interrupt
  • Make sure you stand in front of any promotional information so visitors can’t see it
  • Just give out leaflets to anyone and don’t try to get any contact information or find out what they might need
  • Have a sales script prepared that you use – probably no longer than 5 minutes and use it on people before they talk to you
  • Just use your company name – people should know who you are and what you do so there is no need to explain
  • Take business cards and just keep them in a pile, if you follow up they can all get the same mailing
  • Make it difficult for people to buy at the show – it wastes so much time taking money
  • Don’t let anyone interrupt you when you are having your coffee or eating your lunch

Step five – follow up and learn

Plan before the show how you are going to follow up so that you know what information you will need to collect from the people you meet at the show.

How will you get individual details into your CRM? How will you rank prospects and prioritise who you call, etc?

How will you analyse any research and use it in PR?

Analyse your results and what you achieved and do a cost benefit analysis. Record what worked well and what you need to do differently next time. Celebrate and learn, talk to others to see what they did while its fresh in their minds

Conclusion –if an exhibition is worth doing, it’s worth doing well!

If all this has made you think this is too difficult then don’t do it. Don’t take the opportunity to capitalise on someone else getting your target market together in one place, don’t take the opportunity to expand your network and develop new ideas and maybe test whether people like new product and service ideas. Don’t use it as a focus for wider publicity and marketing.

Stay at home and think about content marketing and social media, but to do that well is not easy either. But after all everyone knows marketing doesn’t work and exhibitions are a particular waste of time.

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Tags: marketing goal setting