Trade Shows as a Sales and Marketing Tool

Many entrepreneurs think trade shows are not worth the expense. However, if done right, they can be one of the most potent marketing tools for companies of any size. After all, where else can you find thousands of potential customers coming to you and even paying to see your offerings?
Despite the sizeable investment and hassle, you can see companies large and small participate in trade shows. However, preparing for a trade show is a complicated task especially for those with little or no experience of joining one. To help neophytes in this endeavor, read the basic tips below:
Join the appropriate trade show. Look for a trade show that is relevant to your products and services. Very often, if there are still slots to fill, trade show organizers will give the booths at steep discounts. This may tempt you to join, but think first if your offerings are compatible with the theme. Consider, too, if you have time enough to prepare. Usually, these special offers are done near the date of the event. Going unprepared may do more harm than good to your company image.
Plan your objectives in joining the trade show. You must list down what you wish to accomplish and proceed to develop plans to attain them. To make your planning effective, you should quantify your objectives. Set targets on sales, number of persons who will visit your booth, and other useful metrics. Ultimately, you must have the numbers to show that it is worth spending for the trade show.
Invest in your booth display. Attraction booths will catch the eye of visitors and give your company a more credible reputation. If people see that you can afford an expensive-looking booth, they are less likely to think your company is a fly-by-night.
Offer special prices or freebies. People who visit trade fairs expect that they would get better deals than usual. It is also customary to have giveaways so that your company will be remembered after the visit. The fact that the special offer is limited only to the duration of the trade show creates a strong incentive for the customer to make a purchase.
Promote your presence in the event. Several months before the trade show, you should make it known to your present customers and visitors of your website that your company will be present at the event. E-mail your clients and post the announcement in your website. You may wonder why this is necessary when they already know about your company, but there are at least two reasons for this. First is that there is stronger chance of closing the sale in the excitement of the trade show and the fact that you will have special offerings for the visitors. The second is that if your old customers miss out on the freebies or discounts, they will resent the fact that you have not informed them.
Have knowledgeable staff at the booth. With booth rentals so expensive, it is critical that you send qualified personnel to stay at the trade show. Some companies hire promo models for the duration of the trade show. This may work in attracting people to your booth, but to make the sale, someone with real knowledge of your products and services must be there to answer questions.
Plan your brochures/flyers months before the event. Developing a fine brochure with the right design and copy takes a lot of time. They are also very expensive. Too often they are done in haste and your investment is damaged by gross errors like missing or wrong contact numbers or address. Also, make your brochure/flyer appropriate to your product. Using a RISO- generated flyer may be unsuitable if you sell premium items. On the other hand, giving out full color offset printed brochures on thick glossy paper may be too expensive especially if you will expect to give away thousands of them. Recent developments in digital technology have made it possible to print high quality brochures quickly. However, this is costly if you require more than a thousand copies; still, if there is no more time, then you have to consider this option. It may also save you money if you can consult with your printer before deciding on the size of your brochure/flyer. Certain sizes waste too much paper and add substantially to the cost.
Have unique, useful and quality giveaways. Poorly-made giveaways give a poor impression of the quality of your products. Giving away items that people throw away as soon as they reach the nearest trash can is just a waste of money. While it may be difficult to find an item that will be appreciated by customers, it is well worth the effort.
Follow up your leads as soon as possible. People tend to take too long to follow up on the leads gathered during trade shows. Every day that passes decreases your chances of closing the sale exponentially. It would be ideal if you can make contact within 24 hours. If you call next week, the prospect may have already forgotten about you or, worse, a competitor may already have closed the sale.
Have as many business cards as your brochures/flyers. Although you may already have enough brochures or flyers, business cards are still extremely useful. They are more likely to be kept than even the most elegant brochures because the business card’s small size makes them easy to keep. Sometimes you may get an order a year after the trade show. In this case, it is far more probable that it is from a business card rather than a brochure you gave out.
Trade shows are a highly effective sales and marketing tool for a large variety of products and services. It would be wise to consider if this activity can be beneficial for your company. If executed properly, trade shows can prove to be not a distraction but a very lucrative investment.

*Originally published by the Manila Bulletin. BB1, Wednesday, November 21, 2012. Written by Ruben Anlacan, Jr. (President, BusinessCoach, Inc.) All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or copied without express written permission of the copyright holders.