To exhibit or not to exhibit...

I'm often asked whether exhibiting at an event is a good idea for a business-owner and, as is often the case, the answer is "it depends".  Having a stand at an exhibition can be expensive and, even when it's not, it's a big chunk out of your day or weekend, so you need to make sure it's worthwhile.

Here are my 8 top tips to consider before you commit: 

Before the exhibition: 
 
1. Be selective. 

Don't just take any opportunity to have a stand at an event.  You need to do your homework and ask the organiser the following questions (at least):
  • Who do they expect the event to appeal to?
  • Who will they be targeting/inviting?
  • How will they be promoting the event - where, when and how often?
  • How many people do they expect to attend?
  • How many exhibitor stands are they offering?
  • What facilities will they have for each stand?
  • Is there an opportunity for you to also present?
Unless you're incredibly lucky, expos are pretty hit and miss.  Even if people seem really interested on the day, it's unlikely you'll hear from most of them again.  So don't waste your valuable time, energy and money on exhibitions that don't specifically cater to your target market and where the organisation of the event isn't top notch.

2. Be prepared.

This may sound obvious but it's surprising how many business owners leave their exhibition planning to the last minute - and not only is it stressful, but it usually shows... You'll have limited space so think about the decoration and props you want to use as part of your display.  Set it up at home or in the office to see how it looks - don't just hope for the best on the day.  Once it's set up the way you like, take a photo so you can easily replicate it on the day.

Write a comprehensive list of all the things you want to take with you on the day and check it off as you pack your car the night before.  Don't forget incidentals like sticky tape, blu-tac, scissors, snacks etc.

Choose the main message about your business that you want to be able to get across to people who visit your stand.  In many cases you will only have a few minutes, maybe even seconds, to engage people so you don't have time to fluff around!  This is where your positioning statement is really important.

Think carefully about what you want to have as a giveaway at your stand.  A gimmicky gift is fun and will often grab attention, but doesn't necessarily make you memorable afterward.  You should also make sure you give away something that the attendees will value.  Something that makes them think about your business afterward and want to learn more about you.  A great idea in this age of information is to actually give away some of your intellectual property.  Given you're only exhibiting to your target market and of course you know all the WIIFMs (what's in it for me) your business offers them, you should be able to come up with an article, fact sheet or video that's content driven and valuable to them.  This positions you as an expert, which is what they're really looking for. 

At the event:  

3. You are your brand.

On the day, remember that you're representing your business brand, so make sure you dress and behave in a way that's consistent with your business message.

4. Ask questions.

One of the biggest mistakes exhibitors make is talking too much about themselves and their business.  This is completely understandable given the financial and time investment you've made for this stand, but is in fact the wrong approach.  Remember it's all about the potential client or customer, so you need to be an "information getter" rather than an "information giver".  Ask lots of questions and take a genuine interest in the people you're talking to and you won't have to bring up your business at all - they'll ask you about it!  And because you've taken a few minutes to get to know them, you'll be able to talk about your business specifically in relation to how it can help them.

Oh, and don't forget to take the time to talk to other exhibitors.  Even if they're not your target market, they're clearly targeting the same market as you are, so there might be some awesome collaboration opportunities you can explore.

5. Get details!!!!

I can't stress this enough - you need to make sure you get the details of as many attendees as possible for your database.  This is the most important purpose of exhibiting at an event.  Opportunities to do business at the actual event are limited and even if you do reasonably well, when offset against the cost of exhibiting (including your time before and during the event) in most cases the result is still fairly minimal.

The value is in your "follow-up" - a critical point most exhibitors completely miss and then wonder why it "didn't work".

A great way to get details is to offer a prize.  Make it something that's valuable to your target market and don't necessarily make it anything related to your product or service.  You may prefer to ask people to join your mailing list, which is fine so long as you let them know exactly what they can expect from this service. 

After the event: 

The advantage of an exhibition is that you get to put yourself and your "wares" in front of a large group of people.  Furthermore, they're often like-minded people.  On the negative side, there's a lot of other "stuff" going on so you usually only get a short time with potential customers or clients.  There are other shiny things to distract them...

6. Keep your promises.

If you've promised to contact someone personally then you must do that and do it quickly.  Most people will give you a grace period of a week, after that they're starting to wonder about your reliability and business efficiency.  Not to mention they've started going cold on your product or service anyway.

7. Get in touch but with respect.

If you collected contact details "in bulk" (ie. business cards, written list) then my strong advice is low gradient contact.  What I mean by that is that you absolutely shouldn't start bombarding people with pushy sales calls, emails or letters.  I recommend a series of increasing gradient steps, letting people progress along at their own pace.  You need to sell philosophy and methodology before you engage a new client or customer.

Take it easy.  If there's mutual benefit and the fit is right, it'll happen.  If you're contacting someone that hasn't specifically asked you to call/email/mail them, you need to respect their boundaries.

8. Don't waste the opportunity.

Many years ago I attended an expo that I spent a lot of time preparing for and then worked hard over two days to meet people and to build our database with their details.  The prize was terrific and expensive - a weekend away at Heritage Golf Course - and I collected hundreds of attendee details.  I was so pleased with myself.  But guess what I did when I got back to the office?  Ummmmmm - nothing!  I never followed up!  After all that hard work and great result, I never added the names to our database and I never got in touch with any of those potential clients.  What a complete waste of time and money.  It was about 15 years ago, but I'm still kicking myself.

Whatever you do, make sure you add the details to your database and make contact within a week.  Don't miss or waste a great opportunity by procrastinating.  And of course, if you're using email (a nice inexpensive option) don't forget to include the unsubscribe option (and don't feel bad when anyone does unsubscribe, it just means your information is not for them and they're cleaning up your database for you).

Hopefully that gives you some direction for when you're next presented with an opportunity to exhibit at an event.  Follow my 8 tips and you'll be able to make sensible decisions about where you choose to exhibit and make it a super success when you do!

If you'd like to hear more of what I have to say on the matter, click here for a recording of my most recent "You & Your Business" radio segment on 98.1FM Radio Eastern.

Talk soon,
Caren

PS. Please don't keep me a secret.  If you know someone who'd enjoy this or find it useful, pass it on!