TO BE SURE, technology has changed the way we do business. Most of
our communications with prospective business partners are no longer conducted in person. Business people admit that they frequently have no idea how a business partner or client even looks. There is, however, one business vehicle that has survived the impersonal world: the trade show.
Trade shows can be a win-win for both exhibitors and visitors. They are still a place where a handshake is common and where “eyeball-to-eyeball” contact leads to a more
permanent relationship. It is an opportunity to foster new relationships and to strengthen old ones. I have occasionally encountered companies whose basic business model
is to travel the country and visit relevant trade shows. That is where they pick up their leads, which sustain them well beyond the trade show.
Of all the marketing activities of a business, participating in trade shows can be the best source of new business. The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) says
that 88 percent of those who exhibit at trade shows are there to raise awareness of the company and its brand. There is no better place to set up shop and showcase a
company than at a trade show. Nor is there a better venue to meet people from different geographic areas than at a trade show.
Trade shows and expos provide a great way to get you name out and let a niche audience know about your brand. It’s an excellent opportunity to get leads and to build a list
of prospects. Business people will tell you that absolutely nothing is as good as a face-to-face encounter for building solid relationships with business contacts. In many industries,
the trade show is a great opportunity to meet with existing, key and prospective customers.
Simply put, it is very cost-effective to meet your existing customers, who, in essence, come to you. This is especially true of national shows, where people fly in from all over the country. One exhibitor told me that he estimates his travel expenses alone are cut by more than
50 percent by meeting his customers in his booth, which can be significant for a
In my extensive trade show experience, I have found that one of the best reasons to
attend a trade show is to learn what’s new. For exhibitors, it is a great place to launch
and introduce new products, and it’s just as beneficial for visitors to find out what’s
new in the industry. Sometimes just picking up an idea or learning about what’s
trending can make attending a trade show beneficial to a business.
Exhibiting and attending a trade show means more than just showing up.
For the exhibitor, the booth is the business for the duration of the show. Every part
of the booth must be carefully planned, as must the products that will be showcased. It is important that the people who staff the booth be well-versed about the business, because
you may not have another chance to recruit a prospect. Remember, these people now represent your company’ image!
You need the proper materials to hand out to people. It is very important to keep notes of your encounters for that all-important follow-up. I have seen many exhibitors who
are far too passive and do not aggressively seek to engage potential customers. It is nice to relax in your booth, but that does not yield the best result and is a waste of your hard earned
For the visitor, it is equally important to come prepared. A show can be intimidating, especially when there are hundreds of exhibits. If possible, a target list of booths to visit
should be prepared in advance. The reason is that it is important to maximize the time and to visit real prospects rather than those that are, at best, a long shot.
Some more interesting numbers from CEIR: 77 percent of executive decision-makers found at least one new supplier at the last show they attended; 45 percent of attendees visit only one exhibition per year; 51 percent of trade-show attendees requested that a sales representative visit their company after the show; and 87 percent of exhibitors rate
exhibitions as highly valuable for achieving business sector promotions. What these numbers tell me is that a trade show offers a unique opportunity and that one must take full advantage of it.
Equally important is the follow-up after the show. For an exhibitor, following up with a phone
call or an email is probably the most important way of developing a relationship. Even dropping a line to all the people who shared business cards can lead to more meaningful business relationships. In fact, one of the biggest issues I have heard, from both exhibitors and visitors, is the lack of follow up. Here’s one: “I asked an exhibitor to send me samples within a week of the show.
After three months, I received an email apologizing that he had gotten very busy and did not get around to sending out the samples. What was most insulting was his closing line: ‘Fear not, it will be coming in the next few weeks.’” The potential customer told me that he is unlikely to do business with that company. Perhaps that is extreme, but the important thing to remember is that a show may take place over one, two or three days, but the follow-up relationship may take much longer. Most successful trade shows seek to
refresh themselves each year with new themes and new concepts. They are conscious
of the fear that they will become stale and the attendance might drop. What is
noteworthy is that the trade show industry continues to thrive. More and more cities
are either building new convention centers or upgrading old ones. They recognize that
personal contacts will never be replaced by technology.
The data from most of the large trade shows is that attendance is either holding
steady or on the rise. The best type of communication is personal contact. It’s true that
business has learned to rely on the internet, but most successful businesses still say that
their “best” business comes from personal relationship. A thousand emails will never
replace a handshake or a conversation. It is just part of human nature to desire that type
Trade shows are here to stay. Drops in attendance are often due to budget restrictions
or other factors. Those who attend shows most often find that they make new
contacts and thus create new opportunities. The analogy would be whether online
food shopping would ever replace a visit to the supermarket, where you can actually
smell, visualize and perhaps note the freshness of a product.
As convenient as the click might be, it is still no replacement for actually seeing or tasting the food you are going to buy. So, too, trade shows are about making human-to-human contacts and should be part of every successful business marketing plan.