Trade shows are designed to let entrepreneurs meet potential
customers face-to-face in a brief period of time inexpensively.
According to the Trade Show Bureau, more than 4,300 were
held nationwide in 1994, attracting 85 million visitors.
Trade shows help level the playing field for smaller
firms, since booth space is generally inexpensive ($13
per square foot on average, with the typical small booth
covering 100 square feet), and even small companies can
afford attractive displays. With creative marketing and
booth design, small businesses can appear as substantial
as larger corporations.
Trade Show Benefits
Because trade shows generally take place at a single
location, have short runs (usually one to three days),
and bring together thousands of exhibitors and potential
customers, they are a very powerful marketing medium.
The Trade Show Bureau claims that the average total cost
of closing a sale in the field is $1,080, while the cost
of closing a sale to a qualified trade show prospect is
It is possible during the course of one trade show to
personally meet most of your important clients and suppliers,
making shows a good way to establish and reinforce relationships.
Because business-to-business shows typically do not allow
selling on the show floor, generating sales leads is the
most common reason exhibitors participate. Another popular
reason for exhibiting is introducing new products.
Tips for a Successful Trade Show
1. Seeing half of two seminars beats one full session.
Many trade shows offer excellent seminars where you can
add expertise and knowledge. Indeed, it’s difficult
for a trade show to excel without great sessions. If the
show you are going to has these, bring a notebook and
take quality notes.
However, many attendees lock into a seminar, jot down
everything, and realize later that much of the session
was of limited utility. Leaving a session early might
not be good manners, but it’s better to be rude
than miss an opportunity to learn. Besides, most speakers
prepare for busy professionals with comprehensive summaries
and overviews. (Another tip is to, whenever possible,
grab the printed materials. Many speakers will go off
a slide show without adding much to what’s on screen.)
2. Make a networking plan.
Looking at the seminar sessions before the show is critical.
Your goal is not just to make an efficient plan on learning,
but also in networking. If there is a seminar led by someone
that could really do your company or career some good,
play the star pupil: arrive early, ask good questions,
and stay late. Since this is somewhat contrary to the
first tip, make sure you limit your networking choices
to only the best-fitting candidates.
3. Tour the dealers’ room daily and thoroughly.
Trade shows offer a perfect “silver bullet”
opportunity for merchandisers and service providers that
sell to your industry.
Depending on the quality of the dealers and representatives,
you can learn more from dealers than seminars. You do
this by giving the sales reps on the floor the courtesy
of listening to their pitch, than ask questions about
what’s really of interest to you. The goal is to
find out what’s out there, and to widen your networking
reach. You do this by being yourself in front of fellow
professionals, and determining who the real players are
in your industry.
4. Don’t be stingy with your business cards.
Don’t limit your distribution of business cards
on the show floor. Hording your cards sends a clear message
that you are not important enough to have a card, or not
interested in what your new contacts have to say. Since
business cards are cheap and first impressions are important,
neither approach is a good idea.
5. Lighten up, but with an agenda, and make sure to
Aim for a happy medium. Entertain attendees, but don’t
lose all inhibitions. Socialize, but not to the point
that you won’t be reasonably sharp on the next day
of your assignment – and make no mistake, a trade
show is an assignment. If you’re worried that your
dinner bill will cause trouble with accounting, skip a
meal to make your total more palatable. And most of all,
keep your schedule reasonably flexible. If your most important
contact at the show wants to talk longer, you don’t
want to play clock-watcher.
Also, make sure you follow up with your show contacts
once you get back home. Failing to do this, to some extent,
throws away the money you spent going to the trade show
in the first place.
By USBA (United States Small Business Administration)
and PageWise, Inc.