By Bob Salvas
Like most marketing expenses, exhibiting at a trade show or expo can either be a terrific investment or a complete waste of money.
The advantages of having a booth at a show include the opportunity to display visual imagery (signs, etc.), the ability to show
actual product or samples (if you sell products), and of course, face-to-face interaction with potential buyers. Another side
benefit is if current clients or prospects are looking for you at a large show they are attending, they can easily find your
booth…and sometimes just this visibility to existing or future buyers is worth doing the show for. The disadvantages are mostly
tied to cost. There is usually a cost to participate and a cost to all the materials that you would want to have for your booth.
Often, the bigger cost is time– you may have to pay employees or others to help man the booth and depending on where the
show is, travel expenses may be incurred. Even if you are the owner of a company, it is still time that you must take away from
something else.
When it is all said and done, do the advantages outweigh the expense? As you might expect the answer is: it depends. The first
and most critical element is whether the show is right for your business. Central to this discussion is target market. Are the
attendees at the show the people you are trying to reach? If they are, then you must consider whether you are prepared to
exhibit at that show. Do you have the materials and manpower you need to pull it off? Do you have the time and resources to
market that you will be there? Do you have the budget to do it all correctly to maximize your efforts? If you don’t have the
budget to do a national event, perhaps you can focus on a local or regional show. The cost to participate and the expense to
man a booth are usually lower at an event that is closer to home.
If you decide that exhibiting is possible, you should then determine what your goals are for the show. Some businesses are
looking to make actual sales at the event while others are looking to build on existing relationships. Quite frequently the
main goal of a business at a show is to gather up leads. Businesses will offer something in exchange for a business card or
they will have a fishbowl for a contest. This is a fine strategy but make sure it is relevant to your business. Often an
exhibitor will offer a chance at winning a gift certificate for dinner at a nice restaurant, but then they are shocked to find
out during their follow-up efforts that people are not interested in buying what they sell. Of course, they aren’t! They were
interested in eating at that nice restaurant! Unless YOU are the nice restaurant, don’t do that. Offer something of value
that is more relevant to what you do.
What you are looking for is ways to attract and engage people at your booth. Signage that is above head level is important as
crowds tend to block out any signage that is too low. You can also have freebies and games and all kinds of creative things at
your booth. It is ok to have some fun with this if it fits your industry and the personality of your company.
By far, the most important thing is for the person or people at your booth to be friendly and enthusiastic. Attendees will make
decisions to engage with you based on your disposition (just like at a networking event). If you are sitting down or on your
phone or look like you ‘can’t be bothered’, they will not ‘bother’ you! It is often a long day at one of these shows so having
more than one person to share the load of manning the booth is always a good strategy. If possible, push your table back and get
in front of it. You want to be approachable and a table can be a barrier to engagement. Stand in front of the table, smile and
say hello to people who pass by.
The final piece (just like we say in networking) is: “the fortune is in the follow-up”. Lack of follow-up is the number one reason
for a lack of success in the trade show/expo environment. Reach out to your prospects RIGHT after the show in a friendly and
professional way. And keep in touch with them over time.
One last tidbit: If you decide not to exhibit this time around, you should still try to go to the show as an attendee. You can walk
the aisles and get ideas for when you do sign up to be an exhibitor in the future. Also, trade shows and expos can be one of the
BEST places to network. But if you network, PLEASE be respectful of those who have a booth. The last thing they want is for
someone to approach their table and try to sell THEM. Besides, if you are a good networker, you already know that selling is
not networking.