Investing in a tradeshow is a critical driver of business success, especially for younger companies trying to launch their brands and attract investors, partners and customers. Tradeshows offer unique exposure both to potential customers and to the competition. They should generate leads and solidify relationships for companies of all sizes and at all stages of development—provided businesses know how to prepare for them.
I am passionate about technology but there is nothing like the five-sense experience of a tradeshow to look a potential partner in the eye, find new customers and give people an opportunity to meet face to face and shake hands with the leaders in the industry.
Research supports the view that exhibiting at tradeshows offers invaluable marketing leverage and drives business. The Center for Exhibition Industry Research found that businesses rank exhibition settings highest among sales and marketing formats, including sales calls, for interacting with other businesses and potential customers.
To get the most out of a tradeshow, you must plan ahead. Here are my top 10 tips for making the most of your tradeshow experience.
1. Choose the right shows. How do you know if a show is right for your company? Look into its history. See who its main audience is and what kind of reach and attendance it has. Ask for the opinions of people and businesses that have exhibited at the show in the past, and find out their experiences. Also, make sure you pick a reputable show, one that’s independently audited.
2. Make a plan for how you’ll get the most out of the tradeshow. This means going in with a written strategy for your booth, personnel and products. What will you display? To whom will you speak, and whom will you plan to meet? Plan ahead to get the most benefit from your tradeshow experience.
3. Define your SMART goals while at the show: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound. Decide on a specific number of leads to capture, sales to make or people to meet before the show is over. Make sure you map out measurable goals beforehand, and don’t set goals you can’t possibly meet. Make sure your goals for the show are realistic and place them within a set time frame so you don’t get off track.
4. Leverage and use the show organizer’s expertise. A quality tradeshow will have staff who are trained professionals and truly consultative. Ask questions, and then ask more questions. Don’t be shy. That’s what they are there for. The show producer’s responsibility is to make sure you are as prepared as possible for their event. Make them work. By the way, to a quality show organizer, it’s not considered work. It’s a privilege and honor to serve at the pleasure of their customers.
5. Design a booth to meet your goals. This doesn’t mean you need a huge space—a 10x10 booth can attract customers. Make sure your booth is set up so that it reflects your brand and message and allows serious buyers and other important customers to be treated specially.
6. Be aware of who is visiting your booth. While you want to give quality service to everyone who stops by, be able to tell the serious buyers from people who are “just looking.”
7. Know who your audience and customers will be before you get there. You can usually get a list of attendees inexpensively from most show managers. Reach out to a targeted list of attendees before the show and let them know you’ll be there and what you have to offer.
8. Contact media and market yourself to drive the right attendance to your booth. Take advantage of social media to let people know you’re attending the show.
9. Select and train great booth staff. Make sure staff dress similarly to be identifiable and reflect your brand, and that their attire is respectful. Remember that in the booth, your staff serves as an extension of your brand. Make sure staff wear comfortable shoes and have plenty of water, so they’re energetic and able to perform at their best. Have them ask customers open-ended questions, like, “What brings you here?” Be sure to get leads and follow up with new contacts.
10. Ensure your staff are friendly and open while in the booth. Don’t tolerate crossed arms or other signs of being closed off from customers. Employees should stop any conversation when potential customers are nearby.
Investing in space at a tradeshow may seem a bit daunting. For startups, it might even feel like a waste of valuable time that would be better spent elsewhere. But it’s a critical investment for any business, especially one that wants to grow. Even the greats, like Bill Gates, got their start at tradeshows.
Putting the time and effort into attending one now can bring massive returns down the road. So, look into the best tradeshows, plan to be there—and make the most of your experience.
Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies, and author of the New York Times best-selling books, Ninja Innovation: “The Ten Killer Strategies of the World's Most Successful Businesses” and “The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream.” His views are his own. Connect with him on Twitter: @GaryShapiro.