Top 10 Tips for exhibiting your startup at a show
July 18, 2013 in Marketing Skills.
This article is taken from our partner’s blog The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Entrepreneurship.
Key Learning Points Use exhibitions to promote your business and reach new customers. Plan and prepare carefully and think through the whole experience from the customer’s viewpoint in order to maximise your chances of event success.
Exhibiting at events and shows can be a highly effective way for small businesses to promote their products and services.
Just like the hitchhiker, you put yourself right in front of passing potential customers, waiting for someone to take interest and stop by.
Attending exhibitions is fun – and if you get it all right, highly profitable; over the past 25 years I’ve spent thousands of hours on stands all over the world. But it’s not always enjoyable and just like all other promotional activities you have to accept that you may not recoup your costs.
So if you are going to exhibit what should you do to maximise the marketing opportunity, make best use of time and minimise the financial risk? Here are my top ten tips:
Top 10 Tips for exhibiting
1. Profile attendees
Before you make the decision to exhibit at any event find out about the audience being promised by the organiser. Ideally you need to know both the profile and volume of attendees so request details. Then ask yourself what proportion of the delegates fit your target customer profile? In my experience, I’ve found small events (100 – 250 delegates) offering a high proportion of people who fit my audience profile are more effective than large events that offer a small proportion of the people I am targeting.
2. Cost the risk
As part of your preparation, work out the full cost of the event (include promotional materials, travel, accommodation, equipment hire and all stand costs). To calculate the ‘risk’, consider how many sales (at an average sales value) you need to make in order to breakeven. However, also bear in mind that there is typically a lead time for sales to be concluded so don’t plan for people to necessarily order at your stand. If your gut tells you the costs outweigh the benefits be cautious about committing.
3. One simple message works best
When creating stand promotional material, keep everything simple and easy for people passing the stand to understand. Whilst you should make your stand attractive, it’s a common mistake for exhibitors to overdress their space and fill every inch with information that conveys different messages. If people passing your stand are confused by what you offer, they will continue walking and no inquiries or sales will result.
4. Provide incentives for stand visitors
Give people an incentive to visit your stand. You can either provide an inexpensive ‘giveaway’ such as sweets, a product trial or a free entry raffle draw and/or offer discount for orders placed during the show. By rewarding visitors with a special offer (exclusive to the event) you increase the goodwill between you and the customer and improve the chances of an order being placed there and then.
For reference, in my experience of events, the average order time can be several months after a show taking place yet all the costs have to be met in advance. Offers that lead to quick sales are great for cashflow.
5. Create movement and interaction
Stands that look dull and boring don’t attract visitors. But if you can create movement or include an activity that creates curiosity and interest, people are far more likely to stop by. And nothing pulls in people like a crowd. By way of example, the SimVenture team has exhibited at the annual IEEC event for a number of years and in 2012 the team felt an interactive element was needed to maintain interest levels.
A game based on the theme of ‘Play Your Cards Right’ was created and throughout the event’s 3 days we were inundated with requests to participate. The show was a great success on all levels.
6. Build rapport with people
Treat people who pass or visit your stand as you would like to be treated. A common mistake (and a pet hate of mine) is the exhibitor who asks one question of the innocent passer-by to get their attention and then spends the next 10 minutes telling them all about their wonderful gizmo. Give the poor souls who take interest in you a chance to talk about themselves by asking questions and listening to the answers. Building rapport with people through questioning and listening creates confidence and helps you understand how your product/service fits with the customer’s needs.
7. Gather contact information
Make sure you collect the contact details of everyone who takes an interest in your products and services at an event. Without the data you can’t follow the inquiry up at a later date or inform people of future offers. Record the information electronically or use a simple pad and pen – if you know your stand is going to be particularly busy create a simple system so stand visitors can record their contact details for you!
Since event attendance means you are out of the office it’s almost inevitable that you will need to access your website or email whilst away. If you rely on email or website access then check with the event organisers that they offer free Wifi as part of the package. If the organisers want to charge an exorbitant fee (and some do) consider investing in a mobile phone with Personal Hotspot access.
When the event finishes and everyone goes home, it’s time for you to go to work and follow-up all inquiries. It’s important not to be too pushy and certainly don’t pressure people into anything; but a short personal email to thank people for their interest is a good place to start.
Finally, wait two or three months to fully evaluate the success of any event. Whatever you do, don’t sign up to exhibit again until you have completed the review. Waiting a couple of months allows you to be completely objective and means you can properly assess the overall financial position of the show. It’s quite possible that your costs outweigh sales at first-time events so be careful not to judge matters purely on financial performance.