How to be Successful at Exhibitions for Small Business

Exhibitions are an Investment in Your Future – How’s Your’s Turning Out?

Following on from our visit to Grand Designs Live last week, todays post – from our Business Development Director Phil – offers guidance for companies and sole traders exhibiting at shows.  This is timely advice if you are exhibiting at ICFF this month and well worth taking onboard if you are exhibiting at other shows during 2010 and beyond:

For any sized business attending an exhibition as an exhibitor is a big investment and if you took account of the time and cost of the people to pull it all together, as well as the actual cash spent on getting the stand made, hotels to stay in and food eaten – it would give you a heart attack!

Strange then that most companies put little into the control and effectiveness of the time spent with prospects on their stands. It never ceases to amaze us how many stands are occupied by people who look bored, intimidating, disinterested and even scruffy. Many a conversation we have had with people manning a stand who told us how poorly attended the show is, how badly organised after all the money they have spent!

If the visitor numbers are down on expectations it is crucial to make the most of every prospect that walks onto your exhibition stand. Research shows that just over 30% of visitors to shows do make their eventual buying decision as a result of their visit. Over 76% of show visitors have a pre-determined agenda for their visit.

So how do you make the most of going to exhibitions no matter what size company you are?

Before you sign up as an exhibitor at any show go through some simple checks all of which will help you ensure that you are at the correct show i.e. a show that will have visitors relevant to your product, or service. How successful a show is for you will depend entirely upon that simple fact and you would be surprised how often a mis-match occurs.

So, the checks:

  • If possible visit the show before exhibiting.
  • At least talk to several previous exhibitors.
  • Ask to see a profile of the previous year’s visitors.
  • Ask for visitor numbers – assume an element of ‘double counting’ it happens at all shows.
  • Ask some of your existing customers if they have been/would go?
  • Decide your reason for exhibiting, is it to increase awareness? Is it to sell your products/services?
  • When you know why you are exhibiting, decide how you will measure success.
  • If you are selling, work out how many sales you would need to make to recoup the cost of the show to your business – a fully inclusive cost.
  • If you are not selling consider how else you could achieve the same result and compare the cost to that of attending the show.

This is not an exhaustive list of considerations to be made but a very good start and should avoid you being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Making the most of the show is now a key task for you and will only be achieved if you are at the very least two things:

  • Enthusiastic about your product/service.
  • A person with only positive things to say to your stand visitors.

Remember that when people come to your stand you have 2 ears and 1 mouth and most success will be achieved if you use them in those proportions.  You must learn about the person visiting you by asking lots of open questions and listening to the answers:

  • Why are they at the show?
  • What caught their eye and made them pause at your stand?
  • How and where might they use your product/service?
  • Have they seen other things of interest to them at the show?
  • What is their business? (Unless you are at a consumer show)

The important thing is to get a conversation going with the stand visitor and not a sale, which if approached too soon will scare them away. Do not interrupt people let them finish. The conversation questions to begin with must not be closed questions – these are questions that will encourage a yes/no answer. This only induces a ‘closed’ atmosphere between you. It makes me smile when I hear from an exhibitor “Can I help you”? “Are you alright there?” – giving me the opportunity to immediately close down their approach to me.

Do not walk up and down the edge of your stand as if patrolling your border daring people to cross it. Try your best not to eat on your stand which is of course difficult if you‘re alone; people would not interrupt you in a restaurant to ask about your product and they won’t come onto your stand if you are eating – it’s not the done thing. Make sure you welcome stand visitors as if they are visiting you at home and you really want to see them. Signs not to touch, not to sit, not to….. are not attractive so find other ways to achieve this desire. Do not leave stand visitors alone for too long but don’t jump on them as soon as they arrive. Look at them, smile and acknowledge they are there and move to them when you ‘feel’ it is right.

Try to shake hands with people – contact is important to human beings it breaks barriers, but don’t force people into doing it. Make sure you give them a business card and try to get one in return. Invite people to come back if they have any other questions at all and wish them enjoyment/success for the rest of their visit.

A smile and a laugh coated with lots of enthusiasm will get you the rewards you are looking for from any exhibition.

It is not attendance that is ever poor – it is the manner in which any number of visitors are viewed and treated.

If you would like any other advice or, even just a second opinion about any aspect of exhibition attendance why not drop me an email with your question I would be delighted to help if I can:


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2 thoughts on “How to be Successful at Exhibitions for Small Business

  1. Hi adu. Its great to read that you have been enjoying our posts. We look forward to welcoming you back as a regular visitor. We post features twice a week on Mondays and Fridays.

  2. I really enjoyed this post. I have read over a few other posts you have up and I will say you do a great job of blogging. I will be looking for new post daily…Keep up the good work!

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