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May 1998

Making The Most Of Your Trade Show Visit

Meet The Visionaries, Brainstorm, Return With Lots Of New Ideas, And Find Out What Your Competition Is Up To!


The above are only some of the benefits you can gain by attending a trade show, provided adequate planning is done to make the most of your visit.

It has been said that if you return with only one good idea, the cost of attending a trade show is justifiable. It has also been said that ideas without action are worthless.

So, if you don’t think you will act on the new ideas, there is no point attending a trade show! New ideas will lead to new products and solutions, and new products and solutions (properly marketed) will lead to new market share and new revenue. I learned in an MBA course that progressive companies are those in which 50 percent or more of gross revenue comes from new products. In short, companies will not prosper for long if they are not led by a visionary who can conceive new ideas (which can be inspired by attending trade shows). The reason is simple: as competition attempts to grab more and more of your market share, you need a fresh infusion of new products to drive back that competition, allowing you to prosper with higher margins.

Over the years, I have attended countless trade shows where, sadly, I have found few people who truly make the most of their show attendance. I can separate show attendees into three categories:

  1. There are those who attend a trade show and do nothing with what they learn.
  2. There are those who flounder at a trade show and return with few, if any, ideas of substance to do something with.
  3. And, there are those who do everything right and return with plenty of and plenty of contacts gained through aggressive networking. They also benefit from experts’ information gleaned from seminar presentations at such conventions.

Unscrambling The Maze
Over the years, I have done a great deal of thinking about how to help attendees get the most from trade shows. My concept, which was intriguing enough to prompt a Harvard professor of marketing call me to express his agreement with the theory, is called the "1/3 Rule." Here is the concept behind the "rule": About the only way you can make the most of your attendance at a convention is to establish a set of objectives before attending a show. These could be meeting a maximum number of exhibitors and FINDING OUT WHAT IS NEW or researching to see what the competition is up to and/or what products could either render your products obsolete or substantially enhance your business. An equally worthwhile objective is to learn what new concepts or findings are presented by industry leaders in the conferences.

The 1/3 Rule

  1. 1/3 of knowledge at a trade show comes from attending the seminars.
  2. 1/3 of knowledge comes from visiting every relevant exhibitor of interest to you, asking them what is new, discussing with them your major problems or challenges, and asking for their guidance.
  3. 1/3 of knowledge comes from networking with your peers, with the speakers and the industry visionaries.
  4. It is vitally important to notice that the information that you will gain from one of the above enumerated 1/3s will be different from the information you will gain from the next 1/3, and so on.

In other words, in the conferences, you will learn from the experiences of the speaker, who is considered to be an industry expert. Speakers can inform you not only about the theoretical concept, but also from a personal view. In the second case, you will learn from the experience of a vendor of a technology or service (i.e., CTI technology or outsourcing teleservices). While you will learn a different perspective from the vendors, the information learned in the conferences will be complementary.

Last but not least, the information you gain by networking with your colleagues by asking, "How did you solve this problem?" will bring yet another perspective that is totally different from the above mentioned two perspectives.

In this case, you are learning from the firsthand experience of a colleague, who, no doubt, has gone this road before. Given the enormous cost of capital investment involved, one cannot afford to simply learn from the experiences of a colleague without having the benefits of checks and balances by virtue of learning different sets of techniques and solutions from the first and second part of the 1/3 rule.

Exhibitor’s Point Of View
The exhibitors have a totally different agenda. Obviously, they come to the convention to sell their goods and services and meet qualified prospects (attendees). While exhibit marketing has proven over and over again to be the most cost-effective way to market a product or service, the management of many companies still regards exhibiting at a trade show a non-essential part of their marketing program. I have come to realize this fact by observing many ill-advised marketing managers simply eliminate trade shows from their marketing plan as soon as there is an economic adversity in the marketplace.

This is by far the most unwise decision any marketing manager, director or vice president can make! Given that trade show marketing is indeed the most cost-effective way to market and given that in bad economic times a company loses between 50 to 75 percent of its customers, it becomes rather obvious that cutting back trade show exhibits, advertising and promotion budgets makes no sense at all. Yet time and time again, over 80 percent of marketing managers do just that, thus there are record bankruptcies during recessions and bad economic times. We have learned that to be successful, you need not be a copycat. Following others’ success requires vision and above all, often going against the grain. In other words, the best time to leapfrog over your competition is to market as aggressively as possible when the competition does not.

Pre-Show Marketing
There are those who think exhibit marketing means just showing up as an exhibitor in a convention without any pre-show marketing or planning and without following any of the 29 guidelines I once wrote in a past editorial entitled, "Successful Marketing at a Trade Show is a Two-Way Streetquot; which I provided in this column in my June and August editorials in 1991.

Because these guidelines are so vitally important, I decided to repeat them again for your benefit.

Remember, you and several hundred exhibitors are competing for attendees’ attention. The better the job of pre-show marketing you do, the greater the amount of traffic at your booth. This is simply the logic behind trade show marketing.

Checklist For Successful Trade Show Participation
For successful exhibiting, ask yourself these 15 vital questions before you exhibit at any trade show:

  1. Do your booth graphics grab attention quickly?
  2. Do your graphics communicate in a few seconds what type of product or service you offer?
  3. Do your graphics give the attendees a good reason to stop by and examine your products or services?
  4. Do your booth design and graphics communicate a benefit for any attendee to stop by your booth?
  5. Have you advertised in the leading industry publication(s) inviting readers to visit your booth? Did you offer them a FREE V.I.P. Pass to do so?
  6. Have you called all of your top 100 customers and invited them to attend the show and visit your booth with complimentary V.I.P. Passes as your guest?
  7. Does your company have name recognition? For example…would the attendee know what you sell by simply seeing your company’s name? (i.e., CocaCola sells soft drinks; McDonald’s sells hamburgers, etc.)
  8. Have you taken the right people, who are well trained in exhibit marketing, to the show with you? (See Telemarketing magazine’s "Publisher’s Outlook," January ’8
  9. Remember, this is vitally important. 9) Have you sent several mailings to your database, each time giving them a new, important reason why they must visit your booth?
  10. Are you visible everywhere as a company?
  11. Do you regularly get your message across through your advertising?
  12. Do you come up with a major new attraction or "attention-grabbing idea" in your booth to make YOU STAND ABOVE THE CROWD?
  13. Do you sponsor events at the show to draw all delegates’ attention to your booth?
  14. Does your booth staff have proper "boothmanship"? Are they sitting around talking among themselves, reading newspapers, smoking, eating or drinking or talking to the office instead of aggressively seeking out customers from the aisles 100 percent of the time?
  15. Last but not least, is there anything in (or about) your booth that would encourage a potential customer to come to your booth instead of (or in addition to) your competitors? If your answer is positive to most or all of the above questions (and we certainly hope it is), chances are, you will have a very successful trade show. If it is not, do not expect to have a successful show, and when that happens, don’t blame the show sponsor for your own failure for not giving the attendees a good reason (or any reason) to visit your booth.

The Plain Facts About Trade Show Marketing
The Trade Show Bureau, a leading trade show educational organization, has conducted research on trade show exhibiting. The following 14 points are some of the Bureau’s findings.

Trade shows draw quality audiences.<
According to the Bureau’s research, 86 percent of trade show visitors have buying influence, and 59 percent plan to purchase within a year.

Only 17 percent have previously been called on by an exhibitor’s salesperson.

Trade show visitors spend quality time on the exhibit floor.
The Bureau’s findings show that over a two-day period, more than one-third of trade show visitors spend more than eight hours at exhibits, with the average visitor spending 21 quality minutes at each of 17 exhibits

Trade shows influence sales.
According to the Bureau, at one trade show, 90 percent of the resellers bought one or more of the product types on display within nine months after the show, and 91 percent planned additional purchases in the following 12 months.

New products and developments attract people to trade shows.
The Bureau’s research shows that 50 percent of trade show visitors attend trade shows to see new products and developments.

Trade show visitors hold top positions.
Almost one-third (29 percent) of trade show visitors hold top management positions — owners, partners and presidents.

Trade show visitors have buying power. <
The majority (86 percent) of trade show attendees have buying power. Eighty three percent know exactly what they want to purchase.

Trade shows reach prospects for less than the cost of sales calls.
According to the Bureau’s research, in 1987, the exhibit cost per visitor at trade shows was slightly more than half the cost of a sales call.

Trade shows reach unknown prospects.
Eighty-three percent of trade show attendees have not been visited by exhibitor’s salespeople.

Exhibitors who place six full-page ads pull 56 percent more visitors than non-advertising exhibitors.

Booth personnel should be knowledgeable, friendly and approachable – not overly aggressive.
Insufficient product knowledge is the major complaint among attendees asked to rate booth personnel. Another common complaint is overly aggressive sales-people.

Trade show leads reduce sales calls and closing costs.
The research shows that the average number of follow up sales calls needed to close a qualified trade show lead is only 0.8, and closing costs are reduced by almost 75 percent over closing costs without leads.

Larger exhibit sizes generate more traffic.
The Bureau’s research shows that the greater an exhibit’s size in number of booths, the higher percentage of show traffic that stops to visit.

Up to 33 percent of the visitors to a booth were there as a result of pre-show promotion.

Over 50 percent of trade show leads don’t require a sales call to close. For 54 percent of the orders placed after a trade show, a personal visit by a salesperson was not required.

In short, positively nothing produces a return on investment from your marketing dollars like trade show marketing! (Please also read the "Publisher’s Outlook" column from the January 1989 issue of Telemarketing magazine to learn more about bringing the right kind of people to your booth.) I look forward to seeing you at CTI™ EXPO in Baltimore, MD, May 19-22 and in San Jose, CA, Dec. 1-4 1998.

Sincerely yours,

Nadji Tehrani
Executive Group Publisher
Editor-in-Chief
ntehrani@tmcnet.com







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