Lee Ali, MD global exhibition engagement company Expo Stars, explains how businesses can get the most out of events to generate leads that turn into profitable, long term business relationships.
Taking part in exhibitions and other events is key for businesses to create new leads, nurture relationships and promote their products or services.
Nowadays, there are trade shows for almost every industry, providing great opportunities to reach a new audience. But with some of the biggest exhibitions attracting hundreds, if not thousands, of exhibitors, how do you ensure you not only stand out from your competitors, but also achieve a good return on investment?
The perfect plan
Planning is one of the top priorities when it comes to maximising your results at exhibitions, so make sure you have a clear strategy in place.
Before you even sign up to an exhibition, check it’s the right fit for your business, products or services, and target audience. And have clear objectives, outlining what you want to achieve as a result of exhibiting and understand how you’re going to measure this.
Your exhibition strategy should cover how you’re going to drive traffic to your stand, what questions to ask to qualify leads, the data you need to capture and how you can leave a positive, lasting impression on the prospects you meet.
It can be a good idea to schedule meetings with prospect in advance of the exhibition, as this allows you to focus on developing these all-important relationships face-to-face. Do your homework on the prospects you’re due to meet, and tailor your engagement strategy and messaging for when you meet them.
Also plan your follow up strategy for after the event before you get there. Depending on what your business is, you might secure some sales at the exhibition, but really you should see the event as a way of getting in front of potential new customers and building relationships.
Qualify your leads
Attendees are often bombarded with pitches at exhibitions. Launching into product explanations rather than natural conversations will repel, not attract prospects. Use open questions such as, “What brings you to the show?”
But although you don’t want to launch straight into a sales pitch, you also don’t want to spend too much time talking to unqualified leads. Use these questions to filter for high-value prospects:
· Determine their buying authority: “Are you a part of the buying team?”
· Identify their key buying reasons: “What is the main objective are you trying to achieve?”
· Discover their buying time frame: “When do you need a solution by?”
· Find out what their budgets are: “What budget do you have allocated for the project?”
Aim to give no more than two minutes to unqualified visitors. But make sure you dismiss them politely to stay professional: make eye contact, shake their hand and thank them for visiting the booth.
Communication is key
It may seem like an obvious point, but to truly connect with a potential prospect, it’s important to identify and mirror their communication style. This helps to connect with them and make them feel comfortable. Do they seem direct and conscious of time? Keep it concise. Perhaps they prefer to chat and want the smaller details? Take the time to give it to them. You can find out more about personality types to maximise your connections with our iMA communication styles quiz here.
Choose your staff wisely
Your exhibition team is the face of your company at every event, acting as the first point of contact to greet and nurture potential leads, so it’s important you choose the right people. To do this, think about your audience. Your MD may be experienced and passionate about the business, but if you’re targeting millennials and the MD isn’t natural in engaging in conversation with them, they may not be the best person to form those all-important early connections.
Check your tech
Exhibitors are getting more creative with their use of technology to engage with attendees. But don’t use technology for the sake of it if it doesn’t add to your offering and help you communicate your desired messages.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking using tech means you don’t need as many professional booth staff to speak to attendees. Tech should complement – not replace – people.
Also think about the content of your tech. Does it encourage interaction rather than isolation? For example, the use of VR headsets can be very immersive for the user, but it means your exhibition booth staff can’t engage with them while they’re using it.
Know your market
Exhibitions take place around the world and can be a great introduction into new markets. If you are considering exhibiting internationally, be aware of local practices and customs to maximise results. For example, in Singapore it’s best practice to give and receive business cards with both hands.
If English isn’t the main language, appoint a native speaker to answer questions at your stand. At Expo Stars we have 2,500 multilingual staff worldwide skilled in hospitality, attendee engagement, presenting and data capturing. Consider getting signage and business cards translated by a native speaker too.
Also, be aware of local taxes and VAT which could impact your sale objectives for an exhibition. For instance, Japan doesn’t have VAT but it does have 10% consumption tax.
Be mindful of mindfulness
Exhibitions are fantastic opportunities for businesses, but they can be stressful. Deadlines are tight, hours are long, suppliers might let you down, or your staff could fall ill. But your team and your customers need you to be fully present, focused yet relaxed, and not grumpy or fatigued.
Keep calm by preparing as much as possible in advance, pre-empting any issues that you think may arise so you feel more in control. Practice gratitude by listing three things you are grateful for so far – even if it’s just your safe journey to the event, a nice cup of coffee and comfortable shoes! Because the brain responds favourably to gratitude it can help you relax. Also take time out for breathing exercises and meditation. Even just five minutes can help. Eat healthily, keep hydrated and take breaks. Get an early night too. Often events have plenty of opportunities for socialising once the exhibition hall closes for the day – but if it’s another busy day tomorrow, don’t overdo it.
Finally, if you do run into issues, don’t be afraid to talk about it with those around you to find a more constructive way forward. A morning briefing with everyone to focus on the days objectives and a briefing at the end of the day to focus on what went well and what could be improved always helps with team moral and motivation.
Stay in touch
The months that follow an exhibition are the time to warm up your leads and demonstrate how you can help them. But make sure you start the ball rolling during the exhibitions by encouraging them to commit to an action after the exhibition, for example booking a demo or scheduling a conference call.
Ultimately with exhibitions, unless you plan ahead and have a clear strategy in place, you’ll struggle to achieve a return on investment. By focusing on creating a memorable experience and educating your prospective customers means you can engage with them at the exhibition in an authentic and genuine way, and have a clear plan for following up and turning those prospects into profitable long term business relationships.