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6 Qualifying Questions for Exhibiting at a Trade Show

Some helpful tips to make sure you are getting the biggest bang for your marketing buck by selecting events most likely to pay off.

Trade shows SEEM like the magic marketing bullet: All of your potential buyers together in one place! The opportunity to get your message heard by a receptive audience! The chance to give demonstrations right on the spot instead of trying to schedule a future appointment over the phone!

In reality, you will spend lots of money, stand around checking your smartphone as tumbleweeds roll by and then smile across the aisle at the people from some other company who are doing the same thing. Your feet will hurt and you will give demos to people you know will NEVER buy your product. You will go through busy times when you can barely Purell your hands before the next visitor stops by and you will have an amazing conversation that you are SURE is going to lead to a big deal as soon as you both get back to your offices.

Like many things in business, exhibiting is often a necessary evil. But picking the RIGHT events is more important than how snazzy your booth looks, how cool your swag is and whether you got a good location on the floor. If you’re at the wrong event and can’t show an ROI, a non-believing management team may just write off exhibiting altogether, throwing out the gems with the garbage.

So, before you send in your next non-refundable deposit to lock-in last year’s rates today, here are six questions to ask yourself:

Are my buyers going to be there?

This may seem obvious, but it is still worth thinking about. Just because someone from a potential customer is going to be there, it doesn’t mean that someone will actually be involved in the purchase decision. When you are evaluating the attendee list, you want to pay as much attention to the titles of the attendees as you do to their organizations.

Case in point: When I was with BigBelly Solar someone decided that we should exhibit at the Government Finance Officers Association annual event for a couple of years, with the rationale being that we sell to governments, our solution had a positive ROI and the finance people would eventually be involved in signing off on the deal. Despite their interest and happiness to receive a demonstration, these individuals not only didn’t have the ability to make or recommend a purchase, they usually didn’t even KNOW the right people within the organization.

Are my competitors going to be there?

Sometimes NOT being at a trade show can be as bad as going to the wrong one. If you have direct competitors that will be showing off their wares, your absence may be a negative indicator to potential buyers… and a chance for your competitors to talk smack about you behind your back. Of course, your competitors may have other lines of business that have nothing to do with your areas of focus, so their presence alone shouldn’t have you writing checks and ordering carpets – you still need to ensure that YOUR buyers are going to be there.

Will the exhibit hall be open for the right amount of time – and at the right times?

Sometimes content-heavy events don’t dedicate a lot of time to ensuring that attendees get to roam the aisles of the exhibit hall. If the exhibit hall is mostly open while there are sessions in progress, that is not a good sign, nor having an exhibit area that is not really part of the main traffic flow. Good signs are events that are scheduled in the exhibit halls (particularly those involving food and/or drink) and longer exhibit hall hours combined with breaks in the programming when attendees will want to wander around but not stray too far from the venue.

Does the location map to my overall sales strategy?

Regardless of whether it is a regional, national or international event, the attendees will disproportionately be from the area closest to the show. It is cheaper for them to travel (or they might not have to travel at all), and organizations are increasingly unwilling to send people on expensive junkets to far-flung locales. Additionally, when you DO get folks coming in from far away, they are far more likely to spend their down time seeing the sights than roaming the exhibit hall. So, if an event is in California but all of your sales efforts are concentrated on the East Coast and Midwest, you may not have channel partners or sales reps with bandwidth (or interest) in following up on many of the leads you do manage to gather.

Is the event a local version of a larger event?

There are many organizations with regional, state and local chapters that have their very own events. Unless your target market is the little guy (be that small companies, small towns or small colleges), you want to skip these events and go to the larger versions (be those international, national or regional). The big boys want to play with the other big boys, and they are not going to bother with the smaller local events unless it is in their backyard.

Can my sales organization set up enough meetings to make it worthwhile?

While it is certainly possible that a random passerby will end up being convinced by your flawless demo and won over by the cute stress balls you are giving out, it is far more likely that meaningful business will be conducted with folks already familiar with your offering. Events offer a great opportunity to reconnect with prospects that will be attending, give them a demo (and just as importantly, give one to the colleagues they are hanging out with) and potentially let them meet current satisfied customers that will also be there. If your sales team doesn’t think the right folks will be in attendance or hasn’t already identified a chunk of prospects that would attend this kind of event, then it probably isn’t worth your time.