How to avoid common mistakes at exhibitions

Events can be a great addition to a marketing activity plan. Whether it’s a tradeshow, exhibition or an event you’ve put together yourself – getting access to real potential buyers in the flesh can be highly effective.

As a fairly traditional technique, you’d think that most people had this one nailed in terms of dos and don’ts – but there are still many pitfalls to avoid if you’re going to make an event worth its while for your small business.

Even hosting a modest stand at an exhibition is a lot of effort. It’s important to remember that an event is a perishable item in terms of a marketing technique. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. You have one chance to get your money’s worth.

If I were to pick out just three mistakes that many small firms make, they would be:

1. Don’t be shy

Shy and retiring members of your team are not the best people to staff your stand. You need the person you’re putting out there to be gregarious and full of energy. By all means have the more reserved expert at the event to answer questions – but the person out there needs to be a showman.

Standing meekly waiting for people to approach you and ask you to sell to them just isn’t going to cut it. You’ll need to say hello to every passer-by and engage them in conversation. You’re likely to need to do this every few minutes for six hours or more. That takes energy. So think carefully before you stick the graduate trainee on the stand. We all know it’s a grind of a job for the day – but unless they have the showmanship and the stamina, they’ll be little more than a wallflower.

2. Flat follow-up

Every events specialist will tell you that you need to follow up after an event. This is absolutely true. Simply adding event attendees to your email marketing list does not count as follow-up (in fact, this kind of assumed permission could be detrimental). It’s a lazy way of following up, and it is unlikely to get the response you were hoping for… which was a number of conversations that could lead to a sale, right?

Keep in mind that event attendees will now be followed up by every exhibitor. So, you’ll need to stand out. The ideal approach would be to personalise as much as possible. If you chatted to someone in person, send them an email that reflects the conversation. If you know you didn’t meet someone, reflect that. And, remember that other exhibitors are worth following up too – if they’re not your competition, they could be your next customer.

You could even do something as radical as picking up the phone or sending a letter – you know that everyone else is going to be emailing. You can also get some extra mileage from the event by penning a follow-up blog. If the event has a Twitter hashtag and you use it, your article is often passed on by the event organiser.

3. Take the lead

Follow-up is essential. But lead-up is also a fantastic opportunity. So many small businesses simply turn up on the day. The smart business makes the most of attending an event by using it as a conversation piece in the weeks leading up to the day itself. Some simple things you can do in the run-up to an event include:

List your attendance on your website, in your newsletter, etc.
Mark yourself as attending on LinkedIn if the event is listed
List your event on membership organisation websites (like Chamber of Commerce)
Write a pre-event blog post
Run a pre-register competition or promotion to get people to your stand
Distribute a press release about your activities at the event to the local or trade press
The really smart businesses will pre-book sales meetings. Your stand is important. But, a quiet corner and a coffee budget can be even more powerful. Your sales people should be finding out which of your customers are attending and booking a coffee or a lunch with them (this keeps them off other people’s stands and gives you time to catch up).

With a laptop and an internet connection, you could also book in a series of private demos. Check your current hot prospects – are any of them attending? If so, can you pre-book a time slot to buy them a coffee?

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