We all know trade shows offer a prime opportunity to pitch to a concentrated group of prospects with money to spend. It’s a chance to present your business, stand out from the crowd and show customers what makes you the best choice of supplier.
But get it wrong and not only will your brand image suffer, but the whole event can be a waste of your time and investment.
With so much potential business at stake, it pays to be aware of the most common mistakes made by exhibitors. Avoiding them could make all the difference between a successful show and a disappointing one.
1. Failing to plan
An exhibition should be treated like any other area of your business it needs clearly defined objectives, a strategy for achieving them, a solid game plan and a contingency plan should all else fail or else you are going straight from strategy to fail. Without a solid game plan, your show presence will lack focus and cohesion, and you won’t have a benchmark for measuring success.
- KPIs What are your objectives? How many leads do you want to generate? What does success look like to you? Setting a target will help motivate your team and make sure everyone is working toward the same goal. It’ll also make evaluating the outcome far easier.
- Strategy How do you intend to attract visitors to your stand ? What kind of offers will you use? And how do you plan to reach your objectives? Each element of your trade show presence should contribute toward achieving your event goals.
- Competitor analysis Research which of your competitors are exhibiting and try to get to know their show style. If you can predict the products they’ll be showcasing, even better – knowing what you’re up against helps you decide how you’ll highlight your strengths and differences.
- Plan B No one wants to have to a use a backup plan but do you really want to be unprepared if something goes wrong? It pays to identify and plan for potential snags, even if it’s just by collating a well-organised
list of contact numbers. Make sure you only hire proven suppliers who will get it right first time or troubleshoot quickly should anything go wrong.
2. Cutting costs
Settling for the cheapest exhibition space, scrimping on stand design or repeatedly recycling old stand material might save a few pennies from your exhibition expenses, but at what cost to your reputation? Trade shows are an investment in new business; Give it the budget it deserves. It will pay for itself when those leads come in.
- Negotiate before you cut Always ask if you’re getting the absolute best price from suppliers and try negotiating for slight refocus on getting value for money. Be happy to pay for experience and expertise but know where the unscrupulous may be padding a proposal. You may be able to realise your vision for less than you thought.
- Apply perspective If you’re tempted to cut corners, think about those savings as a proportion of your overall investment. Ask yourself: Is it worth it?
- Remember your brand values If your company prides itself on quality and professionalism, make sure your exhibition presence reflects those values. Obvious cost-cutting always shows.
3. Uninviting stand design
Stand design is one of the first things visitors will subconsciously appraise when deciding whether to stop at your booth. It’s a huge mistake to assume that your brand or product will naturally shine through no matter how it looks.
- Different perspectives When thinking about your stand design, consider what it will look like from all angles, both from close up and far away. What is the first thing your visitors will see when they approach? Does it look inviting? Are you setting the right tone?
- Be exact Make sure you know exactly how your event furniture, collateral and audio-visual equipment will fit into your event space. You don’t want the stand to look cluttered, thrown together or conspicuously empty. Request detailed mock-ups or 3D concepts from your supplier and always be aware of the dimensions you have to work with.
- Think big Wow your visitors with something new, innovative or bespoke. Exhibitions are the one chance a year to reach such a targeted audience; Make those first impressions count.
4. Unimaginative giveaways
Exhibitions are awash with freebies, so offering the same kind of nondescript branded pens as everyone else is a sure-fire way to waste money. If you’re considering giving away a promotional gift, consider some golden rules:
- Is it relevant? Choose something that’s relevant to your business to make the connection to your brand even stronger.
- Is it different? Delegates are given promotional freebies at almost every stand they visit. What will make yours stand out?
- Do you need it? Do giveaways support your exhibition strategy? Or would the budget be better spent on a different marketing tool to keep your brand front of mind?
5. Poorly trained staff
Using unsuitable or untrained staff is one of the most common mistakes made at trade shows. No one wants to buy from a company that looks unprofessional or disorganised, so why take the risk? Your exhibition presence deserves your best team. They need to have energy, confidence, stamina, and be knowledgeable and enthusiastic about your product.
- Set boundaries Brief your team on how you expect them to behave when they’re on the stand. Ban mobile phones and food, and highlight the kind of open body language that’s key for welcoming visitors.
- Be clear about targets Share your lead generation targets with your staff. Motivate them with rewards and encourage some friendly competition.
- Knowledge Make sure the stand team know your products and services inside out. You want to make it easy for prospects to be able to get whatever answers and information they need to take the next step towards buying from you.
6. Failing to promote your presence
Too many exhibitors rely on the false security of the famous misquote: “If you build it, they will come.” Visitors are never guaranteed, so don’t leave it to chance take advantage of all the pre-event marketing opportunities available to maximise footfall.
- Event guide All exhibitions create a programme for visitors. Make sure you’re aware of all the promotional opportunities available, from basic listings to full-page features.
- Social media If you use social media in your business, remember to search out all the event profiles and hashtags that could help to promote your presence.
- Trade titles Talk to trade publications 23 months before the event to see if they’re running a pre-event special edition. They may be keen to include you once they hear about your plans.
- Website Distribute an invitation to your network and place a banner on your website announcing your involvement. Use everything you’ve got to make sure your clients know you’ll be there.
7. Failing to follow up leads
After all the hard work, time and money you’ve invested into pulling off a show-stopping event, surely the worst mistake of all is not following through on all the opportunities you’ve generated.
- Be organised Use a lead management system to log details from the various business cards, scraps of paper and electronic data given to you during the show. If possible, add notes on how warm the lead is, along with any other details that will help you to move the pitch process forward.
- Be timely Leads should be followed up no later than 23 days after the exhibition has ended. You need to be able to pick up where you left off while the initial encounter is still fresh in the prospect’s mind.
- Be patient See each lead through until the very end. Depending on your product or service, the majority of new business may come through months after the event has finished.