Your friends and family have been telling you you've got to get your products in stores. They say, "why not participate in a trade show? You're sure to have buyers swarming like bees around your booth and you'll take in more orders than you can possibly handle."
"Wow!" you think, "what a great way to get noticed and make oodles of money!" And off you go – pick a show, invest in a booth (that's way more expensive than you thought), get your samples, order forms, line sheets and displays ready. You show up with great anticipation of how the next three days will change your life, rock your world and cash will be flowing.
Oops – not so fast!
There you sit, no swarms or invasion in your booth. A few "lookey loos" stop buy ask how the show's going for you and glance at your products. You start talking to your neighbors when they have time – because they don't have near as much time to talk as you do because they have steady business.
If you have brought a helper with you talk about your product – is it good enough? What is wrong – why don't they like my stuff? Maybe I should rethink my line, or my life or (worse yet) maybe I'm not supposed to be in business.
Get a grip!
It's not that they don't like your stuff. What you have done is waste your time and money because you showed up without a plan and without marketing. If you've done this in the past, you know what I'm talking about – and now you need to look at that time and money as an education.
It's the cardinal sin of no trade show success: no pre marketing + no preplanning = no buyers buying.
7 Top Reasons Trade Shows Can Be A Waste of Time:
1. IF You haven't picked the right one for your target market
From the very beginning when you venture out into the trade show arena, you must do your homework about the shows. You want to consider which store buyers are coming to the show; are these buyers your target market? Are the show organizers promoting aggressively and how are they marketing? What is the size of the show and the focus? For example you might not want to get a booth at a Kids show if you sell tabletop. How many years has this event been going on? If you have an opportunity to walk the show in advance do so, it will give you a great idea about what is happening and how the whole thing works. And remember sometimes a smaller regional show may be better for your product that a gigantic show where you will not stand out. There are pros and cons to both.
2. IF You expect the show organizers to do all the work in getting you sales.
Their job is to promote the show and get buyers to register for the show – not drag them to your booth. That part is up to you. You must create your own marketing campaign to get the word out that you'll be at the show. You'll need to contact buyers well in advance for appointments. Yes buyers will make appointments!
Buyers from the majors make their appointments well in advance, so you must not wait until the last minute. Who are your dream stores? Make a list and contact them. That means getting your pitch down – sending them information about your line in advance.
And don't forget to contact your existing customers. We used to do a huge mailing in advance of a show. It helped our existing stores to plan their buying in advance. Sometimes they would already have their orders almost completed and then hand us the paper once they saw the line in person.
You'll want to be sure to make your direct marketing campaign stand out from the other mail stores receive. Direct marketing can be really fun and creative. Yes you can send postcards – but make them memorable – and consider other small packages. You want to be noticed and entice buyers to come see you!
3. IF Your booth display is ordinary -you won't get noticed (especially if you're the new kid on the block)
This means you must make your booth exciting. You'll want to turn heads and make it different and more appealing than everyone else. You have to lure them in – stop them in their tracks. It does not mean you show up an hour before the show and throw your stuff on a table. Think your booth design through – make It memorable.
Booth space is generally about 10 X 10. This is your real estate. You want it to get attention and be easy for buyers to interact, see your line and write orders. Practice putting it all together before you go to the show. Don't wait till you get there to think it through.
4. IF You don't know how to sell to close the deal.
Being at a show is more than having a great display. Once you have an interested party you've got to know the right questions to ask; how to be engaging; how to be interested in their needs – and how to close the deal.
Yes, you'll need marketing materials – and know how to show your line. But you'll also need to read your customer – and ASK FOR THE ORDER. If you want to sell you'll have to learn how to close. Until you get the paper there is no sale. Buyers who say they'll "Be Back" usually aren't.
5. IF You don't look at trade show exposure as marketing
Participating in a trade show is not all about writing orders. In fact if you look at them that way they will likely never be right for you. You'll complain with other like minded exhibitors and none of you will ever take advantage of the opportunities available to you.
If you've selected the right show to begin with (where your target market hangs out) you'll want to make connections and gather leads. Even if a store does not buy you will want to obtain their contact information and communicate later.
Trade shows are perfect for getting your company noticed – being visible in the marketplace. If you've ever set up an advertising campaign, the sales person will always want you to purchase a series of ads. This is not necessarily because they want more money – rather they know that the more you are visible to your target market the more that market will recognize your company. Consequently you'll get results the more you're seen by your market. Eventually that converts to your market recognizing you as a viable company.
6. IF you don't see a show as a chance to schmooze and create alliances – make deals
Shows are where deals are made. It's a gathering place for sales reps, buyers and media. It's your chance to schmooze, interact with these people face to face. Regardless of the internet it does not replace these face to face connections.
Trade shows were where my company met and hired new sales reps – from other regions. It was where we made contact with trade publications and national publications. It was also where we were seen without being approached directly for American Girl and Disney. Magic happens at these shows!
7. IF you think the end of the show is the end of the show
Follow though after the show is not only critical – but mandatory! It can be incredibly productive in terms of sales and relationship building. Actually much of the real work begins after the show. Most companies leave the show and never follow through with buyers or other people with whom they briefly connected. When you follow through you get results!
Trade shows can change your business – whether through exposure, sales or new connections. It's up to you to be prepared and make it all happen. Know before you go!
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