Don’t land last minute at a trade fair. Be clear about why you are there and understand how to deliver the story for your products.
BY: Sangeeta Anand
In these difficult economic times, international trade shows offer a cost-effective channel not only for business research but also for business development. But exporters, especially those with limited resources, must plan well to get the most benefits, and such planning should include factors to consider before, during and after the event.
BEFORE THE FAIR
This is the most important part. This is where you’ll define budget and identify the right event to attend, confirm staffing needs, plan promotional material, get operational details from organisers and plan your pre-event marketing.
Start with the end in mind. Why are you participating? “My experience is that you have to be focused about what you hope to achieve and target the whole experience at that outcome,” says Brian Willoughby, managing director of Christchurch-based Plinius Audio Ltd. “Are you hoping to grow more distributors for a variety of territories, or get some retailers in one or two particular territories, or reach the end user, or simply raise brand awareness? Are you hoping to have meetings with existing distributors at a convenient assembly point, thus saving you a lot of travel? Maybe you have a new product to launch.” Answering those questions will help with the major decision of whether to have a booth or not. “Maybe you only have a hotel room at the same or nearby venue where you invite people for formal one-on-one meetings. Occupying a booth at a trade show is a poor venue for detailed discussions about performance in a particular territory, but a hotel room near the show is no good if you are fishing for general exposure,” Willoughby says.
Once you know your objective, identify the right trade show. Try to stick with industry-specific shows where customers are genuine buyers. Reduce costs on trade stands.
While considering staffing needs, it is easy to overlook local culture. “In our case a local person is invaluable,” says Willoughby. “Local customs, local information about dealers and some decision influencers are critical to us. Our misunderstanding of local language and different behaviour patterns would wreck any attempt if we tried on our own,” he adds.
Also, organise all your marketing materials beforehand and have a contingency plan in case any material doesn’t arrive on time.
DURING THE EVENT
While it is tempting to save costs, don’t rely on your distributor to sell your products.
“Letting your distributor or an agent man the stand results in your information being second-hand and possibly clouded. Who better to sell your story than you? It’s a Kiwi story that should be delivered by a Kiwi,” says Sally Symes, trading manager of New Zealand Winetraders Ltd.
“Also if the stand belongs to your agent he may represent several products. He will then be spreading his focus,” she adds.
Don’t handle the show on your own. Work with a colleague and take lots of breaks, so you can stay fresh, says Alison Vickers, marketing director of the New Zealand school of Export. “Having someone alongside can perk you up, and it also means you still have enough energy for meetings with prospective clients.” And never go the night before in the hope that you will get a good night’s sleep, says Dr Romuald Rudzki, director of the school. “You’ll look and feel dreadful the next day.”
Don’t forget the presentation of your booth. It’s important to professionally present products and company brochures, set up TV presentation and hire locals, says Dehua Pan, Asia business development manager for Mathias Meats (NZ) Ltd. “Demonstrate how to use the product. For example, if selling meat, hire a chef to demonstrate cooking and encourage visitors to try.”
Get customers involved. Offer samples, two-for-one deals and half price offers. If selling food products, for example, get your product into customer kitchens.
Keep a notebook to record feedback or inquiries. Collect email addresses to send your email newsletters. Talk to as many participants as possible. Use customer enquiry forms and get visitors’ business cards.
Walk around to learn from competitors. Get the exhibition participants’ book for follow up.
If you’re just a visitor, spend time at the booths of big suppliers. Ask and listen — don’t window-shop, says Pan. “Attend topic-specific seminars; don’t waste time at seminars for general industrial promotion.”
“Allow some free time after the show to follow through on any leads that might eventuate that are completely unforeseen,” says Willoughby.
Evaluate your participation. Measure achievements against objectives, effectiveness and performance, and costs and sales, noting what worked and what didn’t for future events.