Sales at trade fairs: the lowest priority


6 April 2018

Was it Einstein who said ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’? Whoever said these words, they certainly apply to participation in trade fairs, especially the commercial aspects. A great pity, as it means all kinds of companies are missing out on exciting opportunities and coming to the misguided conclusion that trade fairs are no longer effective.

Where does the problem lie?
For most companies, participating a trade fair is not a day-to-day concern. Since the focus is on the operational side of things, their approach seldom goes beyond “let’s make sure we make a good impression”. Of course, a professional stand is important, but thorough preparation is what makes the real difference. Yet so often we see that the crucial question – “Why are we going to the trade fair?” – either remains unasked or goes largely unanswered. One all too common answer is that staying away would send the wrong signal to the market. But what kind of future is built on fear?

Even that uninspiring answer offers a glimmer of hope. After all, it contains the word ‘market’! Trade fairs, especially the B2B variant, are a temporary microcosm of the market in which you are active. Come well prepared and they can boost your sales and generate spectacular commercial results! So never to go into battle without talking tactics first!

Plan of attack
For commercial success, it is vital to develop a sound plan of attack. And the best plans come to life in a team setting. Draw on the insights of your colleagues from the fields of sales, marketing, communication, product management and beyond. These are all professionals with their own distinct viewpoint. They interact with customers or view the market from a different angle, and as such they are a source of surprising and invaluable insights.

Make smart use of the trade-fair statistics issued by the organizers after the event. These documents usually contain a wealth of information about visitors to the fair: numbers, profiles, origin, job titles, sectors and, not to be underestimated, they often highlight the decision-makers. During an interactive session with a client, we discovered that the CEOs of all the client’s top ten prospects would be present at an upcoming trade fair. Being there was not only an unmissable opportunity for this company, but also helped us fine-tune their entire communication strategy to service this target group, with spectacular results!

Make sure you incorporate the statistics from the previous event in your plan for a future trade fair. Define the various target groups. Which group takes priority? Who do you need to speak to? What are the visitors’ primary concerns? What sparks their imagination? What do you have to say to the various target groups? Do you have directly available solutions to offer them? If you do, it can reinforce your relevance for the target group. And lest we forget: what proportion of this target group do you want to reach? Is it better to communicate one-on-one or to address larger groups?

Only when you have clarified the objective and the message for each target group can you start to formulate your primary goal. Be ambitious! Don’t hold back!

For the keen commercial minds among you: what are your expectations in terms of profits? In other words, how many visitors do you need to speak to and what percentage will ultimately lead to an assignment? How many new contacts will satisfy your expectations? Do you have the resources to write orders at the trade fair? Take your quotation-scoring percentage and average revenue, and link them to the processing capacity of your stand. If you talk to 100 people and know from experience that on average 25% lead to an initial assignment within one year, with an average order value of €5000, this tells you all you need to know in terms of defining the assignment for your stand crew.

From plan of attack to selecting resources
The plan of attack, complete with target groups, objectives, messages, opportunities and threats, not only provides a neat overview but also takes you to the next step: selecting and coordinating your various resources. If you work with an existing stand, make sure it offers sufficient scope to allow you to deliver on the communicative elements of your plan at every level. Are you going to develop a new stand? Then make sure it facilitates the communicative elements of your strategy and enables you to respond flexibly to situations as they arise. After all, the theme of the fair, your target groups and your own messages are all bound to change on a regular basis!

Returning to the stand crew: how long should a discussion actually last? Do you distinguish between existing customers and new contacts? Is it wise to deploy a crew that consists entirely of sales people? Or is it a good idea to get management, or even senior management, involved? In some cases that can be useful. What is advisable in terms of how to interact on the stand? Are the crew expected to strike up a conversation with everyone or should they select the people they want to speak to?

A kick-off is a good way to share an effective plan of attack. This can be done in-company, at the stand or even abroad on the eve of the fair. Consider hiring a specialist to train your stand crew. People tend to act differently in a trade-fair setting and it makes sense to prime your crew by shifting the focus to effective behaviours and the elements from the plan of attack. That way everyone is on message and knows what is expected of them. And that includes management or senior management. 

Measure for measure
We often hear that the results of trade-fair participation cannot be measured. This is nonsense, of course: if any medium can be quantified effectively in terms of results, it’s the trade fair. After all, everything happens before your very eyes! To obtain a base measurement, a number of factors are important.

Ensure solid lead registration. Scanning badges provides a basis, but that is only of interest if you want to know how many visitors your stand attracts. It still leaves you in the dark as to whether the badges scanned belong to the target group and what their interests are, if any. It makes more sense to work with a smart lead registration form. An oft-heard argument from stand crew is that visitors to a stand find this annoying. That’s a genuine drawback and one that needs to be taken seriously: visitors to the trade fair have an invisible opt-in and come to make contacts, buy new products or enter into partnerships.

Provide them with a smart and easy way to register. That doesn’t have to be an A4 crammed with questions. For one customer, we developed beer mats on which they could quickly note name, address, interest and follow-up. For another customer, we devised a system that classifies visitors as potential customers with a short-term or medium-term question, as suppliers or as press. This makes follow-up a whole lot easier.

Speaking of follow-up: how do you plan to organize your follow-up after the fair? There are companies who create special codes in their CRM to link the lead to the name of the fair with a view to following the life cycle. It’s worth agreeing a solid approach with the sales crew in advance, especially since you are making it easier for them to achieve their targets: sound follow-up is essential.

There are also ways to measure the total ROI of a trade fair from a commercial and promotional point of view, and in terms of CRM and cost savings. This entails added work, but the resulting conclusions and recommendations will help you gear up for the next trade fair. It sets you on the path to continuous improvement and enables you to set the bar even higher in future. Incidentally, it’s a method that meets with our heartfelt approval and, more importantly, one we will be more than happy to help you with.

Would you like more information about trade-fair plans, resource selection, trade-fair training or ROI? Come to the Beewan workshop on effective trade-fair participation on 21 June 2018 in Amsterdam. Register here or contact us.