Leaving a lasting impression at exhibitions

The doors open and a flood of visitors consisting of industry leaders and potential clients roll in. They pass stall-by-stall, scouting business leads and the latest innovative products and services. The question is: what will leave a lasting imprint in their minds? Year by year, more companies within the coffee industry are taking advantage of show opportunities as the number of expositions continue to grow. Dr Danielle Chmielewski-Raimondo from the Department of Management and Marketing at The University of Melbourne, notes the growing importance of expositions within the coffee industry. “Coffee is a prestigious market very much about quality,” she says. “With expositions, there’s legitimacy. If you want to be considered a serious competitor in a serious industry, and in order to get a reputation, you have to be part of these expositions.” Chmielewski-Raimondo says a company’s presence at an exposition can provide publicity and create brand awareness. “You almost can’t put a dollar value on it,” she says. “Having people talk about your brand and take an interest in your company at an expo is far more credible compared to [other forms of publicity].” Expositions have long been used by businesses as a marketing strategy, and they continue to evolve with time. “People prefer to spend a bit more money on something that is far superior than settling with the status quo,” Chmielewski-Raimondo says. “Expositions are still very relevant to coffee because there are a lot more specialty brands and small niches under a larger umbrella of coffee.” Founder of Marketing Scoop, Michael Fleischner, says that to ensure an exposition is worthwhile and profitable, three crucial planning phases must be considered: before, during and afterwards. Choosing the right event for a business is one of the first steps in pre-show planning. Fleischner says some business will tour the tradeshow circuit and attend multiple events throughout the year, but there is no real advantage in consistently making an appearance at each event. “Attending two to three significant shows per year is far more productive than attending 35 with marginal results,” he says. Companies have different reasons for attending expositions, such as selling, promoting, conducting market research and advertising. Fleischner says for some businesses, attending expositions is important from a branding perspective and a company’s industry standing. However, if an exposition hasn’t been productive in the past, consider attending with a smaller presence, by simply walking the show floor or choosing which exposition you take part in more wisely. “Due to the expense of exhibiting at shows, people have become more conscious of what they are spending and look for greater value from the shows they attend,” Fleichener says. As part of pre-show planning, Fleischner says exhibitors should always have a long-term goal in mind before investing, and should strategically consider their point of difference compared to other vendors offering similar products or service. Exhibition prices can cost upwards to $25,000 and more. Therefore, planning and prior research is critical. “Exhibitors must consider the cost in relation to the price point of their offerings,” Fleischener says. “If the average customer is worth $20, then investing $25,000 in a show may not be a good investment. However, if you’re selling higher priced products, the buyers you meet can help you achieve a positive return on your investment much more quickly.” Fleischener adds that reaching out to customers before, during, and after the show is essential to ensure your investment is a worth-while venture. Expositions can be cost-effective if managed properly. However, Fleischener says the reality of making them profitable is that marketers and sales representatives must be ‘all in’ or ‘all out’. “You certainly must consider all of the expenses associated with participating in an expo,” Fleischener says. This includes travel costs, accommodation and hospitality expenses. “If you don’t make a full investment in terms of booth resources, people and pre-marketing activities, then you’re better off not attending,” he says. Fleischner says the only thing detrimental to a company’s success is inadequate planning. “People notice vendors who have something unique as well as those who are not adequately prepared. If you’re throwing things together at the last minute, you should consider passing on the show and focusing on one that you can adequately plan for.” Susan Friedmann, Author of Riches in Niches: How to Make it Big in a Small Market has worked as a tradeshow coach for 25 years. “In a niche market like coffee, a tradeshow is an extraordinarily powerful marketing tool that any company can use,” she says. In order to achieve a successful outcome from expositions, Friedmann says research is the first step to success. “You have to know what you’re doing and do the proper planning and promotion,” she says. “You can’t just buy space and turn up and expect miracles to happen.” Friedmann suggests asking two simple questions: how much money do I have to invest and what do I want to get out of exhibiting? “You have to start with the end in mind,” she says. “You’ve got to know what you want. Your goals will form the foundation from which to build. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re going to crash and burn very quickly and you’re not going to get the return you wanted.” Thought must then be given to fundamentals like design and booth appearance and choosing what products and services to highlight. “A big mistake people make is thinking they have to take and display everything in the booth. If people don’t see it, they don’t know you have it,” Friedmann says. Sometimes, visuals like flyers can be just as effective, narrowing the product focus just to one. Knowing how to handle leads after an exposition is also critical and could be the key factor to turning a prospective client into a customer. Friedmann says over 70 per cent of exhibitors go to shows to collect leads and 80 per cent of leads are not followed up, the main reason being there hasn’t been any planning beforehand. “People put all their energy into the show but then go back to the office, get back to management activities and forget about the hot leads they collected. They end up getting colder and more mediocre by the second,” Friedmann says. “Unless a plan is in place, leads will go to waste.” Choosing the right people to attend is important to maximising potential in the show-phase. “You can make or break relationships on the show floor just based on your behaviour and your communication skills,” Friedmann says. “A lot of exhibitors don’t take this seriously enough, but the show phase is when your business is on display in a very public arena.” Friedmann says exhibitors must have adequate training, be aware of their role and what the company wants to achieve. “At the end of the day, your people are your ambassadors,” she says.
Exhibitors should not be eating, drinking, lazing around, writing emails, reading their own literature, answering their personal mobile and looking bored out of their minds. “Do you want to do business with people like this? It’s a big turnoff and it’s often what happens,” Friedmann says.  She notes from experience that many companies attempt to cut costs by selecting people to man the company stand who may be in the right location, but are not capable of a sales pitch. In the long run, this solution is of no benefit if people aren’t right for the job. Friedmann says exhibitors have to enjoy engaging in conversation and interacting with other people. “It’s about asking questions of the attendee to establish if the customer is a potential prospect or simply wants a free gift,” she says. “Prepared questions will establish how you can serve your customer better. Remember, the booth will never sell however pretty it is. You don’t buy from a booth, you buy from a person.” The job of an exhibitor is to direct the right people to the booth and make an impression by featuring something unique that no other booth has. Friedmann suggests using giveaways as a thank you token to prospective clients and provide educational material related to company products. She recommends strongly against hanging out standard pens, USBs, stress balls and highlighters. “The key to standing above the competition is to be different and challenge the norms,” Friedmann says. “Find a point of difference that will attract attendee curiosity and experiment with different approaches that will generate attention.” Her inside tip: exhibitors looking to hand out a company bag of goodies should supply the biggest bag possible because it will become a walking billboard. And avoid the standard three-inch company catalogue – it’ll go straight in the bin. “Don’t do [something] just because everyone else is doing it,” she says. “After all, it’s not about attracting quantity, it’s about attracting quality.”
Once the exposition is over and the doors are shut for another year, the post-show phase begins and every effort should be made to help turn leads into clients. First and foremost, Friedmann suggests sending a general email to future prospects to thank them for coming to the booth. Use a lead-capture form and rank leads 1,2,3 or gold, silver, bronze and have a different strategy for each lead category. A hot prospect needs to be followed up immediately with a phone call. Second-tier are potential prospects that might be interested in six to 12 months and should be met face-to-face to further develop a relationship, and third-tier should be put on a mailing list. Marketing Scoop’s Fleischner says that while expositions may not bring immediate income, an “advance” from a company’s exposition involvement can be expected at the show. “An advance might be setting up a follow-up appointment, a face-to-face meeting or an online presentation,” he says. “Regardless of whether the next step is defined, the goal is to get something tangible from your prospect. Once the immediate advance is defined, expect prospects to be integrated into a standard sales cycle.” Expositions are a huge commitment to any business, and regardless of size, should be treated strategically. When it comes to the crunch, to be successful, The University of Melbourne’s Chmielewski-Raimondo says it all comes down to effort. “Expositions are a lot of work and a huge investment from a financial perspective, but you really do have to be in it to win it.” 

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