How to Succeed in Sales -- Part 5

Trade Shows: Who Needs Them?

by Martha Nelson

Over the past months we’ve been discussing ways to succeed in sales. One popular method is to exhibit at a trade show. Trade shows offer the opportunity to meet people you may never encounter in your usual methods of cold calling. They can also be very expensive and time consuming. So who needs them? Do you? Let’s look at some points to consider.

Benefits of Trade Shows

First, let’s look at some benefits of trade shows.

  1. Ability to build new business in a region you can’t cover using representatives or agents. e.g. Export business, or a region beyond your travel time.
  2. Reach often “invisible” buyers, e.g. mail order catalogues, websites, corporate business, newly opened or about to open retail outlets.
  3. Making yourself visible if you offer a specialised service that people aren’t aware of.
  4. Opportunity to meet customers and potentials face to face at least once a year makes phone reorders easier. There is nothing that replaces the rappore you can have with someone face to face. They will trust you more if you’ve met them at least once. Time and again I have broken the ice on a phone call by being able to say, “I met you in your shop last year” or “we spoke at the International Spring Fair last February”. Suddenly you are not an alien interrupting their day, but someone they have met.
  5. Marketing and Advertising Exposure, i.e. presenting something and someone tangible (your product and yourself) to a market you may service primarily by brochures and phone calls. Allowing customers to see your products beautifully displayed on the merchandisers you hope they’ll want for their own stores. If you advertise in the show catalogue, this can also be an excellent source of referrals throughout the year for people who didn’t get around the whole show or weren’t able to attend. Most shows also offer an on-line catalogue, providing international exposure.
  6. A source of Market Research. An opportunity to see what your competitors and other exhibitors are doing to promote their products. Contact with a spectrum of packaging, display and marketing exhibitors who could help your business.
  7. Gathering many quality leads and orders in a short period of time, which hopefully leads to more sales throughout the year.
  8. If you don’t print a catalogue of your products or have an on-line shop on your website, shows make it easier for your clients to order.

Costs of Trade Shows

Against the above benefits, you need to weigh the costs.

  1. Costs to exhibit can easily be in the thousands of dollars when you include stand rental, electrical fees, van hire, accommodation, special fabrics and furniture for the stand, advertising, show invitations, and staffing.
  2. Consider the time it will take to design, prepare, set up, staff and then take down your stand, including restocking of product used in the show. This can easily get out of hand if you are especially enthusiastic about shows or not organised.
  3. Staffing: How many staff will be pulled away from other duties to make the show happen? Can you yourself afford the time to drop everything for a show—or would that same amount of time yield more profit if put into telemarketing, direct mail, advertising, Internet development or cold calling?

Which Show When?

The success of shows can depend a lot on choosing the right one. Where do your competitors exhibit? Which shows does your trade association recommend for your company? Also, do you have enough staff to cover the show during a busy time of year for your business? Will you yourself have to drop your other sales methods for the show? Another important consideration is the size of the show. Big national shows get high attendance but are very expensive—plus you can be a small fish in a big pond and just get lost. You might want to consider regional or local shows, where you have more opportunity to be a big fish in a smaller pond with less outlay.

Should Orders Pay for Shows?

Can you expect that the orders you take at the show will more than cover the expenses of it? It’s nice when they do—but I’ve come to agree with a comment made by one of our competitors: “It’s not what you take at the end of the week, it’s what you take at the end of the year [from the show leads] that counts.” Our U.K. jewellery company now exhibits at just one trade show each year—the International Spring Fair in Birmingham, England. This show has grown so big that buyers have less and less time to place orders on stands—they are collecting new ideas and leads. We also see fewer customers than we used to since they must spend their time looking for new ideas—expecting their rep to come around later with the new products. Other exhibitors have told us the same—so we’ve had to alter our expectations of orders written at the show.

Get Those Orders!

Having said this, you need to make it easy for buyers to buy on your stand. Use clear signs to indicate costs of minimum orders, Best Selling Packages, or Merchandise Display Packages to help them decide. We use PDT barcode readers on our stand, so I can say, “If you’d like to place an order, we have barcode readers and we can do it in about 10 minutes.”

Just Looking, Thanks!

With so many buyers browsing, it is important to actually get their business cards as they walk glaze eyed past yet another attractive stand. How to do it without being pushy? I use the “bait” method. Most buyers want catalogues and ours are not on display. After engaging the buyer in as much conversation as they want about our products I say, “We have a colour catalogue if you’d like to take something with you.” If they say yes, I ask for their business card or address first, which is perfectly reasonable at a trade show. As I give them the catalogue with my card stapled onto it, I get as much information as I can about the type of business they have. We use a questionnaire form when taking information, e.g. giftshop or jeweller? multiple outlets? Which products did they like most? This saves time and makes it easy to pass the lead on to the appropriate rep after the show.

Evaluating Shows

When the show is finished, it’s important to evaluate your results. Keep track of the sales, number of new accounts, total costs including accommodation and eating out, number of hours to prep and work the show, and number of new leads. I also write notes in my diary at the end of each day indicating how busy it was (did we need more or less staff on that day?), daily sales, and things to improve next year. Was it a slow show? If so, were your competitors and neighbours slow also—or could it be your products or prices are wrong? Were you in the best position? We now like to be in the same area as our competitors, since this attracts the new buyers we want. Be sure to have a good look around the show itself. With all new leads and new customers, keep track of the sales they give you, not only at the show but also over the next year. How many converted into new accounts later in the year when you followed up? How many contacted you after the show as a result of your catalogue ad? At the end of the year, compare this total sales figure with your total show costs to decide whether it was worth it or not. Even your show invitation can serve double-duty to promote your company. We send a colour postcard of our new product launch, with our fax number for them to fax the card back to us if they won’t be at the show and want more information. This tells us who the hot leads are.

Cutting Costs for Shows

Our company has done trade shows for 25 years—doing as many as four per year. In recent years we have cut down to one per year and also found ways to cut the costs of the show. For example, we used to recreate new displays of jewellery for every show. Now we have found a way to attractively display our sales representatives’ sample case pads on the stand—which has saved us weeks of prep time and restocking of jewellery. We have also reduced the size of our stand and found we can staff it with fewer people than we used to—saving money and freeing these people to work on other things during the show. A quick word on accommodation for your show. It’s worth booking this a year ahead of time as most exhibitors do —because if you’re left having to commute an hour or more to and from the show every day (after giving your best as a salesperson for 9 hours over 4-5 days)—you’ll be worn out at the end of it. I find nothing saps my energy like a trade show when you’re constantly “on” for 5 days. It’s important to go into it as organised and refreshed as you can be—and not waste your energy on long commutes. So, when it comes to trade shows, do you need them? Every company and product is different, so only you can decide. But the secret of success in sales is often the willingness to try new methods. Whatever the outcome, your first trade show will undoubtedly teach you a lot you didn’t know about your product and market.

(Martha Nelson is the Sales Manager for Fine Enamels Jewellery in the U.K.)

Go to previous article How to Succeed in Sales series.

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