by Martha Nelson
Over the past months weve 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? Lets look at some points to consider.
First, lets look at some benefits of trade shows.
Against the above benefits, you need to weigh the costs.
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 expensiveplus 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.
Can you expect that the orders you take at the show will more than cover the expenses of it? Its nice when they dobut Ive come to agree with a comment made by one of our competitors: Its not what you take at the end of the week, its 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 yearthe International Spring Fair in Birmingham, England. This show has grown so big that buyers have less and less time to place orders on standsthey are collecting new ideas and leads. We also see fewer customers than we used to since they must spend their time looking for new ideasexpecting their rep to come around later with the new products. Other exhibitors have told us the sameso weve had to alter our expectations of orders written at the show.
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 youd like to place an order, we have barcode readers and we can do it in about 10 minutes.
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 youd 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.
When the show is finished, its 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 alsoor 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 wont be at the show and want more information. This tells us who the hot leads are.
Our company has done trade shows for 25 yearsdoing 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 standwhich 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 tosaving money and freeing these people to work on other things during the show. A quick word on accommodation for your show. Its worth booking this a year ahead of time as most exhibitors do because if youre 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)youll be worn out at the end of it. I find nothing saps my energy like a trade show when youre constantly on for 5 days. Its important to go into it as organised and refreshed as you can beand 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 didnt 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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