Exhibitions are great. Where else do you get the chance to show off your brand to thousands of professionals in your industry, meet potential customers and start working your sales magic?
So you’ve got your show and your stand booked, but now what? Are you actually ready for the exhibition? Do you know what you’re doing and saying? What about your objectives? Which shoes are you going to wear? Yes, really.
Fear not exhibition-goers, Storm12 have been there and done that. So, here then are our top tips for your next exhibition which are guaranteed to stand the test of time.
Make sure you’ve got an attractive, well thought out stand which communicates your key message quickly. You’ve got to catch the eye of people roaming the hall. Try to think of a point of difference, something to make you stick out amongst other exhibitors, whether it’s interactive, controversial or just visually arresting - you want to stop people in their tracks so you can have a conversation with them.
2. Shout about it with pre-exhibition marketing
Work out a pre-exhibition marketing plan. Tell people you’re going, what you will be showing or promoting, where your stand is located and be sure to include the dates and name of the venue too. Blanket your communications about the exhibition across all of your usual channels and invite people to come along and see you when you’re there. About a week before the event, email your contacts and customers and tell them you’re going to be there. That way, they know ahead of time that you won’t be at your desk and it might encourage them to come along too. When you’re at the event, be sure to use your out-of-office message to promote the exhibition - you never know who might be able to come along at short notice.
3. Got a room? Sort your exhibition logistics
Have you booked your transport, transfers and hotels? Does everyone know what time they’re supposed to be where? Logistics can be overlooked in your pre-show planning, but they’re incredibly important to ensure the smooth running of your attendance at the event. Accommodation will be more expensive the closer to the venue and the nearer to the event, so plan ahead. Make sure all of your paperwork is in order too - do you need IDs, visas, permits or Covid-19 forms? Book your parking too so there’s one less thing to worry about on the day - the last thing you want is circling the venue trying to find somewhere to leave the car when you should be on the stand engaging with prospects.
4. Pack your briefs
Spend time on a thorough staff briefing booklet which includes everything your team needs to know about the event - your stand details, your objectives and what success looks like. Don’t do it the morning of, when you arrive - invest the time in training your team. It sounds simple and you might think the team knows what they are doing from the presentation you made last month, but a proper briefing is essential. Make sure everyone knows why they are there and what you’re expecting from them. If you’re all singing from the same hymn sheet, you’ll get more engagement and better conversations with your targets. Does everyone know the features, benefits and costs? You could even role-play likely exhibition interactions. Sounds a bit corny, but the team will be much more confident if they’ve already rehearsed their key points.
5. Get social
Use the event’s hashtag before, during and after. Make sure you’re posting updates about your attendance and tag people you’ve had conversations with. Plan ahead and schedule posts so you don’t need to worry when you’re at the exhibition, but add in ad-hoc posts and pictures - you don’t want it to look like you preloaded that content hopper weeks before the event. Post when you’re there and join the chatter and try to drive people to come to your stand. Post photos and join in the conversation. Don’t make it all about you - shout out other exhibitors or companies in your network. Keep those feeds regularly ticking over in the lead up to, during and just as importantly, after the exhibition. If you write review content or publish your results - shout about them and tell people how to find them using the event hashtag.
6. Know thy neighbour
Check out who you are next and near to in the hall. Good neighbours can become good friends so read up on who’s around you before you get there. They might be a potential new supplier or might know someone who they can refer to you on the day. Check out their marketing, their products and services, who might be attending from their team. Don’t be alarmed if your competitors are situated close by - this can mean that more of your target audience will be focused in one section of the exhibition hall, and that can’t be bad. Also, make sure your team can spot competitors who might feel you out on the stand and do a bit of mystery shopping to find out what they’re up against.
7. Call in the A-team
You can only talk to one person at once, so you need to assemble a crew of confident, well briefed and raring to go colleagues to help you. Ensure you have enough people to cope with your predicted stand traffic. But, don’t go too mad - overstaffed exhibition stands look crowded and uninviting. Try to anticipate the balance of having so many staff you’re all standing around looking at each other, and making people wait too long to have a chat. Tricky, but essential. Smaller events probably call for two to three staff and larger ones probably warrant a minimum of five. Make sure everyone is trained and able to add value to the event.
8. The early bird is well prepared to generate great returns on their exhibition investment
Terrible saying, strong sentiment. Arrive early. When you get there, make sure your stand is all in order and ready for action. Get your tech up and running and ensure there’s time for troubleshooting before the doors open. Have your literature, collateral and lead-collection tools prepped and in position so you’re ready to go. Ensure your staff know what time to be on parade and when they arrive that they’re briefed, fed, watered and toileted so that when the balloon goes up, they’re on their a-game. Throw in a briefing reminder and one last dry-run and you’re all set.
9. As grandma used to say, “you’ve got two ears and one mouth”
You’ve forked out for the exhibition and you’re there to sell your wares - makes complete sense. But, don’t make the mistake of just talking at visitors to your stand - you need to listen and understand what they are asking for. They’ve taken the time to come into your space and chat to you, so find out why and think about your questions carefully. Don’t discount anybody either. Just because the first thing they say isn’t “I’m ready to buy your product/service” doesn’t mean it’s not worth investing your time. You want as many chats as possible, of course you do. But don’t write people off - you don’t know who they know and what influence they have.
10. Break it up, keep it fresh
It’s a good idea to provide each member of the team with a refreshment pack including water, mints, tissues, sanitiser etc. Put a copy of your briefing document in there too and make sure you’ve pre-planned your break rota. Give the team enough time to explore the whole exhibition and they will be more engaged with it, and more motivated. If you don’t have a coffee machine on the stand, be sure to know where the nearest stash of hot java is located so everyone is juiced up and ready for action from the beginning to the end of the event. You’ve got to treat every conversation with the same level of vim, whether it’s 09:00 on day one or 16:59 on day four. Making sure everyone is as refreshed as possible will help.
11. High or low (tech)
Think about how you’re going to capture and record the details of people you speak to at the exhibition. Are you going lo-fi, old school pen and paper? Not a problem, but make sure you’ve got attractive stationery and if it’s branded, even better and a system that is simple and is going to work. This is not the time for a dog-eared legal pad on a worn out clipboard. If you’re going for digital on an iPad or scanner, make sure it’s charged up, connected and you’ve implemented some kind of backup/failsafe mechanism so you don’t lose your leads if there’s a technical hitch part way through the event. Also ensure staff know how to use them and they’re slick at it - no good keeping a prospect waiting while you wade through a hundred field form using an unsuitable keyboard.
12. Catch all
Plan ahead and anticipate how you’re going to run the stand when it’s very busy. Ensure you capture the details of each person you speak to, especially if you have a queue - note down everything about the person you just spoke to before you move on or you won’t remember which service or product they were interested in. If you need to, have a paper version of your data capture mechanism on hand so you can grab details quickly before entering them on your iPad or laptop later. Queues aren’t bad, but bad queue management is. If someone is waiting for you, introduce them to one of your team to gather their details while you finish up your current conversation. Also, when capturing visitors’ details, be sure to record how and when you said you would get back in touch with them - and then make sure you actually do.
13. Don’t just give it away
There is certainly value in handing out the best stash at an exhibition. You want people talking about where they got it from and to generate a sense of FOMO among those who haven’t. But, make sure there’s a purpose to whatever you’re handing out and try to link it to something you do or something you’ve said. No use in a prospect getting home after the event with an amazing piece of collateral or promo item but having no idea who gave it to them or why. Make sure it links to your brand, or your stand theme or story and absolutely make sure that there’s a way to get in touch with you printed on every one.
14. Look the part
This is more a practical thing than anything else. If your stand is packed - and you should prepare for that - and someone is looking for a member of staff to speak to, they need to know who to approach without making a fool out of themselves and picking another visitor. This means you need something to identify yourselves. It could be a red tie, green top or purely just a branded name badge. Do dress to make a good first impression or fit with the theme of your stand or your brand’s creative. Don’t go for something that’s so uncomfortable that all the team can think about is how badly they want to take it off. You know the old saying “bad shoes means exhibition blues”? OK I made that up but don’t expect to have a good conversation with someone if all you can think about is how much you want to sit down. “These dogs are barking” isn’t a great opener for a potential new customer. Pack extras and if you think one pair is comfortable enough and you have not tested for a full day of walking, then do that before the event.
15. Call tech support
If you’ve got screens, AV and other gadgets in your toolkit, make sure that you know how to fix anything which might go wrong with them, or that you’ve got someone on station nearby who does. A Standy Andy, if you will. You don’t want to miss out on a conversation because you’re bug-fixing the video presentation you bought with you. Be sure to have contact details of the tech on speed dial and you’ve got one less thing to worry about while you’re selling.
16. Snap it up
Hopefully your stand will be buzzing with interested leads throughout the exhibition, but don’t forget to grab some photographs. Get shots of the stand before the show starts and when it’s busy, photos of your team engaging with visitors and key features or messages. Use them on social media while you’re there and as part of your review after the event. You’ll kick yourself if you only have one decent photo from the whole event, so get snap happy and give yourself an array of imagery to use.
17. Pace yourself
If it’s a multi-day show, you need to stay the course, go the distance. It’s a marathon and not a sprint. “Alexa, more cliches please”. You need to give as good an account of yourselves on the last day as the first. That might mean swerving the bar on the first night and hitting the hay instead. Make sure you take regular breaks to get food, drink and a walk around the rest of the exhibition. A tired looking team clock-watching for when they can leave is not a good look for your stand, so make sure you give yourselves the best chance of being on your a-game for the duration.
18. Define and implement your follow up strategy
It’s no good meeting all these great prospects and then never speaking to them again. Exhibition marketing doesn’t end when the exhibition does - you need to make sure you follow up with people you spoke to, send them samples or demos, book calls or meetings. It’s very much a case of striking while the iron is hot, so don’t put it off but follow up against a predefined strategy. Triage and categorise your event leads and diarise time to speak to them again, or pass them on to your colleagues if that’s more appropriate. Use your CRM / marketing automation wisely to implement the strategic but practical tasks for each of the leads, like assigning to specific colleagues, adding them on a nurture campaign or flagging up for immediate follow up. Know your campaign strategy before the show, so this part is quick and no time is lost after the show.
19. Mind your Ps and Qs
Before you go all guns blazing at sending sales and marketing emails to your newly acquired leads, start by saying thanks to them for taking the time to visit your stand. Send this one out straight after the event and make it sincere. It’s nice to be nice, and this email will help forge that all-important personal connection as you set out to convert these leads to customers. Also be mindful that many of the other exhibitors may be doing the same thing, so you know what they say about the early bird and his scrumptious meal.
20. Go full auto
If you are using an email service provider platform, such as SharpSpring, you can use it to send content and updates to your newly gained leads from the exhibition right away, just make sure to include opt-in/out functionality right from the off. If you are using marketing automation to start new leads on a nurturing path as a result of filling out a form at the event, check in to make sure it is working and your follow up plan is active.
21. Wash it up
Take the landing page you created before the exhibition and repurpose the content and turn it into a review of the event. Show people what they could have won if they had visited your stand, but don’t close the door because they didn’t. If you’re working on a video wrap up of the event, tell people so they can keep an eye out for it. Include calls to action here too - after all, just because someone didn’t come to the exhibition doesn’t mean you don’t want to work with them.
22. Our survey says
Compile a simple feedback survey and ask people who visited your stand to complete it. What did they like about your stand and your marketing? What could have been better? Did they see your pre-event marketing? All feedback is good feedback if you learn from it, and you want it straight from the horse’s mouth.
23. Content is king
Share relevant content from the event with your audience, whether they were at the exhibition or not. Update your slide decks, videos and presentations to remove any timely points from the show and then use them in your ongoing sales efforts. Arm your colleagues with these ready-to-go tools and get them out into your prospects’ inboxes. Remember to personalise these to the industry or product/service they were interested in.
24. Get ‘em next time
Having just completed a successful exhibition, you’re probably already planning your next one. Build on your momentum and invite your new leads along, if it makes sense to do so. Start your planning early, and refer to your new handy step-by-step checklist to ensure you stand out from the crowd.
Stef worked in and on exhibition stands for over 20 years before moving to Storm12 to head up the Client Services team and work on wider, creative and digital elements for marketing teams. See his full profile.
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