10 Aug, 2023

What is a trade show & what's the purpose of them?

Trade shows have been a crucial sales and marketing tool for centuries. They allow businesses to showcase their goods, disperse knowledge and talk about industry trends in a tailored environment. If you’re looking for alternative ways to market your business – something that isn’t reliant on technology or mainstream appeal – a trade show could be for you.

What is a trade show & what's the purpose of them?

The History of Trade Shows

If we’re going to understand the importance and impact of trade shows, we need to examine the heritage and history behind the events. ‘Trade fairs’ became popular in medieval Europe, particularly in the Champagne region of France. Local merchants would gather in towns for 2-3 weeks and exchange goods such as spices, fur, leather and other agricultural commodities.

These fairs were instrumental in the development of merchant capitalism and revived the economic landscape of the medieval times. They also spread culture influences throughout Europe. In the 18th-century, large industrial trade fairs were common as the industrial revolution boomed, and new manufacturing tools and processes were developed. In the 19th-century, industry-specific trade shows became popular, and in the 20th century exhibition venues were built. Event management companies emerged to help exhibitors get the best from these events. In the 21st-century, trade shows are popular throughout the world, and there is a huge calendar of events that remains on rotation every year.

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What’s a Modern Trade Show?

A trade show is a gathering of businesses (exhibitors), professionals and business representatives (visitors) that come together in a specialised venue to exchange knowledge, products and services and make connections with other like-minded professionals.

Exhibitors will be given a space to exhibit, and it’s their job to connect and engage with the visitors at the event. Ideally, they’ll generate leads, network and hopefully close a few sales (although it’s not always easy!).

Trade shows are useful for B2B businesses or ‘traders’ because they can spread knowledge of their product and connect with prospects in an organic setting that’s tailored to them and their audience. B2C businesses or consumers aren’t usually permitted exhibiting space or entry, and you’ll often find them at expos or exhibition fairs. However, some trade shows do open up to the public for one or two days of their running time. It all depends on the nature of the show.


What’s the Purpose of a Trade Show?

There are many reasons why you would choose to exhibit at a trade show, which include:

  • Make sales. The golden ticket to trade show success, hitting a quota or making direct sales is the ultimate definition of winning.

  • Capture leads. Without leads salespeople have nobody to convert, so generating enough leads for your marketing funnel is a must.

  • Analysing the competition. What technology are they using, what marketing angle are they taking? It’s good to know what the competition is up to, but don’t make it all about them.

  • Engage with existing customers. Existing customers are more likely to invest in new products and services, so you can keep building relations and offering them more benefits.

  • Introduce new products/services. New and old customers could benefit from your new product. Still, you’ll have a better idea of what current customers suit your new addition.

  • Account-based marketing. Go into a trade show with an idea of who you’d like to speak with, so you can create a strategy that’s more likely to convert them.

  • Gather feedback. Feedback is how you improve services and sales and marketing; you could receive advice that revolutionises how you do things.

  • Spot trends. Spotting trends is vital if you want to stay relevant or avoid something that’s a flash in the pan.

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Can You Make Money at a Trade Show?

Trade shows can be disastrous if you do them wrong. The cost of hiring space is high at major venues like the NEC; then you have to buy the stand, equipment and transport everyone there and back.

Smaller shows tend to be cheaper, but trade shows can cost anything between £3000-10,000 depending on various factors. Investing this amount of money and not seeing positive ROI means some businesses view trade shows as a waste of time and money. We disagree, they didn’t do them right. There are plenty of ways you can get a healthy ROI from a trade show, including:

  • Only buy the space you need. The area you buy takes up a significant amount of your budget, so overdoing it can waste money, which is going to eat into your sales.

  • Get an enticing exhibition stand. You can have a tiny space and still attract people if your stand is attractive, making your area presentable promotes credibility.

  • Organisation is key. Here’s a temptation to blindly hand out literature and marketing collateral, putting it at the back of your space makes reps think about engaging first, which is more likely to generate a lead or a sale.

  • Use tech where it’s useful. The whole purpose of a trade show is to generate business through face-to-face marketing, so don’t dehumanise the event by using too much technology.

  • Pick the right team. There’s no point in attending an event if you pick the wrong staff. Ideally, it would benefit you if you had people who understand and empathise with customer challenges, but also know when to close deals.

  • Tell people you’re exhibiting. If there’s no hype around your appearance your trade show could fall flat. Use marketing techniques to create a build-up to the event and get people excited.


Could You See Success at a Trade Show?

Trade shows aren’t an antiquated form of marketing and sales – they’re proven to generate targeted, high-quality leads and sales. Not every business can benefit from attending trade shows, but they’re certainly worth exploring if you’re a trader or B2B company.