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.
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.
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.
What Happens at a Trade Show?
Trade shows will usually follow an event program, which will have speakers or breakout sessions, so people aren’t just walking around a room for hours.
The event holders need to provide value to visitors, and it allows you to do the same thing.
Workshops – discussions or activities which revolve around an industry theme or topic.
Breakout sessions – you may have a breakout session in a workshop, where smaller groups move away to discuss smaller themes and then return to the bigger group to compare ideas.
Media opportunities – will come at an extra cost, but some extra promotion could get you some media exposure and increased interest.
Networking events – some trade shows or trade show partners will put on networking events either during or after events (and sometimes you might get a party!).
Awards – some trade shows like to honour people that have completed a certain years worth of service in an industry or someone who has achieved great things.
Speakers – usually someone with a lot of industry knowledge or a different take on a particular subject. Can pull large crowds if they’re popular.
If you can get involved with any of these activities, you’ll increase visibility, awareness, and you’ll form better connections at the event.
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 – there’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.
Why Do Companies Lose Money at Trade Shows?
Trade shows can be ineffective or have negative consequences if you don’t exhibit them at the right time or in the right way.
You’re at capacity – unless you can take on more business, you’re just massaging your ego and losing money in the process.
You don’t want to grow – if you don’t want to grow your business, there’s no point in attending a trade show.
You don’t have the right staff – if you fear your team won’t be able to close deals, you’ll come home empty-handed.
You don’t have executive buy-in – half-hearted efforts won’t generate any business, so you need full backing.
You pick the wrong show – if you operate in a niche but pick a mainstream show, you’re going to end up getting lost in the crowd.
The last thing you want to do is under prepare. Get the following ticked off before you get to your event:
Event space – the first thing you need is event space, you’ll have a shock if you turn up and there’s nowhere for you to pitch!
Stand with supporting collateral – your stand and marketing collateral are what attract people to your stand, so pick the right company and the right stand.
Travel plans – train, bus, plane, car? It would help if you had robust plans in place before you depart, preparing transport the week before will be calamitous.
Accommodation – if you’re planning on staying over, which you may want to as events are long, tiring days. Also, it’s good to treat staff after a long day.
Marketing collateral – brochures, leaflets, business cards; get all the material you need and ensure you get plenty. You don’t want to run out.
Staff – ask your staff well before you plan the event, preferably before you book it if you have a small team. If they have to work the event and cancel holidays, it may leave a sour taste in their mouth.
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.