Is a Trade Show Worth the Money?

If you’re an active networker, it’s likely that many organizations you belong to will offer you an exhibit booth at a conference or meeting. But is this kind of exposure a good investment for a consulting or professional services business?

Participating in a trade show, tabletop forum, or other promotional event can consume a significant amount of time and money. Before making a commitment, check your marketing budget. Add up all the costs of being an exhibitor, including the booth or table fee, display materials, marketing literature, promotional items or door prizes, and staffing your booth.

Divide the total cost by the number of customers you can honestly expect to get as a result of this event. Once you see how much each customer is going to cost you, do you still think it’s worth it? Can you think of an easier or cheaper way to make the same number of sales?

Only if your event passes this test should you go ahead with it. Many service business owners have found exhibit booths at large trade shows to be an expensive mistake. On the other hand, tabletop displays or free demonstrations at smaller events have become a solid source of new customers for some professionals. Ask colleagues in your field what has worked, and not worked, for them.

Keep in mind that a trade show is a source of LEADS, not clients. You will still need to convert the leads to paying customers after the show is over.

Once you make a commitment to exhibit, plan ahead to get the most out of your participation. Here are some ingredients you should consider:

Advance Publicity – You will get more mileage from the event if you invite your own prospective customers to attend. Many trade shows will provide you with postcards or flyers for this purpose.

Exhibit Booth – Your booth or display table should reflect the quality and professionalism of your products and services and display them visually. For a service business, use samples of your work, photographs, testimonial letters, press clippings, etc. to make what you do as tangible as possible. Try to find out what sort of displays other exhibitors will have. You don’t want to look cheap or unprepared by comparison.

Marketing Literature – If you exhibit at a large event, be prepared to give away many copies of your literature. Some attendees make a habit of taking something from each booth, regardless of whether they are actually interested. It’s a good idea to have a relatively inexpensive piece available for the taking, and keep your more costly brochure or marketing kit behind the table to give to serious prospects.

Script or Outline – Prepare in advance what you will say to people who come by your booth. Think of one good qualifying question you can ask at the outset of a conversation to see if the person you are speaking with is a prospect for you. Write out a script for any helpers so they can answer predictable questions. If you will be conducting a demonstration, write a script or outline for it, and be sure to rehearse!

Capturing Leads – The traditional way to capture the contact information of people who attend an event is to collect their business cards for a drawing. This can result in a large number of cards, with no way of knowing who is a legitimate prospect. Insert a qualifier into your drawing — ask people to answer a qualifying question on the back of their card before dropping it in. To save time, use two stickers of different colors to indicate yes or no.

Logistical Details – Make a list of the small things that could make your day more successful and you more relaxed, such as extra helpers, bottled water, snacks, comfortable shoes, pen and paper, and plenty of business cards. If all the details are handled, you can concentrate on making a good impression.

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