Having recently been involved with a number of start-up companies – I was reminded of my first time – when I was just starting out with my newly patented display system – Kepac – the boardless board – lightweight and durable and no tools needed to assemble! Naturally I was approached by an enthusiastic salesman from the organisers of a Marketing Show aimed at those who wanted to improve their overall sales and marketing skills. He asked for a basic fee to exhibit, plus an incremental amount based on the customers he actually delivered to the show. There was a man who was prepared to back his own ability to provide the right visitors and environment – for his customers. Organisers – anybody fancy doing that today?
But how was I going to display display panels? The first time out I was faced with visitors to the stand asking what it was I was selling “the stand” I said. “yes but what are you selling?” they repeated and the dialogue went on much like this for many hours. It wasn’t until I actually took the product off the walls, sat it in the middle of our stand and proceeded to kick it and jump on it that people realised that it was what it claimed to be – the lightest, toughest display panel in the world.
But it took a little showbiz. And even at this early stage I identified that people are people wherever they are in the world – and they love a show. The bazaar in Istanbul is only the forerunner of the Trafford Centre or Blue Water. And in each area the promotion of products and services, the interaction with those who appear to be interested in buying them, and the entire atmosphere is heightened by the degree of passion and enthusiasm which both parties bring to the arena.
Exhibiting is showbiz. So even if you are a first time exhibitor – you’ve heard about all the wonderful opportunities at this or that show – and you believe that you can launch your company, your products and your services at a particular event – confidence is crucial. And to get this confidence you need to learn from people who have been there and done it, from the school of hard knocks. There are to the best of my knowledge currently no university courses in how to exhibit effectively. First time exhibitors – or as they are often known in the organisers offices lambs to the slaughter – need to absorb as many of the proven best practice techniques and processes as possible so that they come away with a respectable result, having punched above their weight and ideally knowing that they have put some of the big boys to shame by hijacking the show.
It’s about planning
And remembering the 5 key elements of your business throughout its development and exhibition career:
1. Where is the passion in your business?
What do you want to be regarded as? Why are you doing what you are doing? And the answer to this question should always be: “we want to be regarded as the number one……… …..” You started the business because you saw an opportunity – a niche – a market for your idea – and you invested your time, money and passion in this product or service. Try and remember this passion and make sure that everybody in your company, and certainly those who are representing you on an exhibition stand, share the belief in what you are doing. After all if you don’t visibly emanate the belief in yourself and your own company, how on earth can you expect visitors who don’t know you yet to believe in you?
2. What do you sell? (and the answer isn’t solutions!).
Just try and articulate in less than 8 words what you sell: “software to facilitate financial compliance with legislation” or “therapies for those suffering from asthma” or “a development of luxury apartments on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast” or “a security lock that prevents access via externally beaded glazed windows” Oops, more than 8 words there. But here again everybody on your stand needs to know how to describe what you sell. This might be easier for new companies exhibiting for the first time than established organisations, who may well have lost the vocabulary in the marketing morass.
3. Who are you targeting?
And the best bit about this question is to flip it and ask yourself who you really don’t want to see. The obvious time wasters and those who don’t fit the profile and criteria which your prospects embody should be carefully identified prior to a show, and spotted at the show for polite dismissal. (I could go on for hours about the no-nos who potentially waste your time on the stand). And you have to have the vocabulary to move them on without appearing to be impolite and hence damaging your brand reputation.
4. Who are your competitors?
And don’t tell me you’re unique, you’re the only one with this product, because everybody has competitors either visible and obvious or invisible and unclear. And don’t let them on your stand. However, that doesn’t mean to say you shouldn’t go and visit their stands, both at exhibitions where you are representing yourselves, and at others which you are maybe researching for future attendance. Be clear who you want to see and who you don’t. Time is valuable.
5. And this is the big one – Why are you different?
Why are you better than what’s out there? Why should anybody buy from you? Somehow you are going to make a claim that people should invest their time and money with your organisation. Understanding your messages and touching your brand; reviewing your products, discussing and evaluating your services; and you have to have the answers as to why you should be the only proposition for your prospect. What benefit will whatever you are selling deliver to them? Will it save them or make them money? Will it make their life easier? Or will it simply make them feel better? But this is the one question all your people have to be able to answer in a compelling way, to take your stand visitor to the next stage of engagement with your business and become – ideally – long term customers.
I am a firm believer that good business is built on long term relationships – and the exhibition arena offers you the opportunity to initiate and develop these long term relationships. So virgins all – don’t take short cuts when you decide to exhibit. Learn as much as you can about this demanding, fascinating and highly rewarding medium. Understand the awesome power of exhibitions. And go forth and multiply.