Here’s Why Startups Should Join Trade Shows

Here’s Why Startups Should Join Trade Shows

So you’ve got a cool gadget, as just about everyone else starting out, you want to get spotted. But you are pretty hesitant to jump in head first with electronic trade shows. Especially when you’re bootstrapping a startup, it’s even more difficult to bite the bullet and invest in a trade show. You might be wondering, are trade shows worth it?

The answer: Of course! (and this is not because we’re event organizers!)

The evidence: Check out the reasons below.









Face Time Beats Facetime
Forget email, Skype, go-to-meeting, video conferences or social media. The real FaceTime is actually “face time,” where you can shake hands and look someone in the eye. It’s not enough to know the company that makes the things we buy. We need to know the people who make them — their values, not just their value.

And don’t think that digital and technology enthusiasts don’t recognize the value of personal interaction. The boom of Maker Fair where “nerdy” makers and entrepreneurs come together to socialize, the rise of Tech in Asia where Asian tech community come together to network with startups and investors alike, and the adoption of Startup Launchpad where more than 70,000 hardware professionals come together to share their best knowledge about the industry– All are signs that it’s not time for a fully digital world. Yet.

78% of trade show attendees travel more than 400 miles to attend an exhibition, which means you are getting a national audience at many trade shows.

So slide out from behind your desk, escape the digital dungeon and get together live and in person.

Meet the Boss
Reports have shown that many of the people in attendance at tradeshows are the key decision makers and buyers at their businesses. Trade shows provide a great opportunity to speak directly to and build relationships with the people who will ultimately make the purchasing decisions.

46% of trade show attendees are in Executive or Upper Management.

That’s a lot of valuable attendees with top titles walking trade shows. They certainly have authority to make buying decisions!

Cold Calling Annoys People
Do you ever get these tedious cold calls trying to sell you stuff? Are you are sick of the endless calls and want to scream loudly down the phone?

Consider the mindset of people who get sales phone calls. They aren’t sitting there waiting for you to give them a sales pitch. When you cold call someone, you automatically have a disadvantage because that person sees you as annoying. He doesn’t give a damn about what you have to say. There’s a reason that over 217 million people have registered with the Do Not Call List.

But, people at trade shows have the opposite mind set. They’re there because they want to learn more about products and services. You both want something from each other, and you’re both willing to talk. No one is intruding.

51% of tradeshow attendees requested that a sales representative visit their company after the show.

This means trade shows are always rich in new business targets for you.

Note: Did you know that the cost of a face-to-face meeting with a potential customer at a tradeshow is $142, while the cost of a face-to-face meeting at his office is $259? It’s a sure bet that trade show leads cost you less than a sales call.

Make Friends

It’s a great time to catch up with old pals and current contacts at a trade show. Squeeze the most out of it by finding out what’s the buzz and pulse of the industry – what are the major issues, what are the hot new products, what companies have been doing well or poorly.  Trade shows also offer a chance to build up and strengthen exhibitors’ network, whether it’s to start potential sales, keep tabs on competitors, or find future places to work.

Before the Show
While preparing to attend any show, of course, you can’t just pull up to the nearest trade show with a laptop and samples in hand, expecting to wow the crowd. If you want to ace it as an exhibitor–and nab awards, press mentions, new accounts or distribution–some advance planning is in order. Consider this your checklist.

Know Exactly What You Want to Accomplish
So you signed up for a trade show. Great! However, the first mistake that companies usually make is not thinking about their objectives. How can you know if exhibiting has been successful for you and the return on your investment unless you know what you want to achieve and plan accordingly for this beforehand? What are your reasons for exhibiting at the show? How many leads are you looking to achieve? How can you quantify the resulting business? Set goals for tasks you’d like to have accomplished 12, 9, 6, and 3 months before the expo, so you have plenty of time to get all your ducks in a row.

Bringing the Right People
As Mel White of Classic Exhibits says, “If you bring ten people to the show, at least six are the wrong ones.”

Booth personnel are the lifeblood of your exhibit strategy. They should be prepared to work for several days, avoiding the attitude that it’s a “vacation” from the office. Drill your booth personnel until they learn the ropes.  What are the features and benefits of your main products?  Your most popular products?  And especially for a trade show, your latest products?  How do your products compare to your main competitors?  What do they cost?  What is the next step in buying them? It’s essential that booth personnel understand what visitors care about, so they can better connect with them. Sometimes hiring promotional staff may be inevitable but realize how damaging it can be to have the wrong or no information available to give to a visitor and ensure it doesn’t happen EVER!

Know Who’s in Town
Who will be there? Are they your direct competitors in the industry? Will their booth be bigger than yours? Will they be at a better location? Are they going to jazz up by hiring clowns or magicians? These are all things you should know before you write the check, so that you can write a bigger check if necessary to snag the best booth location possible

Don’t just stop at the competition, either – ask the organizers how many peopleare attending the conference, if it’s expected to sell out, what media are expected to attend, and any other questions your inquiring mind wants to know. The more you know about the trade show itself, the better.

Make Sure Your Introduction is Ready to Roll

“So, what do you do?”

Those five words are on the minds of everyone you meet at the trade show. When someone asks what you do, they’re really asking, “How does what you do affect me?” Never forget that in business contexts, people are primarily concerned with themselves and their companies. That’s just the reality.

Give Enough Thought to Your Booth
There’s nothing worse than trade show product demos that fail or don’t capture visitors’ interest. You’re the creator and expert. If you can’t get your product to work in a live demo, you won’t get media and customers’ attention.
Make sure you handle the booth decoration, line sheets, brochures, business cards, extra lighting and, of course, your swags. Remember your competition will be prepared whether you are or not, and they’ll gain valuable traction over you.

You should need to find out everything you can about your allotted space. Know its dimensions, where it will be located in the building, what companies will be in your neighboring booths, whether it’s in a high or low traffic area, whether you have access to lighting and electricity, and anything else that will affect your exhibit display setup.

If this is your first trade show, a booth rental may be the smarter choice for you. Avoid premium show service fees by ordering these services in advance. And take time to read and digest your show’s Exhibitor Manual – quite often you can avoid rising costs by registering for any necessary show services earlier rather than later.

Be Unique & Snag That Marketing Support
Everyone has a cookie-cutter booth. You put your logo in a few noticeable areas, place your handouts in the stand, and display images of your product or service on your LCD screen. If you look at the booth next to yours, you see the same thing. The only difference may be that your neighbor is handing out free pens, and you are handing out free thumb drives. The key to making your trade show marketing successful is to do something that makes your business stand out.

Start with merchandising display.  If you have a product, or service that can be demoed, then show its real-time value. Get as many people playing with your product as possible, especially in ways that highlight your key selling points. It may cost extra to have something “different,” but the price is worth it when you get names and contact details from heaps of people, straight off the bat. You can then create a more memorable experience and lasting impression so people are talking about you way after the trade show is over.

Safeguard Your Baby From Patent Theft
You’ve designed a cool power bank. And you can’t wait to get the production and sales processes snapping so you can sooner start counting your profits. Not so fast. You might first want to think about applying for a patent. The only way you’re going to prevent people from stealing your original ideas is if you have the ability to tell others to stop. It’s the patent system. That’s the only way.”
In the U.S., there are three types of patents: utility, design and plant. That cool powerbank of yours, for example, would require a utility patent. Once granted, a utility patent expires 20 years from the date of filing. (Note: Things are slightly different in China, so make sure you check with the local patent office.)

Well, you don’t need a patent to sell something. You could put something together at home and sell it tomorrow. But if you don’t have a patent, somebody else might have a patent. So, you have to make sure you’re clear of others’ intellectual property. And remember, you can’t patent an “idea”. The least you could do is get your prototype ready.

Think About Your Pricing
You’d be surprised how often we encounter entrepreneurs who don’t have a detailed grasp on their pricing strategy. The rule of thumb is you’ll retail the product at 3x or 4x F.O.B. The distributor’s price would markup 40-50% of the F.O.B., while the retailer’s price markup 60-70% of the distributor’s price (before discounts).

In addition, retailers will want more support. They’ll want marketing dollars or allowances (usually a portion of free products or percentage off an order). After all, this will allow them to promote your brand. Be mindful that there are a lot of pitfalls and traps that will appear when dealing with various sales channels. Further, returns, damaged products, and sampling options will all be frequent requests. Be ready for them. A good way is to offer an additional 2-3% discount to cover most of the aforementioned issues.

Scoring Big with Social Media
It’s not enough any more to simply attend a trade show. At least, I don’t believe you should think in those terms. Let me suggest you complement your traditional marketing efforts by using social media as an effective addition. But the big question is, how to do it effectively?

Tweet to attract attention. Don’t forget to show some love on Facebook, LinkedIn & Instagram too!
At last year’s Startup Launchpad trade show, Trendlift (a Hong Kong-based hardware startup) used Twitter to garner attention. They wanted to highlight their newest gadget—the Fishbone Charging Station. So, they generate buzz with a caption contest of tweets. Here’s an example: “Tweet us a fun caption for this picture and you could #win one Fishbone Charging Station! #FishboneChargeUp #LaunchpadHK.”

The hashtag #FishboneChargeUp made it easy to track entries. The other hashtag (#LaunchpadHK) assured that respondents were actually at the show. A follow-up tweet invited the winner with the most creative caption to come to Trendlift’s booth and pick up his prize: “The most creative caption to our last tweet was @RSmith, come to Booth 60 for your Fishbone. #FishboneChargeUp.”

While only a handful of people won the charging station, many more read their tweets and were reminded of their presence at the trade show. If you are able to work out a simple process to get your attendees to tweet about you, then I believe you have quite a disruptive competitive advantage. I am sure fellow exhibitors are going to hate you.

Sending out press release to announce your news
If you have a new product unveiling, sending your press release 1-2 weeks before the trade show will drum up your booth traffic. Avoid sending out your release during the show because the media and the attendees will not have enough time to add your booth to their agenda.

There’s no reason you have to wait until the show day to start communicating through your social media outlets. Why not get the conversation going well in advance of the show? How? Tweet news releases about what you’ll be doing at the show. Post photos of products, customers and even your exhibit to your Facebook page and Pinterest. Always include your booth number in your messages, so people who are planning their schedules in advance can plug you in.

After the Show
The show doesn’t end when you pack up. While we have focused here on pre-show preparation, don’t forget the most important factor of all: your follow up! Following up after the show is the only thing that will make all your hard work worthwhile. Don’t let all your effort go to the wayside by not being active after the event is over. In this competitive world, if you don’t respond to leads within two or three days, your competitors will. So make sure you plan your follow-up time too.

Follow up
You may have heard the shocking statistics that 75% of leads are not followed up after the exhibition. So don’t make that mistake. Make the most out of it. Make it all worth it. Live events change minds easily so this is really frustrating to hear and such a wasted opportunity!

However please also do not under any circumstances send spam to your leads’ inbox! They want a personalized response with the information they requested, not a blanket untargeted and uninspiring mailing!

If there’s one thing you get from this blog, let it be this: If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail. Consider exhibiting at a trade show before going to production. It’s weird attending a show with only prototypes and no inventory, but it cost less than buying the inventory and you’ll be glad you exhibited first because your product will be better when you go to production ultimately.

Got your own favorite what-to-do that aren’t on the list?  Then go ahead and add them in the comment box below.

Free Email Updates

Free Email Updates

Get the latest content first.

Congratulations. Welcome to the family.

leave a Comment