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B2B exhibitions can be good for business – here’s our top 10 tips for the best ROI

November 2019Helen
Northwood exhibition display

The cost of exhibiting can be substantial but the right show can see tremendous returns if it’s done properly. The cost of an exhibition space itself can run into the thousands at some of the biggest shows but the investment shouldn’t stop there. To make sure you maximise the return on your investment, marketers need a healthy budget to market their stand effectively.

With over 20 years’ experience helping our clients through the whole exhibition process, FIG understands B2B shows pretty well, knowing what works, what doesn’t and how to get the best return. We can help you with your theme and messaging, designing and producing the stand, marketing collateral, promotion throughout the event, PR and marketing support, training staff how to deal with enquiries and sales leads afterwards, even attending events with our clients to ensure everything goes to plan. There’s a lot to think about.

If you are considering a B2B exhibition in your marketing mix in 2020, here are our top ten tips and things you need to think about:

1. Choose the right exhibition

Whether it’s a business show or a trade exhibition, make sure your potential customers are going to be there. Ideally, attend as a visitor first to check out the quality of attendees. Are there good quality seminars and speakers to attract visitors and what promotion does the exhibition company do to get people to the event? Remember also that shows can change very quickly. What was once the single most important trade show for an industry where everyone who was anyone in that industry had to go to be seen, can quickly become lacklustre and lose visitors and exhibitors. So do your research first, well in advance.

2. Have clear objectives

Understanding what you want to achieve from the exhibition can really help you decide whether it’s the right show for you in the first place. Be clear from the start about your objectives and share with the whole team. If you are looking for sales leads set realistic KPIs and specify what you want, for example you might be looking for 50 qualified leads, which is not the same as collecting 50 business cards. Exhibitions are not always about sales leads, maybe you are looking to attract suppliers or business partners, or maybe you are looking to raise awareness for the business in general. Whatever your objectives you need to be clear and decide how you can measure the success.

3. Choose the right position

Once you’ve decided to exhibit and you’ve chosen the right exhibition for your needs, choose a good position and negotiate a good package. If you have booked early enough (some of the most popular events get booked for the following year at the event) you’ll get the pick of the spaces available. Study the exhibition map and look for the best spot. You don’t want to be near the toilets or the exit, they might be busy but people don’t tend to hand around for very long. Look for the main routes through or near refreshments which will get busy all day. Check where your competitors are situated and look for big names that will also attract a lot of attention.

4.  Plan ahead

There’s a lot to do and a lot to think about so you need planning, get someone in your team to lead the management of it, do not underestimate how much there is to do. Read the exhibitors manual which is always full of useful information and your responsibilities regarding health and safety and your stand requirements for lighting, power, carpets, tables and chairs, for example. You will need to decide whether you are having a custom stand build or whether you can simply have vinyl on the walls, which also have an impact. A lot depends on what you are trying to achieve and if you have products on the stand. Some of the big manufacturing shows have huge spaces to accommodate the machinery on show so there’s little space for complicated builds. But these decisions need to be made early on and will determine the position and nature of your stand.

5. Have a theme

Once you know what it is you want from the exhibition, you can set about planning your theme or overall messaging. It needs to be simple, eye-catching and be consistent across everything – visuals on the stand, leaflets, press packs, advertising, PR – everything. It’s not as easy as it sounds but this is key to the success of your exhibition. Just sticking your company logo on your visuals with a bullet list of all your products and services is not enough. You really need to stand out from the crowd and really make sure your key messaging is clear – think back to why you are there and what you want to achieve and build your theme around that. There is always a lot of debate about whether you should have giveaways and a hook to attract the crowds. Our argument is yes, these things definitely work but they should fit in with your theme and have a purpose. We once had 3 dancers walking around the exhibition hall in bright colourful lycra bodysuits doing posers to attract attention to our client’s stand. They attracted a lot of press attention and people talking about them but it fit in with our whole key messaging and we were getting across that our client’s products were the only ones that could offer colour. And it worked. I’m not a fan of just giving away pens for the sake of it but if the giveaway fits in with the message, great. One of our clients had a popcorn machine on their stand which attracted queues, but the popcorn was put in boxes made by the new short-run printer our customer was talking about – great impact. Bring the experts in if you are struggling with your theme, this is crucial to your exhibition success.

6. Market yourself

Having spent thousands on the space at your exhibition does not automatically guarantee customers will be knocking at your door. You need to promote that you are there using every opportunity in your marketing toolkit, from direct mail and email newsletters inviting existing contacts, PR and advertising in the pre-event press opportunities to attract people you don’t know. It’s always good to have something new to shout about, such as a new product launch, that will get you good visibility in the trade press. Visit all the press on the day with a pre-prepared press pack of company details and book appointments for interviews on your stand. If you make it easy for them, they are more likely to use your story. Take up any opportunities to speak at seminars or product showcase areas.

7. Train your staff

Make sure everyone understands their role on the day. Exhibitions are hard work so be prepared for a lot of time on your feet. There’s nothing worse than staff sat down on a stand or talking amongst themselves, ensure you have a rota and get staff to take a break away from the stand so they are fully aware when they are representing the business. Don’t just hand out marketing literature to passers-by this will just end up in the bin and cost you money. You want conversations and to find out who really is interested and who is not. Pass good leads to senior salespeople to deal with and make sure details and requirements are captured. A simple A5 enquiry form to capture their needs is best and you can staple a business card to it. Many events have electronic devices now that you can capture details electronically but be warned, we have had a client where this failed, so a back up is always a good idea! It also becomes a bit lazy and you end up with just lots of contacts but not enough information about what they were interested in and what you need to do.

8. Debrief

At the end of the first day you’ll probably just want to lie down. But before you do you should have a debriefing with the team. Most events will cover 2-3 days, so find out what went well and what didn’t. Is there anything you can do better tomorrow? If you are really slick you can capture all of your leads into a spreadsheet and send a preprepared emailshot that evening to thank people for coming to your stand and that you will be in touch in a few days time. They are more likely to remember you when you do call than other companies!

9. Follow up

At the end of the event make sure follow-ups are completed properly. A good idea is to rate your leads on the day. Leads rated A could be your top prospects, maybe they’ve asked for a quote or a meeting. Make sure these are called as soon as possible and action their requests. Leads rated B may have asked for information but don’t have a specific need right now and Cs could be even less urgent. But make sure everyone is contacted in that first week. If you don’t your competitors will.

10. Follow up…again

If you have achieved your goal of 50 sales leads, it can often take up to six more touchpoints to achieve a visit or a sale. Don’t give up. Sometimes it can take months, but as long as you put them on your database and communicate with them regularly, you’ll be surprised how many do actually turn into sales eventually. It doesn’t always happen in the first week. Exhibition leads can take months to convert unless someone has an immediate requirement and this is where a lot of companies will fail. By continuing to nurture those leads will ensure that your return on investment for that exhibition is worthwhile.


If you would like help with your exhibition, whether it’s design and production of the stand itself or support throughout the whole process, give FIG a call on 01457 857111. We’ve got many years of experience helping our clients and achieving some fantastic results.

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