Commercial teams: seven key aspects to make a trade fair profitable
  1. Evaluating the profitability of a trade fair
  2. Commercial message choice
  3. Our stand
  4. Our attitude at the stand
  5. The media
  6. What to do when the trade fair ends
  7. Gamification at the trade fair

Trade fairs: seven key aspects to obtain sales

We attended the Mobile World Congress that took place in Barcelona a few months ago. More than 100,000 people visited Fira de Barcelona during four days. This international event started at 9AM and finished at 7PM (the last day it ended at 4PM.) These were the official opening and closing hours for the general public. However, the MWC begins long before these four days and lasts long after them. Actually, it starts months before, when participants decide if they will participate or not; and it finishes a few months later, when results show commercial success or failure. And the same happens with other trade fairs.

I have attended to a lot of fairs in Europe, North and South America, and Africa, so I wanted to write this post to explain what has to be considered if we think about attending to a trade fair. Additionally, this post is useful because Playmotiv deals with matters related to commercial teams and sales; we offer innovative solutions to improve their results. 

1. Evaluating the profitability of a trade fair

Before deciding whether we will go to the fair or not, we must prepare a study on the return on investment. In many occasions, people go to fairs because “they always have attended them”, “they found an important client” or “their competitors are attending, so they will go as well”. It is true that economic criteria cannot be the only parameters by which we will make our decision, but I highly recommend to prepare a simple study about the potential return on the investment. In order to do this, we need to compare the costs of attending to the fair with the possible benefits that we can obtain. 

1.1) In the “most tangible” part of the study, we need to keep in mind: 

a) Costs 

  • Fair application fees. It is very important to know what is included in this fee. How much space is in the stand? Is the stand suitable? Does it include furniture? Is Internet connection available? (This is especially relevant if we are abroad.)
  • Adaptation of the stand. If furniture is not included, what do we have to rent? Tables and chairs? Standing table? Coat rack? Litter bin? 
  • Travelling expenses. Flight tickets, car rental, fuel. It is also important to keep in mind the airport transfers because they might be very expensive in some cities. And last but not least, how are we going to the fair every day? What are the costs?
  • Accommodation. We need to keep in mind the amount of time to reach the premises of the fair from the hotel. In many cities, distances are very long, so booking a more economic hotel but far away from the fair can be sometimes a nightmare, especially at rush hours. 
  • Working hours of the people involved in the fair. The remuneration of employees who take part in the fair is a fixed cost, but we need to keep in mind that they will not be able to carry out their usual tasks. What is the value of these tasks? Although we try to carry out our usual work tasks during moments of calm at the fair, it is a fact that these days are never productive to normal daily work. Besides, working while dealing with visitors is a mistake because we do not pay enough attention to our work and our potential clients. So, during the trade fair, focusing on the event itself is the most important thing. 
  • Staff expenses of the people involved in the trade fair.
  • Promotional materials. Brochures, posters, displays, gadgets. It is important to decide where they are going to be produced. If we prepare them “at home”, how are we going to bring them with us? If we prepare them where the fair is, do we really trust the provider? Are the products going to meet our expectations? We need to be aware of the little room for mistakes when we are at the fair.

b) Incomes: 

  • Is this the first time that we are attending to this trade fair? If not, we must gather all the contacts that we made and keep track of the final results. How many contacts generated incomes? We need to be careful because we can also count the leads. However, having many business cards does not mean at all that we obtained many clients. This is why critical analysis must be done, we need to review all contacts, one by one, and check the quality of those leads to know if they resulted in actual business. 
  • If this is the first time that we attend to this trade fair and we do not have data of previous years, we need to establish how many leads we want to obtain. We can use our experience in other trade fairs. Or we can gather information about the number of visitors that the fair had in the previous years and the total amount of stands. Anyway, we must keep in mind that the quality of our contacts is more important than the total amount of them. 

First of all, we could do a simple calculation dividing the total costs of the fair between the total clients that we have obtained (or that we expect to obtain). This calculation generates the Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC). This cost per client has to be compared with the average profit margin per client, so we will know if attending to the fair is profitable. 

Note 1: the average profit margin takes into consideration fixed and variable costs. 

Note 2: the average profit margin has to be coherent and consistent. It is obvious that if this margin depends on each client, we need to keep in mind these variables. 

For example, these are the costs of participating in the fair: 

Fair fees (including a stand for two people) 5000
Travelling expenses 460
Accommodation 600
Employee expenses 250
Promotional materials 250
Employee remuneration (we need to keep in mind the hours that they have spent with the preparations) 2000
Total direct costs 8560
Leads acquired  5
Costs per lead 1712
Clients acquired  1
Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) 8560

The CAC should be lower than the average profit margin per client. We also need to take into consideration the time that a client will contract our services. This is the Life Time Value and it will help us to estimate the actual benefits of a specific client. 

If you are interested in learning more about this notion, please check “Calculate Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) For Small Service Businesses.

1.2) The “less tangible” aspects about deciding to attend to a trade fair: 

Many companies decide to go to a fair because of the “branding” or the “brand awareness”. In other words, companies want their brands to be visible, so this way potential clients will hire their services or buy their products if needed. 

It is obvious that people will know or recognise our brand just because we are there at the fair. However, we need to keep in mind our budget for brand awareness purposes and we need to think if going to a trade fair is the right decision to make our brand visible. 

If you want to know more about brand awareness, check “The Ultimate Guide to Brand Awareness.”

In my opinion, small and medium-sized enterprises should give preference to economic aspects rather than other immaterial criteria when deciding to go to a trade fair. Nowadays, there are many ways to reach potential clients, and their return of the investment is much more obvious. Trade fairs usually do not show a clear return of investment, unless it is a specific fair focused on a particular topic. Therefore, my recommendation is to think very carefully before attending to a trade fair. 

2. Commercial message choice

Once we have decided to go to a fair, we need to choose the reason why we want to be there, the message that we want to convey. We need to clearly define our message to be fully effective. So when I talk about our MESSAGE that means that there has to be only one message. Because it will lead the communication in our stand and it will influence the commercial documents that we will use. 

There is a natural tendency to explain how good our products are, and provide information about all their features, data and figures. If we take a walk around a trade fair, we will see stands with many explanations. Visitors usually pay attention to our stand during two or three seconds when they pass in front of us. And we need to think that there will be lots of stands trying to attract their attention. We all want to stand out from the crowd, but visitors cannot pay too much attention. We need to make it easier. They cannot think too much when they pass through our stand. I am in favour of using short sentences with big words and some images to reinforce the message. And I say that images have to “reinforce” what we want to say because they cannot eclipse our message. 

It is true that using only one message limits our potential clients. Our product or solution can probably satisfy different potential clients’ needs. Consequently, one single message cannot reach all of them. So this is the reason why I always aim the message to one potential client profile, the one who will offer more return of investment, despite the risk of losing other potential clients. 

For example, the message that we used at the MWC was “Empower your sales team” and it was clearly aimed to people who work with commercial teams. However, our services can be very helpful for retail sales teams, but we decided to focus on this specific profile because we thought that the results would be better. This does not mean that we did not answer the questions of retail business supervisors, we explained them how our platform could help them to improve their performance. 

Lastly, concerning the message, it is very important to keep in mind the language used in the trade fair. In any case, it is advisable to bring documentation written in English.

3. Our stand 

Firstly, the location of our stand. If we still can choose the location, we must examine the natural flow of people at the fair, and then we will be able to locate our stand in a strategic place. Every convention centre has these strategic locations, but we find them once we are there. In any case, we try to locate our stand in a corner of the main hall, so we will be visible from several directions (although it is more expensive). Furthermore, it is important to know if there will be meetings and conferences, and if they will have coffee-breaks. We can put our stand where these breaks take place, it is a good location. It is true that these people will be focused on their coffees and snacks, but they will also see our stand, and they will come back later if interested. 

How do we decorate our stand? Hypothetically, we have a regular stand of 3×2 (6 square metres). If we divide the walls in three identical horizontal sections, our message has to be at the top of each wall. It is possible that visitors will not see it easily if it is located in the middle or the bottom section of the wall. Other visitors, tables, chairs or desks act as visual barriers. As I already explained before, we have between two and three seconds to catch visitors’ attention, so they can read, understand, and be interested in our services or products. Additionally, if we know how the flow of people is, we can place the most relevant message on the first wall of our stand that visitants will see when they approach. Although all messages have to be relevant, these is one that needs to be more emphasised than others. 

What about furniture? To begin with, a table with four chairs is mandatory in order to hold a meeting or talk calmly with potential clients. Do we need a counter? If we decide to bring a counter, we need to make sure that it is not too big and it does not hide the messages on the walls. I would not use a screen with a counter unless audio-visual material is essential to reinforce our message. Bar stools? Regardless of whether we decide to use a counter or not, I always prefer using bar stools because they allow staff to rest and keep a pro-active stance if somebody shows interest.

I always recommend to bring a free standing leaflet dispenser and place it in front of the stand. This way, people who are not sure if they are interested in our product or service can take a leaflet without directly asking us. If we force people to interact with us and ask questions, it is possible that we could lose potential clients. Can you imagine a web-page where you are asked to fill in a form with your data without any additional information about it? The same situation happens in a trade fair. 

Regarding other accessories, it is a good idea to bring a litter bin, a coat rack, and a lockable drawer or cabinet to keep your things. We need to make sure that furniture and accessories do not cover the message on the walls. Coats and bags on chairs can cover the message, so place them on the coat rack. Lastly, we cannot forget to bring some power adapters in the case that we are attending to an international fair.

4. Our attitude at the stand 

The attitude in the stand is very important to attract potential clients. If our posture shows that we are ready to “attack” people who show interest in our stand, this will probably cause rejection. In contrast, if we are not paying attention to anybody who approaches to the stand, we will cause the same effect. 

For this reason, it is important to keep an eye on people who show some interest by our product or services, provide them time and space to read our message, and then offer them written information. For example, we can hand them a leaflet and tell them “if you are interested, I can give you more information”. That is enough. Visitors cannot be pressured, but they cannot be ignored either. 

What always caught my attention is the fact that visitors tend to ask more in English-speaking fairs (especially in the US) than in Spanish-speaking fairs (Spain or Latin America). And what is more, according to my own experience with the US fairs, visitors will not only ask questions about our products or services, but they will not stop asking until they feel convinced. 

It does not matter where the fair is held, working with our computer during the event is a common practice, but it is not advisable at all. This denotes lack of interest and apathy. 

It is a good idea that our staff at the stand covers several shifts, so they can rest and even take a walk around the fair to check other companies’ services and products. 

During the fair, we will make contacts and they will give us their business cards. In order to make these contacts more productive, we have to note down the relevant information about them as soon as possible. What do they find most interesting about our product? Which was the language they used? What are their concerns? It is vital that we note down all this information as soon as possible because we will interact with many people, so we can forget things. 

At the end of the day, all this information should be introduced in a CRM to be organised, and next steps of contact with our potential clients have to be planned. 

5. The media

A fair is a great opportunity to be in contact with the media. Firstly, we can meet personally the journalists covering the fair. It is advisable to contact beforehand the journalists who may attend to the fair. We can invite them to come to our stand and offer them a coffee to explain them what we do. This way, they may ask our opinion about a topic that they are dealing with if it is related to our product, service or expertise. 

Secondly, a fair is a great opportunity to issue press statements. Of course, the success of a statement will depend on many factors: our access to the media, the importance of the fair, how relevant our product is, etc. Anyway, it is a great opportunity, and we cannot forget about the importance of these press statements in SEO. 

6. What to do when the trade fair ends 

Once the event has come to an end, it is advisable to hold a team meeting to discuss the positive and negative aspects of the fair and the results obtained. What was the feedback? Was our message effective? What generated more interest? 

Finally, it is necessary to monitor the potential clients we have obtained, but it has to be done almost immediately after the fair has finished. This is because our contacts still remember us, but they probably have interacted with other companies, so it is important to show interest as soon as possible. One of the monitoring duties is using a CRM system to establish reminders and note down our interactions with our contacts. 

7. Gamification at the trade fair

In Playmotiv we are really good at improving commercial teams’ results through gamification. In order to gamify a trade fair and achieve our goals, we need to know what our goals are and how we are going to measure them. But this will work only if we have prepared the study that I have mentioned at the beginning of this post. It is possible to develop a game connected with the fair which encourages teams to reach goals: sales, leads, appearance in the press, etc. It is important to measure these goals and incorporate them in a motivating adventure.

For example, game stages can follow the process of taking part in a trade fair: event choice, image creation, contracting suppliers, travelling, lead acquisition, lead management, and sales. This procedure can become a gamified adventure that includes all the people and teams involved.

Playmotiv improves commercial teams’ results. It is possible to boost the performance of commercial teams’ members thanks to gamification, training improvement, digitalisation, and data analysis. If you are interested in learning more about our gamifications, please check “Sales gamification.”

If you are interested in boosting your commercial team motivation, please check “Three key aspects to motivate commercial teams.” 

Manel Cervera. Business Development Manager. @manelcervera

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