Why Trade Shows Still Matter For Small Business Growth

By: Michelle Stephens

The 2017 Specialty Caribbean Expo saw up to 100 exhibitors showcasing an innovative variety of products and services. Under the framework of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) protocol for the free movement of people, goods and services, the Saint Lucia Trade Export Promotion Agency (TEPA) collaborated with the OECS Commission to signal the readiness for trade of OECS manufacturers and service providers.

Although not on the scale of the Trinidad based Trade and Investment Convention (TIC) which is in its 18th year, the Specialty Caribbean Expo, themed “A Unique Buying Experience” in the tradition of “The Great Exhibition” of 1851 (the world’s first international expo), acted as the avenue for small businesses from across the OECS to drive growth through face-to-face marketing and live product demonstrations.

If you are a small business or are thinking about launching a new product, here are a few insights from a survey conducted by Caribbean Strategy Inc. at the Specialty Caribbean Expo from a sample of Exhibitors:
52% of the Exhibitors indicated they wanted to build brand awareness. 35% desired to increase exports as a result of new business linkages 33% said they gained valuable insights on customer preferences 26% gained competitive intelligence on the breadth and features of product available in the OECS.

What Are The Benefits Of Trade Shows?
1. Increased Brand Visibility – many trade shows have a clear value proposition and often target specific segments. These segments are interested in predetermined product categories and are motivated to familiarise themselves with brands that align to their objectives. They are open to discovering new brands and seek out product information by having personal conversations with brand representatives and owners (in the case of a small business), collecting promotional literature and through demonstrations, samples and tastings of new and existing products.

2. Sales Lead Generation emerges through the matching of problem with solutions. Attendees have a need they want to fulfill or problem they want to be solved, and by experiencing first hand how a product or service can add value, this can shorten the purchasing cycle leading to new sales.

3. New Partnerships and long-term relationships are fostered through conversations about product features, brainstorming of ideas on product uses, feedback on improvements and introductions to key market players. These can lead to expanded manufacturing capabilities or distribution networks and even joint product development.

Maximising Opportunities During The Event

1. Have a sales pitch that is clear, concise, offers a solution and emphasises value to trigger a sense of urgency in buyers i.e. I need this product or service. The sales pitch should be supported by promotional literature, a video or live product demonstration and an incentive – a tasting, product sample, discount coupon or commitment to deliver a follow-up presentation depending on the nature of the product or service.

2. Network by walking the length and breath of the exhibition floor. Visit the booths, ask product questions and exchange business cards to establish new contacts, pursue new leads and expand mailing lists for future marketing efforts. Of course, this would mean having more than one person in your exhibition team.
3. Gather marketing intelligence by proactively asking booth visitors for feedback. What do they like or dislike about the product or service? How would they use and improve the product or service? When walking the floor, pick up brochures and other promotional material from your direct competitors to assess their relative strengths and weaknesses.

Securing The Deal Afterwards

1. Follow up with sales leads if you made a commitment to do so with a particular company. From other conversations held and business cards gathered at the exhibition, research their businesses, products and services. Assess their needs as far as possible and rank them in order of highest potential to maximise follow-up efforts and resources.

2. Provide targeted information that describes the value your products and services can provide.

3. Offer incentives to create a sense of urgency and if your products or services allows, provide an emotional tie in to the offer, e.g. if you provide safety and security or even education solutions, dramatise your products impact sensitively.

Trade shows may not feature in the marketing strategies of many businesses today, given the sales and branding advantages in using e-commerce and the various digital marketing channels. But as the name implies, trade shows deliver the unique value of showcasing products and services face-to-face to hundreds of potential customers and prospects in one space, usually over a 2 to 5 day period. These attendees are excited to see new products, build relationships and are often empowered to make purchasing decisions.

Participation in these events should be seen as an investment towards a strategic growth objective, and the selection of which trade show to participate in should be informed by the history of the event or organisers, the expected number of buyers and customers and the advertising reach of the organiser’s promotional efforts.

In planning next year’s marketing budget, consider the calendar of trade shows regionally and globally, plan strategically based on your growth objectives and have fun showcasing your products and winning new business.