Exhibiting at Grand Designs Live? Some quick tips to help you maximise your return on investment

(above: the fabulous Gallery Rooms at the show)

Mr H and I visited Grand Designs Live at London’s Excel at the weekend. It’s a really well run, well put together show (I especially liked walking down the tunnel to the sound of the Grand Designs music!) and the standard of exhibition stands was very high. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised at just how much effort the exhibitors had put into their stands.

What I was surprised by, was the fact that not a single exhibitor asked me for any details. They were willing to give me their expensively produced brochures, but they had no means of following up! I find this immensely frustrating because as someone with a stake in an exhibition company, I find it tiresome when people say “we put thousands into that exhibition and it just didn’t work” because half the time it’s not the fact that the exhibition didn’t work, or that it was badly organised, but more that the exhibitor didn’t approach the exercise correctly.

My experience of exhibitions tells me that if they’re planned and executed correctly they can add serious money to your bottom line. For me, exhibitions are about building relationships, brand awareness, and most importantly, a targeted list of prospects that I can build a sales relationship in the months following the exhibition.

At my first exhibition I picked up 100 leads and converted 70 of them into paying clients. But I didn’t do that by failing to engage with visitors or handing them brochures with no means of follow up. I spent the day generating leads, and then I consistently and persistently followed up in the months following the exhibition.

So if you’re at Grand Designs Live (or any exhibition come to that) this week, what can you do to maximise your return on investment? First up, congratulations. If you’re at Grand Designs Live then you probably have a great-looking stand that will do your business proud. But unless you’re a big organisation like Miele or Mark Wilkinson, you probably need this event to be a bit more than a branding exercise. Here’s how to get more out of the event.

Engage with the visitors. Everyone visiting Grand Designs Live is there because they are looking to make some home improvements. They’re a captive audience. I went (dragging my husband and two small children) because we’re about to extend our home and I was looking for ideas and inspiration. Just one stand engaged me in conversation, on most stands we were smiled at and then ignored.

I’ll be honest, I went there hoping to discover expert tips and advice from the manufacturers and distributors of things like bifold doors. And yes, I could have asked the exhibitors questions, but I didn’t know what to ask. Open questions would have got me thinking about what we needed and how your company could have solved my problem. And I would have walked away with a memory of your business.

Not a single person asked me why we’d visited Grand Designs, what our project was. That would have started a conversation (everyone loves to talk about themselves) and you’d have been able to work out very quickly whether we fitted into your target market or not.

Ask for visitors details. One of the most valuable things about a show like Grand Designs Live is the fact that they are bringing a targeted group of visitors to you. Everyone walking through that door is interested in home improvement, and unlike advertising, which is passive, these visitors have made a concerted effort to visit the show. That means that they’re keen! So why not take their details and follow up with them (more than once) after the show.

Think about an email immediately after the show. You’ll also need to consider a postal follow up and ideally a telephone call. Once each of these things have happened, consider keeping in touch on a regular basis. Once a month is ideal via email or mail. Yes, all of this is costly and time consuming, but essential if you want to maximise your return on investment.

If you’re serious about getting more out of your next exhibition then you’ll find my book, Exhibit! The SME’s guide to using exhibitions to grow your business invaluable. And good luck! Let me know how you get on…

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