Let’s have a look at a couple of dos and don’ts first-time exhibitors might not be aware of. Not paying attention to these very basic principles, people self-sabotage their trade fair success even long before the spotlights are actually turned on.
Mistake 1: Not to make a move or play hard to get
Once you have decided to attend a trade fair, get in touch with the organiser; they can advise you on the registration procedures and deadlines. For certain shows, don’t be overly surprised when they are already sold out! Inquire what it takes to be put on a waiting list (maybe even for the next event in three or four years).
Take care of your hotel booking well in advance; rooms usually won’t get cheaper if you wait! Don’t leave applying for your visa to the last minute; remember that the event organiser might also need time to issue your invitation letter or any other needed document; make sure you keep yourself informed regarding such requirements.
Mistake 2: Not to play by the book
When registering, duly follow the process and meet all the deadlines. Save the contact details of the trade show representatives and their service partners and make sure you are always up-to-date concerning when you can deliver your exhibits, and so on.
More precisely, do not underestimate what all you need to consider in the first place! The event organiser will send you an exhibitor manual. Do not leave reading the document(s) until the very last minute. Better, go through the information immediately, so you get an idea of what all needs to be taken care of. Make sure you can refer to the manual at any time in the process.
Typically, there you would find all you need to know about – let me see – basic logistical details (e.g., when the forwarder can deliver your exhibits, how to handle waste, when you can pack and leave on the last day), badges and passes, catering, health and safety issues, risk assessment regulations, contractors and services, power, insurance, show marketing, permissions, lead capture, storage and handling, … your head is already spinning? Or, do you think you are going to figure these things out in due time?
Let’s look at the bright sight, though. The authors, both veteran exhibitors, do not intend to scare us off, but suggest looking at the manual as a source of “help, support and inspiration specific to the show you’re exhibiting at” (rather than a nuisance). For example, you can refer to the document to find out about (free-of-charge) tools for attracting visitors to your stand.
Mistake 3: Thinking last-minute invites will do the trick
No, last-minute invites typically will not do the trick! Again, don’t play the waiting game. The best moment to start thinking about visitor marketing is now; do not postpone the exercise to the very last moment. Work on your strategy and chalk out an action plan to achieve your trade fair goals. Ask the organiser (or look up in the manual) what tools are offered; this can be entry vouchers, a .jpg file of the trade fair logo with your booth number which can be embedded into your e-mail signature or website, catalogue entries, ads in the official newsletters, and so on, and so forth.
If you are a newcomer, don’t hope for the right people to accidentally find your booth; you need to let them know that you are there, and you have to talk about what you have to offer. Trade show visitors nowadays are extremely busy, so even inviting your clients and prospects last minute probably won’t work! At least not with Germans.
If you still want to try get some local visitors attracted to your booth at very short notice, get in touch with me. Depending on how sexy your solutions are, I might still be able to secure you a couple of meetings.
Mistake 4: Acting like a jerk
There will necessarily be substantial communication with the trade show organiser in the run up to the show, creating plenty of opportunity for (intercultural) misunderstandings and frustration on both sides. Try your best not to come across as an obnoxious amateur.
An Exhibition Manager here in Germany who is part of the organising team for one of the biggest shows worldwide told me quite frankly about the challenges often faced on the job when dealing with some international exhibitors: “Ordering the stand, the companies are quite pushy on the one hand but also highly unreliable on the other,” I was told. “They tend to cancel on very short notice, do not accept the cancellation fees, and are not very well-prepared regarding stand construction. They sometimes do not realise they have booked only raw space.”
My advice is, if you tend to get nervous when waiting for a reply from the organiser or one of their service partners, sit tight and try to imagine how much these people have on their plate. ‘Outsiders’ very often cannot imagine the tremendous work that needs to be done to make an event happen.
Better try to avoid putting yourself under time constraints in the first place. When you cannot find this tool in the aforementioned manual, ask the Exhibition Manager if he or she can share a checklist to help keep track of important tasks and deadlines; always allow people some time to get back to you – chances are high that they are dealing with more than one last-minute request when you contact them.
Mistake 5: Neglecting local business etiquette (in plain language: piss people off)
Get acquainted with the local way of doing business. For example, keep in mind that, in Germany, it is just not common to call somebody shortly after you have sent them an e-mail. People over here would easily feel annoyed or pressurised if you instantly ask them to confirm receipt of your mail. Never call them to tell them “I have just sent you an e-mail.” Unless they know you very well and would especially look forward to catching up with you, they will not appreciate it.
Germans lay great emphasis on formal written communication; even if emails go back and forth, make the effort to politely greet the addressee. “I request” for us sounds very harsh and demanding; better write “could you please…” and add a “Thank you” from time to time. If you speak some German, avoid addressing the other person with “Du”; use the more formal “Sie”. If you like to learn more about how Germans like to do business, grab a copy of Doing Business in Germany: A Concise Guide to Understanding Germans and Their Business Practices, or download the ebook on amazon.
We have a saying: “Wie man in den Wald hineinruft, so schallt es heraus.” This literally translates as: “The way you shout into the woods, the echo will sound,” meaning “What goes around, comes around.” Chances are your counterpart will go the extra mile if he or she enjoys dealing with you.
Mistake 6: Cutting corners and coming across cheap
“Dealing with you” doesn’t mean that you should have high hopes of being able to bargain with a German event organiser. Quite generally, prices for floor space and certain (premium) positions are fixed.
You can ask for bundled offers (e.g., with advertising), and with that, you may even succeed in negotiating a little extra; but by no means should you go back to the organiser to try to re-negotiate the deal. That is just not how we do business – people will easily perceive you as shady and, if you are not a key player, they will probably try to avoid you in the future.
Monitor your budget, but don’t be cheap. “Trade shows aren’t the place to cut costs as it will show in every element and reflect on your brand image, but they are the place to get creative and find efficient solutions,” Nichola Reeder and Steve Reeder advise in their book. They also remind us that “visitors can spy a poorly funded and executed presence at a trade show and how long will it take for that negative perception to be repaired, if at all?”
Mistake 7: Giving up too easily
Because, as famous German football-trainer Sepp Herberger (1897–1977) is often quoted saying: “Nach dem Spiel ist vor dem Spiel” (After the game is before the game). That also means: Don’t rest on your laurels after a good fair; stay alert and focus on the next round. If you were not able to score this time, maybe next time you’ll succeed. And don’t forget; some things just take their time.
You have more questions? Please don’t hesitate to get in touch (you can also send me a message on LinkedIn). You should talk to me if you want to gain a better understanding of your opportunities, and you value a local’s help in finding buyers and potential business partners.
If you need help with inviting German decision makers to your booth, you can always get in touch with me: hello[at]andra-ibf.com.
Check out my services Market Research (e.g., identifying potential buyers), Business Development (inviting prospects to meet you at a show) and Trade Show Support (i.e., “luring” by-passers into your booth and help you get the conversation started).