Exhibitions - Sales Management

Exhibition planning and management are time-consuming activities, and the marketer will face far more frustrations and problems if the exhibition is actually based in a foreign market. Therefore you will need to concern yourself with:

  • selecting only those exhibitions that are anticipated to meet exhibition objectives as part of the overall sales and marketing strategy
  • setting exhibition objectives
  • planning the details of attendance at the exhibition (of both support personnel and equipment, including samples, literature,etc.)
  • organizing post-exhibition follow up with contacts made.

Exhibition objectives

As a starting point it is essential to define your exhibition objectives clearly so that you then participate in only those exhibitions likely to reach the right audience. Some typical objectives might be:

  • to expand sales by finding customer for the products or services (for either consumer or industrial products)
  • to identify potential agents or distributors(for either home market or foreign markets)
  • to solicit immediate sales orders (home market, or export)
  • to maintain contact with existing customers/agents/distributors in a forum that enables many contacts to be seen in a short space of time
  • to test acceptability of, and obtain feedback on, products or services
  • to introduce new products or technology to national or international forums (whether new contacts or existing agents/distributors/customers, who can be briefed on applications and operations of new products through demonstrations and presentations)
  • to work with another exhibitor on a crossend or sement basis, i.e. where the other exhibitor uses the supplier’s product as component, such as a vehicle manufacturer who specifies the supplier’s automotive parts as original equipment in its vehicles.

As a supplementary exhibition activity,exhibitors have the opportunity to update themselves on competitive activity and products,learning of their prices, promotions,new developments and marketing activities.

Which exhibition?

The numbers and frequencies of exhibitions seem to be proliferating. The sales manager may have the options of trade-only exhibitions,aimed at domestic and international buyers for the particular product group, or consumer exhibitions (often promoting products with an international ‘lifestyle’ theme).

As the sales and marketing budget is probably quite limited, and human resources even more limited, selection of the exhibitions to include in the marketing programme might take account of such factors as:

  • cost of participation (either total or per attendee)
  • location (proximity to the exhibitor’s centre of operations)
  • facilities for the handling of product samples and literature (particularly important if participating in foreign exhibitions, with samples and literature shipped internationally)
  • relationship between the company’products and target market and the known parameters of the exhibition’s visitor profiles (job functions, industries, interests,nationalities, etc.)
  • international reputation of the exhibition
  • quality and quantity of other exhibitors(named exhibitors who will be a draw to visitors)
  • competence of exhibition promoters and managers
  • timing of exhibitions in relation to company sales cycles or new product launches
  • suitability of the exhibition facilities for the display and demonstration of the company’s products.

Exhibition planning

Successful exhibitions do not just happen;they are the result of long and careful planning.

The sales manager will probably be working with marketing colleagues in planning and participating at exhibitions. With that in mind a few guidelines might be helpful.

  • It is preferable to delegate overall exhibition project responsibility to one person, who should be given full access to budgets and the necessary resources of people, time and money, and report to the head of the division (sales director or other top manager) on project matters.
  • Book your participation as early as possible to ensure choice of site within the exhibition complex (cancellations may incur penalties).
  • Prepare a list of all necessary stand equipment (samples, literature, sales aids)and establish what the exhibition promoter will provide and what you must provide(e.g. if any special equipment is needed such as chilled storage, rotating stands).
    You will want to know locations of facilities such as electricity and water if needed for demonstrations. A critical path plan may help you ensure all deadlines are met, particularly if the exhibition materials must be shipped and cleared through customs. The longest lead time to produce any particular item
    needed at the exhibition governs the entire timing schedule for the project.
  • Plan the manning of the exhibition stand using personnel familiar with both products and marketing. Where products are of a low technological nature, and perhaps demonstrations of applications are quite basic (as with some food products and household electrical items),local demonstrators may be available.
    Interpreters may need to be hired in some instances where you are dealing with foreign contacts.
  • You should have enough personnel available to rotate staff every few hours while providing a high standard of company expertise into contact discussions.
  • Promote your participation: notify your existing customers, agents, and distributors(domestic and foreign) of your participation in any exhibition through personal letters or advertisements in national and international trade journals.
  • Ensure you have adequate supplies of promotional literature and product samples to meet anticipated needs. There is no need to give expensive sales literature to casual browsers, but at the same time many exhibitors run out of promotional aids part way through exhibitions. If interest is aroused with a prospect and you cannot provide all the information, an opening is made for a competitor!
  • Have a system for recording who visits the stand and the nature of their enquiry (preprinted enquiry cards are a help).

Exhibition follow-up

The major post-exhibition problem encountered by most exhibitors is follow-up on leads and contacts generated. Some of the enquiries may have been of a very general nature, needing conversion to a specific product or service. Others will require technical data from other departments. Some may need follow-up visits and meetings; others just need postal (or facsimile or telex) communication.

After the exhibition the sales manager or marketer in charge should:

  • quantify results in terms of leads generated and orders taken in relation to exhibition participation costs (including the cost of management time)
  • analyses enquiries into priority groups according to exhibition objectives, and seta timetable for follow-up visits,demonstrations, sample dispatch, etc. (it is useful to develop a simple follow-up control form to ensure action is happening)
  • commit suitably qualified (technical)personnel to pursue leads.
    The amount of post-exhibition follow-up will depend on the objectives and nature of the products, and the resources (particularly sales personnel) available to you.

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