You’ve had all the excitement of an intensive week at an overseas trade show so you’re looking forward to a few days rest? Well, actually the hard work has just begun and following up on international trade fairs is really just as important (if not more so) than your attendance itself as it’s here that the deals are made.

Exhibiting at International Trade Fairs is not only a great way to boost your global presence and meet new (& existing) partners but is also an expensive and exhausting experience. I’ve mentioned a number of points to do with preparing for shows (here and here) as well as what you should take especial care of during the fair itself, and today I’ll move on to what you need to consider after the show. There is also a post available on timelines and budgets.

following up on international trade fairs

Post Fair Review

Whilst it’s natural for the team to be pretty exhausted after managing stands at international trade fairs, it’s essential that you carry out a “post mortem” as soon as possible after the event. Preferably, that should be before everyone gets caught up again in their day to day tasks and whatever piled up whilst you were away.

Having a feedback meeting where everyone has the chance to evaluate the exhibition is a key step to following up on international trade fairs, as it allows you to document what needs to be improved for the future.

Of course, there are no hard and fast rules for exactly how you carry out this meeting but I’d certainly suggest having a list of areas that you’d like the team feedback on, in order to be sure that no areas get forgotten. This could include:

  • timeline: was the preparation time adequate?
  • stand design & functionality
  • stand location
  • marketing and demo materials used
  • travel arrangements
  • hotel
  • organised dinners
  • catering on the stand
  • other side events such as symposia or press conferences
  • staffing levels
  • roster organisation
  • visitor data collection
  • setting up/ dismantling process

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I think you can see which kinds of topics need to be covered. If the team still have all the details fresh in their minds when they carry out this evaluation, you can get a good impression of which points need to be added to a checklist for consideration for future times that you are exhibiting at international trade fairs. You can also ask trusted partners for their feedback on your stand and trade show performance.

Following up on International Trade Fairs with Visitors and those who perhaps couldn’t attend

Trade show leads are like milk - they have a short shelf life

Post event reporting and follow-up are a crucial a part of your business development success. A 2010 study found that 98% of exhibitors collect sales leads at trade fairs, but less than 70% have any systematic process in place for following up on those leads after the event. Only 47% of companies track the leads generated at trade fairs and events throughout the sales cycle, and a mere 28% measure and report the number of leads that ultimately convert to sales as part of their exhibition ROI. 

With a relatively small number of companies following up systematically on those warm leads they’ve just spent a lot of time and money to generate, it gives you the opportunity as a company to stand out if you do it differently. However, time is critical so you need to make your first step within 3-5 days of your return home at least.

Call to Action

Following up on International Trade Fairs
Source: AZ Quotes

I know this can be challenging with international clients, but pick up the phone and make a call, rather than just sending a generic email. That way you will both better cement the relationship that you have begun during the trade fair but also be able to judge better the atmosphere and how enthusiastic that visitor is about your products now that they’ve returned home. Showing a willingness to communicate and go the extra mile can really make all the difference.

You just never know who will end up being your next customer so don’t be too quick to judge – I’ve won business from just a business card. The customer was interested in the products but didn’t speak English but wanted to make us aware of his interest and company so we could communicate with his team and sign a deal!

Victoria Boldison

Follow up also in written form

All of the visitors who you collected data from should receive a short written thank you email within the week after the event. (This is assuming that the team went through a pre-qualification process as I mentioned in my last post about exhibiting at international trade fairs. DON’T just collect the business cards of anyone who passed within 3m of the front of your stand and throw them in a box for the sales team to deal with later!)

If you promised to send them additional information regarding your products then this should also be despatched as well as a suggestion about what the next steps towards a potential cooperation can be. Eg. A time for a follow up call or video conference, a request for additional information about the partner, a proposal of a visit to that particular market for you to carry out on the ground research.

These follow up mails don’t have to be novel length, just keep it short and sweet as everyone has more than enough emails after a few days away from the office. For new potential partners it could be something like:

Dear [name],
It was a pleasure to meet you last week at the [name of trade fair]. I hope that the rest of your week was also successful.
Thank you for your interest in distributing our products in [market name]. As promised you can find [whatever additional info you promised] attached. Could we set up a call [propose when] to discuss what is most relevant for you and what our next steps towards a cooperation could be.
I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Thanks/Best regards,
[Your signature]

Visitors who couldn’t attend

It’s also worth reaching out to any invited guests who were not able to attend, be they potential distribution partners or perhaps journalists. Sending a short report and some selected photos of the event can be a good ice-breaker to continue your discussions even if an in-person meeting hasn’t been possible.

Evaluate the ROI and your KPIs

This is a key step in following up on international trade fairs as it forms a basis for future decisions about your participation. It’s not always as straightforward as it sounds though to do when you start to look at it in detail as the value of the partnerships established will (hopefully) develop and grow over time in most cases. Obviously if you are in an industry that works on a project basis then it may be easier to tie a particular project acquisition to your attendance at a trade fair, but if you’re selling biscuits it can be hard to define the value of that new distributor in Morocco. Whatever kind of B2B business you are working in, it’s unlikely that a single initial meeting at a trade fair will be enough to seal a deal for you – chances are that many more touchpoints are required, before that stage can be reached.

Whilst lead follow up will be ongoing it is also important to track all successes resulting from the trade fair and measure how the show objectives you set are being achieved. Plus of course you want to make sure that the bottom line improves as a direct result of exhibiting at a trade fair, particularly when you may consider multiple shows in the future. So regular meetings with the team who attended the show is key to understanding the sales growth, relationship building and company reputation building on an international platform.

Small Business BC

Take a look back at what your aims were for the show (see also my first part of this mini-series) and review those in the light of the data that you have available now after the event.

Check your KPIs
Photo: Pixabay

This is critical to understand where to focus your efforts and what you need to improve for future events – without this evaluation you are just working in the dark. Ideally you should create as comprehensive a picture as possible of the visitors to your stand, what motivated them to be interested in your products and then compare this with your targets for the fair itself.

If you are looking to judge how successful your participation has been there are a number of criteria that you can think about. eg

  • what was the full cost of participation?
  • documenting business deals, leads and information obtained
  • evaluating all the visitor data
  • comparing the types of visitor on the stand
    • with the type of audience targeted
    • with participation in other trade fairs (or perhaps previous years of this fair)
    • and with the trade visitor statistics published by the organisers
  • evaluating the exhibitor survey conducted by the organisers
    • taking the economic situation of the industry into account
    • also considering the company’s own advertising and invitations
  • analysing the competitors’ presence
  • the press reaction to your participation

Some of those points above may not be all that helpful the first time that you attend a fair, however over time you can develop your own statistics to give you a measure of comparability. eg you can calculate what is the average 3 year value of a trade show lead, or the average value of a lead compared to the number of visitors to your stand.

Success is in the eye of the beholder

In the end whether or not you judge an international trade show to have been a success for your company or not depends entirely on what you were planning to achieve. Yes, it’s essential that you make a full picture for yourself of how much attendance at the trade fair will cost you but when it comes to calculating ROI then you probably can’t quantify everything. Of course, profitable sales are the ultimate goal, but exhibiting at international trade fairs also brings benefits in terms of brand awareness, educating consumers and strengthening existing relationships.

It may take a couple of years before a Chinese partner has registered and ordered the first shipment of your products, or you may need several more visits to Nigeria before everything is clarified with the importer who walked onto your stand on the first day of the trade fair. On the other hand if your existing partners were expected to attend, you have had the opportunity to meet all of your distributors within a week – & that’s highly effective use of your time!

The point I want to make here is that YOU define what constitutes success, but you have to have some kind of review system in place after the event to evaluate to what extent your goals were reached. And, as I mentioned several times, you need to consider that the return on investment may not be immediately obvious & will almost certainly not be 100% easily measurable.

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  1. […] This is a critical stage of the process and I wrote an extra post on how to follow up. […]

  2. […] Originally I was going to include the topic of follow up into this post, however looking at how much I had to say on exhibiting, I think it’s better if I make that a separate post! […]

  3. […] will prepare separate posts on the topic of managing stands and following up, as well as timelines and budgets where I go into these topics in more […]

  4. […] You can find the second, more tactical part, of this preparation article here. Part 3 of this mini-series covers the show itself – participating as an exhibitor. Part 4 covers following up on international trade fairs. […]

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