Get More From That Trade Show

The key to success is pre-event planning, from quantifying the leads you expect to adapting your exhibit to local customs.

Exhibiting at international-oriented trade shows in Canada or abroad can be rewarding in making serious sales contacts and maybe even signing a few deals on the spot. It can also cost a fair bit for a small company to participate, given the travel expenses, booth fee and time away from your office. The trick is to make the most of your show experience, with these tips.

What are your business goals?

Focus on your priority products, services or sector, if you serve several industries. Then, try to quantify your goals by setting measurable targets for the show – for example, how many serious prospects (qualified leads) would you expect meet to make your participation cost effective?

Who do you want to attract?

Clarify who are your main customers – not just the biggest ones, but also those with the most growth potential — and how they perceive the key features/benefits of what you have to offer.

Narrow your market segment

Rarely will you have a product or service that will appeal to everyone, so be careful about over-generalizing your message. Break down a large targeted customer group into smaller segments with specific characteristics. You can do this by studying demographic, psychographic (interests and opinions) and behavioural (loyalty, usage rate) data.

Find the right show

You can consult eight popular sources to help you choose the right event: online trade show directories, suppliers, customers, industry and trade associations, trade magazines and EDC and International Trade Canada’s event listings.

Getting ready to go

Key preparation involves pre-show marketing, promotional materials, creating your booth, managing logistics and travel — and cultural considerations. For example, when designing your exhibit for an international show, you may need to adapt your graphics to work in a local context, and train staff about local business etiquette in developing new relationships.

Working the Show

Before you begin discussion with visitors, you’ll want to obtain six pieces of information: their level of authority, whether the company fits your target audience, whether they are looking to use your product or service within your sales cycle, their identity and contact information, and their key needs. Be sure you have a formal system to record this information.

After the Show

Before following up with qualified leads, rank them according to decision-making ability, budget, and level of product need. Then, create a timeline for making appointments, telemarketing or sending emails. Make sure you follow up as soon as possible and address specific issues the prospect mentioned at the exhibit; by contrast, the longer you delay, the less chance you have of making a sale. If you don’t have a representative in the foreign target market, count on having to make other trips there to close a deal with a qualified prospect.

Check out EDC’s list of trade shows and other international events.

Contact Denis L’Heureux at or visit for more small business solutions.

Categories Small Business Insights

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