Exporting Events in the form of shows and expos, are pre-determined and planned for. However, a good exporter needs to be able to spot opportunity everywhere. Home Secretary Rab Butler famously responded to Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s question of what represented the greatest challenge for a statesman, “events, dear boy, events”. Events can take many forms. It is not the event itself, nor the opportunity it presents, but how you react to it and use it that is all important. Events can be on an international scale but can also be small and discreet. Which is exactly how I recently found myself being introduced as an Export Champion to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, by a former Export Minister, Mike Freer. Mike kindly expanded on the importance of the Export Champion movement and my involvement in it. Given such an introduction, I inevitably asked the Chancellor what he could do to help support and increase the UK’s export efforts. The good news is that he is very familiar with our export efforts, including from his time as foreign secretary, and strongly believes in growing UK exports, the strength we have as a nation and the role government must play in supporting businesses to export more.
However, I am as painfully aware as most that there are limits to what government can achieve and ultimately it is up to businesses to lead the charge. Events, though, can provide great opportunities to drum up new business.
I was speaking at a recent Export Academy Masterclass in Manchester on Exhibitions Skills for Exporters. The Export Academy Masterclasses laid on free of charge by the Department for International Trade provide a great way for businesses of all sizes to gain practical insights into all aspects of exporting and the support available. Exhibitions, or events, vary considerably in scope and scale but provide a terrific opportunity for businesses to engage in new markets and meet new customers. Smaller, specialist events can provide a niche audience, whereas large international events can open up the whole world for you. I have done many of both and everything in between, and can testify to the great results that can be achieved. You don’t have to exhibit, you can also derive benefit just from attending. It is vital to approach events in a systematic way in order to gain maximum benefit though:
Objective: Deciding what you want to achieve is paramount in selecting the type of event that you go to. Are you looking to promote new products to existing customers? Find new customers in existing markets? Break into new markets? Find distributors, retailers or consumers? Or all of the above!
Research: The organisers of the events will be able to help you and you should look carefully at who attended in previous years. The DIT attends many events around the world and can also help with first-hand experience, whether directly, or through their extensive network. As events are so widely publicised you are likely to find relevant information on the web. Talk to companies that have attended the shows previously and ask about their return on investment. If you are taking a stand, consider the position carefully. At international events I always liked to be part of a British Pavilion if possible. There are numerous advantages and help available.
Preparation: The objective you set should help provide the outline for the preparations. What messaging will be needed? Make it clear, visible and consider straightforward wording at international shows. How many people you will need on the stand will depend on how big the stand is, and how many people are expected at the show. Don’t forget to allow for meal and bathroom breaks. A busy stand looks good, but if you have no one to talk to prospects then you may be wasting opportunities. At least have plenty of business cards and relevant literature. Badge scanners are definitely worthwhile, but also make notes so that you can prioritise. Make Contact sheets relevant, and easy to complete, for instance have tick boxes where possible and a stapler to attach prospects’ business cards. Keep hydrated and wear comfy shoes!
Engage: You are selling and on show every second of the event, and you need to be as energetic in your engagement at the end of the day as you are at the beginning. Remember that you may have met hundreds of potential leads, but so has the person you want to turn into a customer. Learn as much about them and their needs as you can, agree follow up actions and meetings. You are in a fishbowl and don’t know from which direction an opportunity might arise, so make yourself memorable – in a good way!
Follow up: There is no point in doing an event unless you put as much effort into the follow up. You may be exhausted, but the event isn’t complete until you have contacted every lead you have. Prioritise the leads and personalise responses based on your discussions. Whilst meeting them at the event may have accelerated the sales process, cutting out the time it takes to engage, you need to build on that initial contact.
These brief points will help you find the right direction, but there is always help available. Don’t be daunted by what you hear of costs. It might be that a large event will provide you with multiple years of prospects, but it is essential to accurately monitor the sales you achieve and return on investment. Most importantly, be ready for whatever happens, you never know what opportunity you may be about to meet.
Tony Goodman MBE is a successful exporter and has been doing so through a variety of different businesses. He is currently Marketing Advisor at Forest and Co who specialise in offering guidance on branding, exporting and sales: www.forestandco.com