Friday, May 3, 2013

Success with International Trade Shows

Success with International Trade Shows is as Easy as Uno, Dos, Tres.

Have you been tasked with managing a trade show or conference overseas? Calma te, there is no need to panico!

By following good practices for exhibitions and preparing & planning with care, the odds are greatly improved that your overseas event will be a solid business success.

Local country conference support can make the difference
 between success and failure.
I've successfully managed, supported and/or participated in numerous industry exhibitions and trade shows in  in North America, South America, Asia, and Europe. The countries include the United States, Canada, Mexico, Spain, Venezuela, Panama, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Korea, China, Singapore, and other locations. Combined teams from "global staff" and the host countries, when available, have ensured success. I've learned some best practices along the way which increase the chances for a productive event.

International Trade Shows: Evaluate the worthiness of the event.

Just because a trade show is in Monaco, Lake Tahoe, Bali, or some other attractive locale doesn't mean you should participate. Evaluate the event on its own merit, irregardless of location. There are plenty of expensive near-worthless trade conferences in exotic locations which have little real business value. There is a global cottage industry of boiler-room salespeople promoting many industry events of dubious value. Don't be fooled into investing into a poor quality conference.

Use Unbiased Business Assessments to Determine:

A. Is the event under consideration really relevant to the business? 
B. Do real decision makers and influencers attend who can affect the business?
C. If yes to A & B: should delegates be sent to exploit the event?
D. If yes to A, B, C: is the added cost of exhibiting or sponsorship worthwhile and promises decent ROI?
E. Will your local management, if you have some, be able lend support for the event?

An evaluation strictly based on business potential will determine if a conference or event is a suitable candidate for follow-up. If yes, research and contact the event organizers for input and options. Of course the conference promoters will be positive and enthusiastic, that is expected. Buyer Beware! Get the opinion of major stakeholders close to that market niche - - inside and outside your company - - and from relevant employees in the region or location of the event, if possible.

Best Trade Show Booth Practices Apply, in any language:

Business is truly global, but many key business
interactions occur face-to-face at the local level.
No matter where a conference or trade show is held, basic best practices are required. Select your best "A" team from local and international sources. Don't use slackers, wallflowers, holiday seekers, or unmanageable personnel at the booth - - these conferences can be expensive... so invest in good, professional, people who want to WORK the event. Follow good trade show etiquette. Train the booth staff on your products and services, and know who on the team has specialized knowledge the team can exploit. Make sure everyone is aware of local culture, simple greetings, and other protocols. Promote your company's presence using SEO, PR, Email, Conference Program and Trade Publication Ads, etc. Select the best booth location possible. Focus on the target customers and the target market.

Leverage your local advantage:

If the event is held abroad, the risks from unknowns increase. If you are lucky enough to have local people in the country where the trade conference is being held, they can be a helpful resource and ensure success.

It is vital to get input from suitable employees from your company who work and are familiar with market conditions in that locale and the surrounding region. For example, a  trade show in Belgium will likely attract potential business from other nations in Western Europe, along with global visitors. So advice and input from relevant colleagues in surrounding nations is suggested. DON'T go charging into an event "blind" or trust the event organizer's 'guidance' alone - - this can lead to potential failure and wasted resources.

Managing your company participation at an international conference or
exhibition can be painless and productive, if best practices are followed.
Local support varies according to infrastructure, resources, and attitude. Remember the event must be relevant for them, too. If the event makes sense for the local staff to participate, then the hard work needed on your part becomes easier. Mutual cooperation, coordination, and optimization for best effect will evolve during planning, preparation, and execution.

Trade show logistics, such as the booth, promotional items, literature, etc can be shipped directly to your own offices in that country, and on-site delivery can be arranged once you are on site. The locals can perhaps set-up the exhibition on their own. Materials transport, translations, and more, become much easier. If your local colleagues see potential value in an event for their local business, they will more be motivated to work with you to help make it a success. You may have a local or regional 'champion' who is capable and eager to mange many of the exhibit details needed for success. Support, encourage, and work with such a person, as they are going to be your best friend for this event!

If the local staff are well connected to people in the industry targeted by the conference, then their value as company delegates and booth staff becomes extremely high. They will know the locals, the market, the culture, and the language far better than you do, in most cases.

It is often assumed that attendees of large internationally focused trade conferences know English. This is only partially true. Many people, while perhaps also knowing English, find it easier and more comfortable to speak their own language, such as German, Spanish, or Chinese. Having a multi-lingual and multi-cultural booth staff and conference delegate team is the best approach.

Invest in your local advantage:

Invest in the local team's participation. Pay for their delegate and exhibitor passes, don't make this event a burden on their budget if the focus is global. Work with them to review, and if needed, produce local sales literature in their own language (if requested), for use during and after the conference. If logical, invest in a trade show booth for permanent local use, if potential payback is promising.

New business opportunities and synergies happen when global
and local teams collaborate at trade shows and conferences.
For local operations strapped for marketing funds but blessed with latent and/or promising market potential, trade show investments can act as an investment "trigger" for future actions which spur growth. Your investment into enhancing  local marketing resources around a specific event such as a trade show can "spark" improvements, moving local capabilities and attitudes up to another level. By supporting and investing into the local marketing team you're investing in the future, enjoying marketing dividends long after the original trade show.

I've found one of the most long-lasting benefits of multinational participation at large international trade conferences is the enhanced professional networking and personal ties created between colleagues, which helps to strengthen the company locally and globally.

For conferences with a 'global' focus, there will always be important local and regional influences. Take full advantage of the knowledge your local staff bring. The use of booth staff from the local country will greatly enhance your effectiveness at the event.

No Locals? Then Plan the Conference Like You're Going to the Moon.
If you're going to have to manage a exhibition and conference in another country on your own, all is not lost. You must take extra care to ensure every logistical step is covered. You'll have to do much of this work anyway, even with local support. Like NASA, plan and review in detail. Double-check all tasks. One mistake or oversight and you may face trade exhibit disaster, only to be salvaged with lots of time and money.

1. Paperwork: 
Make sure you understand all the exhibition forms and orders you must submit. Fill them out, send them, confirm receipt. You don't want any nasty surprises. Trade show horrors can include not having electricity, the booth is missing or damaged, promotional items go missing, or that mandatory "Shell Scheme" you forget to order is now going to be imposed upon you at an expensive "floor" price. Be complete, be thorough. Be prepared for contingencies, and don't lose your cool.

2. Have a good reliable booth and materials shipping service. 
Fed-Ex is quite good for international shipments. Ship as early as possible, and label contents correctly, to ensure they don't get trapped in customs and disrupt your plans. Follow conference instructions so you'll be confident your stuff will be waiting for you at the conference hall or hotel when you arrive. You should consider if bringing the materials with you on your flight is the best option. You might need a local customs agent to help move your materials through bureaucratic delays.

3. Passport, Visa, Airfare, Hotel, Local Transportation Options are all really important. 
Bring Your "A Team" for best results.
Take care of logistical details as early as possible. Ensure proper documents, travel, hotel, and local logistics options are arranged. Avoid nasty surprises because your Passport expires soon or you forgot to obtain a Visa. Get hotel reservations as soon as possible. Large conferences sell out of decent hotels early on. Quality, convenient hotels may be gone at an affordable price. You may get stuck in a hotel far away from the conference center, or have to stay in a run-down dump in a dodgy part of town.

4. No locals to help? Don't know the local language? No worries - start studying!
Try to have translations of your key brochures and services, even if just basic overviews. This will help prospective local clients, and you. Another technique is to show them key webpages on your local language website (if it exists) or your English language website. You might be able to use the "Translate" option on the Chrome browser so they can view the page in their local language.

Conference attendees will normally appreciate your effort to communicate in their language, and even simple translations of products and services will enable comprehension on the part of the potential client much faster if their English skills are not sufficient or lacking. I've often found that I can have a more in-depth, technical conversation with Spanish Speakers if a little "Spanglish" is used to fill the gaps. I remember one trade show where several Italians approached the booth and wanted to discuss business. Their English was very poor, my Italian was even worse. But if I used Spanish, and talked slowly and clearly, we could actually communicate. In that case, Spanish was similar enough to Italian where using a third language was possible.

Learn some of the local language, if relevant. Too many people don't even try, and this can hurt them. Learn basic phrases like 'hello', 'thank you', 'Sorry', 'I do not speak....', etc. Get a translation phrase book to help with small comments. Learn about local culture and customs and try to be aware of and respect these cultural practices as much as possible.

Speak your English at a slower cadence for better comprehension. If they know English, be aware it may be a second or third language for the speaker. Be friendly and smile, and be patient. These traits will help you extract valuable business contacts and potential.

Plan, Review, Confirm, Execute:

Managing exhibits at international trade shows and conferences in a foreign country is not daunting if sufficient time and resources are applied to the project. The entire operation can be accomplished with relative ease and a minimum number of problems or hassles. The business rewards to your company can be significant.

Successful trade show management tips: