Participating in trade fairs outside of the United States can be an effective way to meet buyers in new markets around the world. The benefits of exhibiting at international shows include the ability to meet face-to-face with prospective buyers and to launch products in new markets.
But international trade fairs can be expensive, and require careful consideration of local business customs, laws and languages. New exporters can help reduce their risks by starting at U.S. shows that attract international buyers. But more seasoned exporters should consider overseas trade fairs as a way to increase sales and open new markets.
Finding trade fairs to attend is a relatively simple process, but actually exhibiting at an international venue requires a strategic plan, and a budget. Here are a few tips.
1. Identify the right show.
A good starting point for identifying international shows is the industry trade association that serves your sector. Many U.S. trade groups are affiliated with associations in other countries. The U.S. government can help, too. Both the Department of Commerce and the Foreign Agriculture Service (FAS) offer assistance to American companies interested in exhibiting overseas.
The Commerce Department recognizes and endorses U.S. participation in selected trade fairs around the world. Shows that are supported by the government usually feature a U.S. pavilion that provides high visibility for American companies. Some promotional and marketing support may also be available.
—Larry Kulchawik, author, Trade Shows from One Country to the Next
FAS works with show organizers and other partners to create a “USA Pavilion" at each show to showcase American companies. Participating companies also receive assistance with marketing and promotion, market intelligence and logistics.
Nearly 1,000 U.S. companies participated in 20 FAS-endorsed trade fairs last year, resulting in reported on-site sales of nearly $300 million, and projected sales over 12 months of more than $2.35 billion, according to the FAS.
2. Localize your marketing strategy.
Every trade show around the world has a unique identity that is influenced by both industry sector and location. Just as individuals reflect cultural norms, trade fairs do, too. That means U.S. exhibitors need to understand the cultural differences between places such as Brazil, China and India. It also is important to do your homework in advance, and to make sure that the product you are selling conforms with local laws.
Communication is another critical factor. “Make sure that your booth personnel speak a variety of languages if you are going to a show that is very international," says Jackie James, group director for the World of Concrete shows. “If you are traveling to a show in another country, such as Brazil, you might want to have a fact sheet in Portuguese, or even a brochure, if it fits your budget. Signage should also be in the local language if it is primarily an international-speaking event."
3. Measure your ROI.
Maximizing ROI at an overseas trade show requires a well-defined strategy. “Make sure you are clear in advance of going what will make it a successful show for you and your company," advises James. “Clearly communicate your booth requirements if you are exhibiting, so there are no surprises upon arrival. And be respectful of their culture."
One example of a company that has benefited from exhibiting overseas is Filtroil LLC, a manufacturer of industrial oil filtration products, based in Richmond, Virginia. As a result of exhibiting at a industrial technology fair in 2016, the company signed new distributor agreements with companies in India, Bolivia and Denmark. Filtroil also left the German show with 50 other well-qualified leads.
“We had 22 appointments before I even got on the plane to depart for Germany," says Jeremy Leahman, Filtroil's president. “Our booth was busy from the first day—three qualified distributors signed in the first two days."
Another best practice for maximizing ROI is to have a well-organized system for collecting and managing buyer leads. One way to ensure timely follow-up on leads is to designate someone to handle this task, or outsource it to a third-party vendor.
Larry Kulchawik, author of Trade Shows from One Country to the Next, is quick to point out that not every visitor to your booth will be a ready buyer. Some will be unqualified tire kickers, but many will be interested buyers who just aren't ready to close a deal. In fact, connections made at a trade fair are often the start of a long courtship. It can sometimes take years for those relationships to result in a sale. “Be patient for this to happen," he says.
Ultimately, there is no right or wrong way to maximize ROI from an overseas trade fair. “There is only a different way when it comes to international trade show marketing," says Kulchawik. “Trade show methods that work in the U.S. do not necessarily work in Asia or Europe. To be effective abroad you must recalculate your thinking. Adapting to their way of thinking can be a tricky matter, but take the time to research. When in Rome, think Italian."