Want to get into international trade? Try international trade shows. According to Chris Griffin, vice president of customer relationship management for Expanded Learning Inc., a sales training and presentation company, trade shows are increasing in number and popularity outside the United States.
"While the U.S. may have the richest economy, we represent only 4.5 percent of the world population," notes Griffin. "That [leaves] a lot of people who need products and services." The highest growth rate for trade shows worldwide is in traditional industries, such as auto, health care and technology.
Don't be scared off by concerns about customs and regulations, says Griffin. It's often easier to exhibit abroad than at home. "You don't have the same union environments," he says, "[and] customs agencies are reducing restrictions in more countries."
To get you started, Griffin offers these tips:
1. Define your goals. What do you want to accomplish? Griffin suggests listing quantitative goals that can be broken down into short-term goals, such as how many leads you must obtain in one day (e.g., "150 qualified leads").
2. Pick the right shows. "Select shows based on the audience you want to reach, not just on attendance numbers," says Griffin. Ask show management for a list of the previous year's exhibitors. Contact them and ask about the show's effectiveness. Did it deliver a good audience? How was moving in and moving out?
3. Budget both time and money. "Leave enough time to ship items overseas," warns Griffin. He notes that, in an international show, as much as 27 percent of your cost may be in "behind the scenes" items like shipping, drayage and fees. Booth design and preparation can be expensive, too (remember: different countries have different electrical demands). One option some shows offer is renting a booth there rather than shipping your own.
4. Prepare your staff. This also means researching the country. Your staff should know about the cultural differences, inconveniences and etiquette of that country. "In the U.S., for example, we just take a business card and stuff it in a pocket, but that would offend a lead in China," notes Griffin.
5. Create a lead retrieval system. It isn't enough to gather leads-you need a follow-up plan. Griffin notes that leads tend to go "cold" within one week of a show, so quick follow-up is important. He also recommends hosting an after-show get-together as a way to follow up on qualified leads, or just to get to know customers.
6. Speak the language. If you don't, Griffin recommends seeking help from your in-country contacts, such as distributors or resellers. If you have none, consider hiring an interpreter and preparing him or her to deliver your pitch rather than just relay your words. "Remember that you have, at most, three to 10 minutes to make a pitch," says Griffin.
Also be sure to prepare materials in the language of the country. Griffin recommends developing "event-specific" materials, rather than translating all your product literature and then verifying the quality of your translations.
According to Griffin, lack of preparation is the most common mistake entrepreneurs make. "Don't assume you can just show up and show off," he says. "Start preparing at least six months in advance." He recommends contacting the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, International Trade Administration or your state's export assistance program for tips.
Finally, Griffin recommends you visit your first trade show not as an exhibitor, but as an observer. Once you see how things are done abroad, you'll be better prepared to take your show on the road.
Moira Allen is a freelance writer in Chesapeake, Virginia, and editor of Global Writer's Ink, an e-zine for international writers.