How Exporters Can Make the Most of International Trade Shows

Prema Nakra | May 24, 2017 | Export Finance
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Making the Most of International Trade Shows | Shipping SolutionsInternational trade shows or trade fairs are an absolute must for companies wishing to move ahead in the fiercely competitive global market environment. They help businesses large and small compete against companies from around the world.

Several thousand international trade shows and trade fairs occur annually in more than 70 nations. Specialized fairs in individual sectors such as technology, automotive, fashion and home furnishings regularly take place.

Strategic Importance of Trade Shows and Trade Fairs

A typical trade show is an event at which manufacturers, distributors and other vendors display their products or describe their services to current and prospective customers, suppliers, other business associates, and the press. It is often the first step small and midsized companies take when entering new markets.

Trade shows and exhibitions provide a neutral location for doing business. They bring together managers from different departments in buyer organizations, which increases the probability of meeting the decision makers and those influencing the purchase decision.

International trade fairs offer other advantages than just making sales. Potential distributors and licensees favor trade fairs for the same reason. They can see a firm’s products and observe the market reaction.

In effect trade fairs are used to buy and sell products, to develop and sign contracts, and to arrange for international distributorships and agent relationships.

Smart companies also use their presence at trade shows to gather intelligence on competitors. Companies can learn a great deal about competitors’ technologies, pricing and the depth of their market penetration.

Government Support for Trade Fair Participation

National, state and local governments are sometimes involved in ensuring that their companies are represented at important fairs. Trade show organizers often create international pavilions sponsored by industry associations and trade agencies from different countries. These international pavilions provide a unique opportunity for visitors to see and compare innovative products and services without having to travel the world.

In addition, the U.S. Department of Commerce sponsors Discover Global Markets events in the United States, which act as a sort of a trade show in reverse. U.S. Commercial Service diplomats stationed abroad come to these events to speak about opportunities in the countries in which they are stationed. In addition, attendees have an opportunity to meet privately one-on-one with the diplomats for individual counseling.


When participating in a foreign trade show, advance preparation is crucial. That includes translating materials into the language of the host country, identifying prospects, and setting appointments. As outlined in Export Basics: How to Prepare for an International Trade Show, planning should begin 12 to 18 months in advance.

Select Wisely

Make sure the trade fair you attend is targeting visitors who are likely prospects and potential customers. Companies should invite their subsidiaries, distributors and licensees to the show, so that maximum value can be obtained by all of the firm’s operations.

To take full advantage of your participation in the trade fair, it is important to not just attend the show as an exhibitor but to plan additional events that coincide with exhibiting at the trade show – e.g. a technical seminar or a cocktail party held at the hotel recommended for accommodation of exhibitors by the trade show exhibitors. It is typical to use local distributors, consultants and sales representatives to help with the logistics of bridging local culture.

Make it Easy for Them to Find You

As an exhibitor you have to remember that time is very precious, and you have to find ways to expose your offerings to the potential buyers or distributors within a short period. If you participate in ;a country-centric pavilion to exhibit your products, it may be easier for buyers to develop relationships between the offerings from a specific country without roaming about in the wilderness. In other words, if the exhibitors from a country are clubbed together, it is a lot easier for visitors to locate any country specific product under one pavilion.

Calculate the Full Cost of Participation

Costs include renting space, dressing the exhibit, putting up customs bond, renting furniture and equipment for the exhibit, hiring of local people to assist and interpret, sending executives to staff the booth, prepare supplemental promotional material, and hosting activities in conjunction with participation to attract visitors to stop at the firm’s exhibits. These include direct mail, advertising, public relations, and contingency plans.


What happens after the trade show is just as important as what happens at the trade show. Research indicates that more than 80% of leads gathered at trade shows are never followed up. One of the reasons for such a large number of leads falling on the way side is lack of enough information. Many of the leads have no substance. They are either just cold business cards or name of the person written on a yellow pad.

To truly benefit from all the hard work that went into planning the show, exhibitors must prepare a checklist of information that must be collected about the visitors. It is important to maintain detailed record of visitors, such as their business cards, list of products that interest them, and whether or not you promised to call them or send them additional information or samples of products.

Final Words

Trade shows can be one of the most important vehicle for selling products, reaching prospective customers, contacting and evaluating potential agents and distributors, and marketing in most countries. They have resided at the very center of commerce in Europe for centuries. European trade shows attract high-level decision makers who are not attending just to get their latest products out but are in attendance to buy.

While in the U.S. trade shows are staffed by sales representatives and middle managers, global trade show attendees expect to meet the chief executive officer (CEO) and other senior managers. It is vitally important that the CEO and the senior executives are visible at international trade shows in order to establish relationships with other vendors, potential customers, alliance partners, and distributors.

This article was first published in February 2007 and has been updated to include current information, links and formatting.

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