When you’re expanding a business abroad, finding customers in other countries can be a challenge. One way to kick-start your sales is by exhibiting at an international trade show that puts you in front of prospective customers—and helps you start to build vital relationships.
There are lots of opportunities to be had at international trade shows, but it takes time, resources and savvy planning to make the most of those opportunities. Here are five tips that can help you exhibit successfully:
1. Choose the right event
The best shows for small business owners are those that offer a “U.S. export pavilion”—a dedicated space on the trade show floor that’s reserved for U.S. companies, with shared resources such as translation services and export education.
“For a small company, that’s a much easier way to go because it’s usually a turnkey program that the U.S. Department of Commerce offers,” says Susan Friedmann, a trade show coach and author of Meeting & Event Planning for Dummies.
2. Set realistic goals
Foreign buyers typically want to see a track record of success. Attendance at overseas trade shows should therefore be viewed as a long-term investment.
“You need to have continuous involvement at a particular event,” advises Peter McKenna, vice president of business development at Kallman Worldwide, a Waldwick, N.J., firm that helps companies exhibit at international events. “Your second, third, fourth time there is when you’ll begin to make sales.”
Instead of sales, a realistic first-show goal is finding a local export representative. “One of your biggest targets when you’re first going to an event is finding a local agent to represent you in that market,” explains McKenna, who says good resources for finding and vetting foreign reps are the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and local U.S. embassies and consulates.
3. Show you’re serious
One way to demonstrate your commitment to overseas markets is to bring your most senior employees to the show. “Serious buyers come to these shows,” Friedmann says. “They usually send a more senior person—an executive type—so you need to have that same level person from your company.”
Another good move is to translate your sales materials. “You should have your materials translated at least for the country you’re going to—German if you’re in Germany, for example,” Friedmann says.
A third opportunity is with your booth. “It’s customary overseas to build an actual showroom for your product. It’s much more substantial than a pipe-and-drape [setup] because it’s your footprint in that market for the four, five or six days you’re there,” McKenna says.
4. Master your manners
Bad business etiquette can kill an international deal. Learning little things—including customs related to handshakes, courtesy titles, gifting, etc.—can generate big returns.
“A big thing, for example, is business cards,” Friedmann says. “Here, we throw them around, whereas overseas they treat them with respect. It’s really important. It’s like your identity. You would never see somebody writing on a business card overseas. In Asia, you would accept [a card] with two hands, because they’ll give it to you with two hands. Small things like that can be very, very important.”
5. Maintain relationships
Instead of trying to decipher export-related regulations and legalese—the government and your bank can help you navigate the particulars—spend the period in between shows building personal relationships with your prospects.
“Email, Skype and LinkedIn are pretty universal,” Friedmann says. “A personal touch is always helpful, though. If you’re willing to travel overseas and be with [prospects] face-to-face—or invite them to the United States—there’s so much more that can be accomplished that way.”