How to sell at a trade show

Business to business (B2B) selling is a business model with its own sets of challenges. While selling to customers isn’t necessarily a walk in the park, you can do it directly. For example you can set up a website and start taking orders, you can shout out on social media, or you can set up a stall at your local farmers’ market. Selling to businesses involves finding the right people within the right businesses, and needs a more targeted approach.

One way to get businesses interested in what your own business has to offer is to exhibit at trade shows. At trade shows buyers will be actively seeking new products and services, and you can demonstrate what makes your product or service so amazing right there and then.  

One business that has benefited from trade shows is The Foraging Fox, creators of delicious beetroot ketchup. Here are founder Frankie’s tips for getting the most out of a trade show.


Why they’re great

Personally I’m a huge fan of trade shows. We actually launched our business and our beetroot ketchup at the Speciality & Fine Food Fair in 2014, and it was a huge success for us.  We think a presence at one or two trade shows each year, talking to everyone in your industry non-stop for a few days, is such an efficient use of time if you have done your homework. 

Apart from personal introductions I also think it’s a far easier approach to selling than cold calling, emailing, sending samples or dropping in on someone unannounced.  If you do it right you will get a face-to-face meeting with the right people, who will come to your stand ready and willing to be pitched to and try your product and listen to your ideas.

Frankie Fox - The Foraging Fox


Doing the sums

Trade shows can be a huge financial investment for a startup, so it’s absolutely key you are organised. Do your research and choose the right one for you and be aware of all the hidden costs involved. You need to factor in travel and accommodation costs and the costs of creating your stand, added extras, and getting everything there and back - which can double the costs.  So check for bursaries, small producer, first time exhibitor rates for stands and be prepared hustle or even share a stand, van or accommodation!


Do your homework

Get a good spot - we like corner stands so you are more visible, and stands in busy aisles near key areas which attract crowds, such as awards stands or demo areas.  Be near people you know, or people you want to talk to like distributors and wholesalers.  

On that point, research your fellow exhibitors and arrive early each morning before the show opens to go and talk to them - offer to buy them a coffee or give them a sample. They may be the wholesalers you want to speak to or fellow producers who you can form strategic alliances or friendships with.

I also went to the free new exhibitors’ day before my first trade show to prepare myself.  I met fellow producers, organisers and speakers that I am still friends with today.  It was totally invaluable for me.


Get noticed

Get to know the Show organisers and PR team - try and give them something exciting to talk about. Visit the press area daily to see if there is anyone you should meet, or leave samples and a press release to encourage press to visit your stand and help create a buzz.

It sounds simple - but stand in front of your stand, smile and engage with people about what you do.  It’s a great way to practice your pitch, get feedback and gain understanding what your customers are looking for.  

Be creative on your stand, draw people in, create interest around your stand.  People are curious and like to follow crowds to see what is so exciting.  

If you are a food business like us it’s absolutely key have something to taste - we always have samples and accompaniments to suit everyone as we are a Free-From, vegetarian and vegan-friendly product.  It’s key that people get to taste our products.  Trust me, it’s far easier than explaining what beetroot ketchup tastes like!


Put yourself out there

Enter yourself or your products into competitions and pitches at the show.  We entered and won the Best New Idea at the Farm Shop and Deli Show in 2015 and won it against Edible Snail Farm, which was a really fun experience.  We also entered and won the Dragon’s Pantry that year which was really nerve-wracking, but it drew a huge crowd and we were directly pitching and getting feedback from a panel of some of the most influential people in the industry on our products.  It also created some press for our brand during and after the show.

Get on social media and generate some banter with the people you meet and the organisers throughout the show!

And one extra tip: we use branded stickers as a good way to make us memorable and to spread the word on our brand at a show. That way those you have met become walking billboards for you - everyone loves a sticker!

How to sell at a trade show - The Foraging Fox


Get your pitch right and don’t take anything personally

Practice your pitch - have a short thirty-second pitch to pull people in, but establish very early on who it is you are talking to and then start tailoring it to them. A retailer has different drivers and commercials than a wholesaler. Who are they, and what is their key driver? Know your product and key commercials inside out. Press and bloggers like to hear something totally different too. 

If someone is pitching to you and trying to sell you something be polite, thank them for their time, and take their card and say you will keep them on file or follow up if you are interested after the show. Don’t let them consume your time and energy - you have paid to be at the show to sell yourself.

You need a lot of energy for a trade show and have to put on a smiley face even if someone is telling you something you really don’t want to hear. I learnt very early on to listen to everything everyone had to say good or bad. The worst thing they can say is that they are not interested and sometimes you will get the most valuable feedback on your product, brand or commercials from that conversation - so hear it out, and take away what’s valuable. 

Have a flyer with a summary and your details to give away, and make notes on - and a stash of samples for key people. People will need to follow you up after the show so give them everything they need on one eye catching sheet.  Sometimes the key people don’t announce themselves but slip by your stand when you are busy, try your products and just take your flyer or card and just move on - only to follow up the week after!


Tell your existing customers you’ll be there

It’s also now become a great relationship management exercise with our existing stockists who use trade shows as an opportunity to keep in touch and provide feedback with their producers too. It’s a great way to introduce any new products to them, cross-selling, upselling and sharing ideas with them.  Most importantly it’s a chance to listen to sales and customer feedback directly and face to face. This opportunity gets even more important the more stockists you have, especially if you start using wholesalers and distributors who may not pass on this vital information.


Make notes yourself, take details and follow up

We like to take orders at trade shows, so we always have a good show offer for people who order at the show.  Have a think, make it compelling, and tell everyone about it!

Some people use zappers to get peoples’ details, but we are old-school. We have little clipboards and make follow-up notes and take details when we are talking to them, and staple peoples’ business cards to them.  Once they are completed we put them in labelled envelopes like: Orders, Retailers, Distributors, Exports, Press and Other.  

Orders always come first on follow up. We follow up in the week following the show - follow up is as key as the show itself. Be proactive and don’t rely on people following you up instead, make life easy for them.

Keep everything on file and stay in touch - you never know when those contacts you made may come in handy!


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