Business Marketing

Time To Dress Sharp – For Exhibitions? Naah…

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Exhibition booth

A pet peeve of mine – the exhibition booth and what people do there.

A participant in my sales & marketing class was startled when I told him that the one hundred business cards, or more, he gave out during the three days at an exhibition in the Middle East were simply thrown in the bin. One and a half boxes of them. He wouldn’t agree!

I asked him – “how many cards did you give out if it was one and a half boxes?” He replied, “about 150 cards”. I then asked, How many calls did you get from those cards?

The answer was twenty-two phone calls, and not one resulted in any order or further meetings. The order they received from that region was from their agent – not traceable back to the exhibition.


To attend and exhibit at a conference in the Middle East was not cheap. For that argument, even in Malaysia.

The booth alone, a typical 3m x 3m area, would typically cost around ten thousand dollars, American Dollars. Correct me if I am wrong. The materials and design work could be another five to ten thousand dollars. All in with transportation, hotels, flights, etc. would easily cost around US$30,000 or about RM120,000.

That is a lot of money. If I spent or invested that kind of money, as a business leader, I’d want returns. I did not send you there to admire or take selfies with the Burj Dubai.

The returns I’d expect are of course not just going to be the four percent if I just put that money in a fixed deposit. At the very least, fifteen or maybe thirty percent. I’d expect at least inquiries that would lead to orders from RM200,000 upwards. Still, with the amount of money, energy, and effort invested, we’d expect way more activities.


I then asked him to demonstrate to the class how did he approach the visitors to his company’s booth.

My response to that: “So what?” Yes, I was intentionally rude. Imitating or simulating a boss who was an a*sehole.

Being someone who was a strong RED & YELLOW (D & I), he was really taken aback. He said, “cannot be!” I responded, “150 cards, only 20 calls two years after the event, no order; what proof do you need?”

Took a few seconds for that to sink in. But, it sunk, in.


Let’s say a visitor walked by your booth; being friendly you said “hi” and introduced him to the booth “XYZ valve company”. You had a short chat and pull out the souvenir bag and gave it to him. Maybe you exchanged business cards with him, was there anything worthwhile achieved there?

Ask yourself this: do I have a plan and target to achieve? Before you spend some good money on the event.

I spent RM10,000 to sponsor an event, to get a speaking slot and a small standing coffee table. And the company sent me someone who blabbered on stage. His boss also came from the US to KL. What a colossal waste of money.

Also read: 7 Things That Marketers Can Learn From KL International Book Fair (KLIBF)

A few months later, another event came about and I demanded the speaker that I wanted. Otherwise, I would speak!

So I spoke, and we received the exposure needed and entry into various client organizations. Now they knew company AXAXA could also do these services, not just sell software.


All the events I participated in after that, had to have a game plan. I had enough foot/leg pain for three days (bought new pair of shoes for that!) and no real results to show.

The game plan, for me, was the sales expected at the event – and the activities for the following year as a result of the event. My target was potential new users and to open the doors into various organizations. Activities during the event were geared to achieve this.


How did we find clients, or search around for clients? How would we know if a person was a client or potential customer, etc? We reserved our goodie bags only for these people. I became super stingy.

 We had to recognize the time wasters, and not waste time and energy on them. We had only three days.


We used that time to scan visitors, said “hi” and asked permission to look at their visitors’ name tags. Anyone with a job title that could be a target – was GRABBED and shoved into our booth! Yes, we were THAT aggressive. Gently though…

We saved money with the goodie bags! We saved it and gave it out only after a meaningful connection and conversation had taken place with the potential customers. We did not even finish the goodie bags even though we made 60.

And, the team achieved a RM550,000 order with a booth cost of RM5,000. Can you calculate the ROI? Even if you put in 3 days of my time with a technical consultant… The indirect and direct projects resulting from this sale… another story. That would be a 5-year project!


On one occasion, I advised my boss to not participate if we couldn’t get the booth we wanted. We didn’t get the booth. So…

We created our own one-day event instead, two weeks after. We invited our clients to present their challenges and we discussed potential solutions. We invited collaborators too.

At an investment that was much lesser than getting an exhibition booth at a major event (we hired a decent-sized ballroom at a hotel), we achieved surgical targeting with our clients, and discussed and presented the exact solutions required. Not only that, we had discussions and work with clients that kept us continuously busy for the following year and more.

And I did not have to buy a new pair of shoes!


If you have only 22 calls with 150 cards given out, you need a strategy. Have a game plan. Most people invest in exhibitions without any game plan!

There were times I wanted exposure through events. I mentioned the words before – “surgical targeting”. Have a game plan (again). Know your calendar, and your clients. Or even know what your target customers look like. Use LinkedIn.

At these events, plan the interactions. Observe what happened. Check your results.

Look at the booth; do you want or need to display every single thing that you have there? Do you need to hire sexy models to stand there?

Strategise, have a game plan – and execute.

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