Top 5 TIPS for trade show samples.

December 6th, 2018

With CES coming up fast I thought it was the perfect time to review some key points to consider when preparing trade show samples. Trade shows are tremendously expensive with flights, hotels, staffing, furnishing, show costs, and on and on and on. My advice, don’t let these costs make you skimp out on trade show samples when introducing a new product.

The quality, robustness, appearance, feel, and variety (often needed) of your samples are the most important things when presenting new product. In my experience this importance can be overlooked or even replaced at times by bells and whistle presentation that don’t close deals the same way that first-class functioning product samples can. I have personally used all the tips below to showcase new product at trade shows all over the world. How did I come to settle on these tips? Each point directly relates to a past trade show where not having followed this advice resulted in lost revenue by not closing deals.

Build samples stronger than needed. If you are going to let people touch your samples, play with your samples, work with your samples or test your samples then build them stronger than needed for trade show purposes. I say this because often with new product launches at trade shows you are not showing a full production piece or a design that has been fully vetted and tested. So err on the side of caution and make trade show samples out of stronger materials when possible or reinforced in the design if possible.  Don’t even take a chance that the samples you are demonstrating may fail. Often when you are demonstrating products at a trade show you create a bit of a crowd and within that crowd can be the one person you really want to impress. If your demo fails because the product fails that person likely walks away. But if succeed in your product demonstration that person often wants to learn more one on one and that is what you want.

Strength in numbers. If you are introducing a new product there is a decent chance (as mentioned above) that you are not in full production yet and often you don’t want to be in full production until you have been able to get market feedback from trade shows and buyer meetings. This means that sample costs for trade shows are more expensive. But don’t let this stop you from making enough samples for a strong presentation. Particularly if you have a single sku or minimal product line up. For electronic products this might mean appearance models under glass without the expensive guts. Samples that no one can touch but that look like the finished article. You can have a few first class functional prototype or low-volume production samples and support with a small army of appearance models to help fill out your presentation. In my personal life I like a philosophy of less is more. For trade shows I feel quantity projects strength.

Different surface finishes. When we create a new product we get an idea in our head about what that product should look like and feel like. But our personal feeling should just be the starting point because we are not the market. So have different surface finishes available for review by potential distributors and buyers. The reality is that these buyers know their customer base extremely well, more than you can ever know because you don’t have access to their data. You want to present what you feel is the best aesthetic and ergonomic embodiment of your product but you also want to show that you are forward thinking and flexible to what buyers and the market might want. Having a few samples with different surface finishes and/or ergonomic feels will show that you are open to changing to match the needs of the market. Showing that you are flexible will go a long way to impressing those who may ultimately buy off you. A small investment that projects creativity and depth.

Have special samples available for special booth visitors. Separate from surface finishing this is more about feature sets. In the electronics world, at a show like CES a competitor may blow your product feature set out of the water and you likely will not even know about it until you are exhibiting. From your experience in bringing your product to life you already know of additional feature sets that you wanted to add but held back because of price point. This can be a completely valid position as we all need to make the best decision possible with the information we have on hand to keep project moving forward. But if possible you should also have an advanced version 2.0 sample mocked up ready to quickly present for these two main reasons.

1. You meet with a powerful distributor who likes your product but because they know their customer base so well they may feel your product, as is, is not a perfect match for their market. If you feel you are failing to impress with version 1.0 then having version 2.0 ready to present can both impress and keep you in the game. It will show them that you are farther down the design road than they think you are. It will show them that you can overcome obstacles and are capable of making a custom feature set just for their distribution channels.

2. Or worst case, your market research was way off and version 1.0 is getting crushed do to competitors offering something similar but superior at the same show. This is not uncommon for a show like CES where people win and lose big. When you are playing with the big boys you need alternative plans ready to implement fast to keep all your hard work alive. Product development and trade shows are all expensive, don’t fail because you don’t have a Plan B ready to potentially save the entire show.

Different price points. This ties into the points above. By having alternative samples showcasing different surface finishes and a version 2.0 with different feature sets you can actually create a complete product line up from a single sku. Different price points for different markets, for different demographics or for different industries. This approach will help you hone your presentation and really understand in depth the full potential for your product. Entire story lines and marketing campaigns can be developed to tell a much bigger story to support your offering. Selling a single sku or very limited product line up can be very hard, turning your single sku into an entire product line up will help your product and your company appear much bigger than you actually are. Take every opportunity to project strength at trade shows.

You don’t have to have a complete strategy worked out to fulfill all your product presentations that you offer at the trade show, as long as what you are offering is based in reality you will be OK, exacting details can come later. The trade show is more about having a variety of product solutions on offer to keep conversations moving forward and keeping NO away from any conversation. You may think you have the market figured out but you don’t really know until you put yourself out there.

Be prepared with parallel product sample options. buyers and distributors are looking not only for great product but for great product developers who they believe are flexible and can actually fulfill manufacturing requirements that match market needs. You have to spend a lot of money on a trade show anyway, make sure you have enough samples to make a complete presentation and if needed alternative presentations with advanced samples. Close those deals.

Gary Moran

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