For three consecutive years they have participated in the most important international trade event in Europe for their sector, but so far no export has come from it. It would almost make you lose hope, some producers I met at a pre-fair workshop in Asia told me. They had hoped for better results, and in all honestly, they even expected them – and much sooner too. So now they are severely doubting whether to participate in the upcoming fair. Participating for a fourth time could very possibly lead to nothing again.
At the same time, another group of producers was very content about the very same trade fair. “Export is a matter of endurance. It may take a while before you get results, a very long while even. But if you are convinced of the medium of trade fairs and of the importance of export to your organisation, then you have to learn from your mistakes and persevere. Those of us who are exporting successfully by now, have all needed to participate at least twice, but we would never have managed without the trade fair.”, one of the participants assured those who were in doubt.
Yes, I thought: that is all well and good, but that doesn’t keep the unsuccessful from losing faith in their trade fair participation. So I decided to find out why some did manage to generate business and others didn’t, during the days I spent with the group.
They all offered similar products or services. If one could generate business through trade fair participation, then the others should be able to as well. Therefore I quickly ruled out a connection between the inability to generate business and this particular fair. There was nothing wrong with the fair. And the fact that there was a market for these products and services, seemed obvious from the arranged exports and the exporters’ satisfaction with this. So then it had to be something to do with the producers themselves, or their exhibition.
Once you have come to that conclusion, there are lots of possible determining factors for success. I didn’t have to search for answers for long. As it turned out, some simply weren’t ready for export yet: for instance their organisational structure wasn’t suited for it at all. Others couldn’t guarantee quality, weren’t certified or weren’t familiar enough with important production methods. A range of factors caused the unsuccessful efforts to fail. From gaps in the basic conditions for export to Europe, to insufficient command of the English language, unprofessional brochures, insufficient representativeness, inadequate follow-up, etc. All sorts of things that the successful exporters obviously did master.
So what is the deal then? What can you, as an SME from a developing country, expect from the introduction of your products or services at a trade fair? After how many exhibitions can you expect your trade fair participation to yield results? What is a reasonable timeframe? The latter is, in my opinion, an utterly useless question. Even after 100 exhibitions, you won’t get any results if you aren’t export fit or if you go about your trade fair participation and follow-up completely the wrong way. But if everything is under control and in order, then what?
In that case, common sense tells me: “A trade fair is an excellent means to gain foothold in a foreign market, but you need to have modest and realistic expectations. If results fail to materialise, you have to determine the cause after the first exhibition: was it the market, the fair or you yourself. Then you have to determine your course of action and follow through with it.”