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Finding Buyers and Partners: Domestic and International Trade Shows
November 22, 2016 Suhail Karim Beg, Business Development Specialist, Office of Small Business
One of the toughest choices facing a small business looking to expand into international markets can be which market to focus on. Trade shows, both domestic and foreign, can provide you with a relatively inexpensive way to reach an international target audience. Each year more than 80,000 international buyers attend key trade shows in the U.S. spending billions of dollars on U.S.-made products. Trade shows provide a perfect venue to execute a market entry strategy where international buyers come to you.

Not all trade shows are created equal. Those supported by the US Commercial Service’s International Buyer Program (IBP) will actually bring qualified buyers to you with access to export financing only a few booths away. You can make that first sale without ever leaving the United States. Trade shows also provide a unique opportunity to conduct customer development and learn about which features of your product or service are most appealing to a particular buyer.

Roll on Up … Going to the Show

A lot can be gained from face-to-face interactions with foreign buyers that will either void or validate your marketing plan assumptions. You might learn about features, price points, or customizations you had not previously considered but are attractive to a particular market. You will probably get the most out a trade show if you exhibit. However, even as an attendee you will get a chance to meet with international buyers and distributors or dealers in foreign markets you are interested in exploring. You can also check out the other exhibits and learn how your product stacks up against the competition.

The Export-Import Bank of the U.S. (EXIM) works together with our fellow Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee agency, the Department of Commerce’s U.S. Commercial Service, to be there for exporters at trade shows. We work together to grow exports by ensuring that “no deal is left on the table” due to lack of availability of commercial financing. The Department of Commerce has two trade show programs that can help you to begin exporting internationally.

  1. The U.S. Department of Commerce International Buyer Program (IBP)

The IBP is a joint government-industry effort that brings thousands of international buyers to the United States for business-to-business matchmaking with U.S. firms exhibiting at major industry trade shows. The IBP recruits thousands of qualified foreign buyers, sales representatives, and business partners to U.S. trade shows each year, giving the U.S. small business exhibitor excellent opportunities to expand business globally. The IBP program typically selects 25-35 trade shows a year. At an IBP certified trade show, the U.S. exporter can arrange business-to-business meetings with international buyers interested in your products or services. You can also opt to list your company in the Export Interest Directory selecting countries you are interested in opening or expanding markets in.

The IBP program provides “Showtimes” or one-on-one meetings with U.S. Government officials on market, export, and finance related issues in selected focus markets. Furthermore, completing the International Buyer Profile allows you to list your booth number, contact information and what type of distribution strategy you prefer - direct, foreign agent, distributorship or joint venture. The information in the buyer profile allows you to target markets alerting IBP foreign delegations to your interest. Additionally, the IBP program provides briefings and presentations by industry and export finance specialists. EXIM Bank trade finance professionals are regular attendees at these events providing expert counseling for a deal on the spot. Each IBP show has an International Business Center where you can meet privately with prospective international buyers, sales representatives and perhaps even your future business partners.

  1. The US Department of Commerce Certified Trade Fairs (CTF)

This program selects and endorses overseas trade shows that are reliable venues for U.S. firms to sell their products and services abroad. These shows are often a vital access vehicle for the small U.S. business to enter and expand into foreign markets. The certified trade show “U.S. Pavilion” ensures a high quality multi-faceted opportunity for U.S. firms to successfully market overseas. Among the benefits, CTFs provide U.S. exhibitors with help facilitating contacts, market information, counseling and other services that leverage your marketing dollars.  To find out more about U.S. Commercial Service supported trade shows, domestic and international, check out the International Trade Administration website here.

A Department of Commerce CTF and EXIM Bank Success Story

This year’s Hannover Messe trade fair in Germany saw 400 plus U.S. exhibitors join the U.S. Partner Country delegation at the U.S. Pavilion. One of these is a small U.S. business called Filtroil in Richmond, Virginia. Filtroil produces advanced filtration systems for industrial fluids, extending the life of machinery and reducing the amount of potentially harmful waste produced by manufacturers. This technology represents reduced costs and increased productivity and attendees at Hannover Messe took notice of Filtroil’s solutions. Before, during and after the show leads poured in. Six weeks after the show, Filtroil secured enough new global business for the firm to hire additional staff to capitalize on these opportunities.

EXIM Bank helped take the company over the finish line. EXIM Bank export credit insurance allowed Filtroil to offer "open account" competitive terms while increasing access to credit by including export-related assets in their borrowing base. If you are interested in learning how to turn trade show leads into international sales, contact EXIM Bank today to request a free consultation.

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