Trade shows – no matter how you feel about them, they are here to stay. While we traditionally think of trade shows from an exhibitor’s viewpoint, with increasing costs and resources required, many small businesses choose to “walk” a trade show rather than exhibit at one.
If you plan on attending a trade show for business development reasons, you’ll need a trade show strategy and I’ve outlined below my tips on how to get the most from attending a trade show.
Make a list of the goals you want to achieve by visiting the show. This may include a list of ‘must see’ booths and ‘want to see’ booths as well as how many leads you want to achieve. Consider your internal resources when determining the number of leads to make sure you can follow up on the number of leads you may get.
Do Your Research
Spend time researching all of the ‘must see’ booths, so that you’ll have a clear idea of who you need to see, and what you need to learn about them. Contact the company prior to the event to find out if the person you want to speak to e.g. the Director of Purchasing, is going to be attending the show. If they are attending, set up an appointment with them at the show, and if they are not attending, leave your personalized sales package addressed to them at the booth.
Assess Time Commitment
Decide how much time you want to spend at the show, and then allot an appropriate amount to each booth, making sure to schedule the ‘must see’ booths first. It is always a good idea to get a map of the show floor and prioritize your route prior to getting to the show. Weave into this any appointments your have made with those exhibitors you planned to meet with. If co-workers are attending the show with you, divide your targeted list into sections.
When talking to or meeting with a potential prospect, just like you would in a business meeting, take as many notes as you can. Sometimes this is not possible if you are standing at a booth, so feel free to record the conversation, with their permission, or make it a practice to quickly make note of the key points that were discussed for your later reference.
Gather Competitor Intel
Trade shows are the ideal opportunity to gather information about what your competitors are doing. It’s often the first glimpse you’ll get of new product releases, special programs, or fresh marketing initiatives. Pick up a few examples of their marketing collateral from their booths, and ask them a few carefully-worded questions about technical specs.
Organize Your Information
Depending on how long the conference is, you may need to sort your information at the end of each day. You might want to create a spreadsheet template for this information and then simple plug in the information based on each tab. For example, name of the lead, person you spoke with, their title, their email, and key products/services they might be interested in. You will also need a tab for a few personal notes to help jog your memory after you’ve returned from the show as well as a call to action e.g. call when you return back to the office or email them a sales sheet on one of your products/services.
Also, take a moment at the end of the day to track any information on your competitors, including exhibits or displays that you thought were particularly effective. Create a spreadsheet of what you thought was effective, and any marketing approaches you felt stood out e.g. videos, brochures, trade show imagery, etc. Make note of any that you might consider implementing in your own company’s marketing.
There is no doubt about it, having a clear plan of action will make sure that the time you spend at the show is a worthwhile investment.
If you are exhibiting at a trade show, read my blog on trade show strategy for an exhibitor.