How to Sell to Vendors at Trade Shows

Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to exhibit at a trade show. There are various reasons for this. Maybe the exhibit booth fee is too high, or only a handful of the attendees are your target audience. Regardless of the reason, you feel that the vendors exhibiting at the show are your real best prospects.

But how do you network and solicit business from vendors without being a pest? After all, put yourself in their place – if you are exhibiting at a trade show, who would rather speak to – a potential customer or another vendor?

You see my point?

selling to vendors at trade showsVendors are spending a lot of money to exhibit at trade shows. For example, not only are they paying for exhibit booth registrations, but they are also forking out money for travel, meals, hotel registrations, and miscellaneous expenses like swag and marketing literature.

In some cases, vendors don’t appreciate other vendors approaching them at trade shows because they feel you are hurting their ability to generate new business. And they may also resent that you are not an exhibitor, and see as an interloper interfering in their business transitions.

So how do you approach a vendor without hurting his sales, and developing a win-win situation for both of you?

Here are 14 tips to help you –

1). Trade Show Traffic – it’s better to approach vendors during slow times of a trade show. This will give you a better opportunity to meet them without hurting their business. Slow times are usually early in the morning, mid mornings and afternoons (when workshops are going on) and late in the day. The busiest times are usually when coffee breaks and lunch is being sponsored in the exhibit hall.  Depending on how long a trade show will last, the first day is generally the busiest time. Why? Because most attendees want to take a quick peek at the vendors before going to workshops or general sessions.

2). Booth Traffic – are vendors busy speaking to customers at their booths? If yes, stand back and wait for traffic to slow down before approaching a vendor. Nothing is going to undermine your ability to get a sale more if you hurt your customer from getting a sale himself. Trade shows can be very stressful for vendors. So don’t take it personally if they quickly reject you, or only half listen to your introduction. Most of the time, they are looking over your shoulder to talk to a “real” customer – not you. Take it in stride and try to return to the booth later when traffic dies down.

3). Target – depending on the size of the trade show, you may only have a limited amount of time to visit vendors. With 300 or more vendors exhibiting at the trade show, are you really going to have time to visit each one? Not really. So the best solution is to target key vendors that you want to speak to, and hopefully generate sales down the road. This requires research. Do your homework. Most organizations will provide lists of vendors prior to a conference. And if you are lucky, most organizations will send you a list of all exhibitors, along with their contact information like phone numbers and email addresses. Use all of that information to your advantage and select which vendors to meet. If you are fortunate enough to meet everyone on your top list, then go to your “B” and then “C” vendors, and so on.

4). Appearance – how to dress when you attend a trade show can sometimes be hard to determine. Unless you attended the same event before, it can sometimes be difficult to know whether you should wear a suit, go business casual, or go completely casual. I usually prefer to take the middle ground and wear a nice sports coat with casual business pants, which the option of wearing a tie. I’ve never worn suits while attending a trade show (either as an attendee or exhibitor). It’s a judgement call. As the old saying goes, it’s better to dress to impress. You will be taken more seriously and you will feel like the true professional.

5). Knapsack – I always bring a knapsack with me when I attend trade shows either an attendee or vendor. It’s easier to carry around all the literature and swag that you know you will pick up. Also, it’s easier to carry around your laptop if you want to give a quick demo of your product or service.

business cards at trade shows6). Business cards – this goes without saying, but always make sure you bring plenty of business cards with you. Also, rather than carry around large stacks of fliers, bring a postcard instead depicting what you are selling. Postcards are easier to carry, hand out and most people will read and keep them.

7). Be Honest – don’t try to pretend that you are a potential customer. Tell trade show vendors upfront that you are a salesperson too. Believe me, they will appreciate your honesty. Just let them know that you stopped by to learn more about their business, and see if you could schedule a call or online tour after the show. Of course, exchange business cards, maybe pick up some of their literature, take a quick look around their booth, and then leave. Don’t be rude and take their swag – that’s for customers. If you really are eager to bring home swag, wait until the end of the trade show. Most vendors would rather have the leftover swag given away to attendees than pack it up and take it back home.

8). Small notebook – Do you have a great memory? If not, bring along a small notebook and pen with you to jot down notes or ideas.

9). Attend workshops – not all your potential customers are going to be exhibiting at the trade show. Some will attend workshops. Review the agenda beforehand and select workshops where you feel you have the greatest chance to meeting good prospects. Or better yet, if you know that a key customer will be speaking at a workshop, as a matter of courtesy (and good business sense), attend his event. After he speaks, go up and shake his hand and congratulate him on a good presentation. Or better yet, if you can swing it, ask if you could speak at a trade show or participate in a panel discussion.

10). Social events – All conferences and trade shows have social events. Again, review the agenda and select ones that will give you the greatest chance to meet clients.

11). Your Mother was wrong. Do talk to strangers –  When you were a child, your mother offered you good advice about not talking to strangers. But as a grownup sales professional, you need to talk to strangers to network and generate new business. See a lunch table with an open seat? Ask if the seat is taken. If not, sit down, introduce yourself, eat, and maybe find a customer. Standing in line waiting to use the restroom? Introduce yourself to the person next to you and strike up a conversation. You rarely are going to find a lot of potential customers in one setting than at a conference or trade show.

12). Scott Ginsberg is right. “Surrender your agenda”Scott Ginsberg, author and speaker, made a very good point in an interview published in an article on How to Network at Conferences and Trade Shows: Mini-Guide by MarketingSherpa.

Rather than attend trade shows with a hard agenda, Mr. Ginsberg recommends that you try to be more approachable and have fun. In the interview, he states that “people can usually tell when you have an agenda, and that’s certainly not being approachable. Surrendering your agenda puts you more at ease to be yourself.”

Unless you spoke to a vendor in advance of a trade show, you rarely are going to get a sale on the spot. Sure, prior to attending the conference, you may want to schedule some meetings while at the event. It’s not unusual for attendees to be sponsors and lease a small makeshift office or table for conversations or demos. But try to set the right expectations for yourself. You should focus on generating relationships with the goal of scheduling more time after a conference for extended conversations, online tours, free trials and eventually getting the order.

BTW, when you have a chance, please read his book Hello, My Name is Scott.

13). Avoid the hard sale. When you are working at a booth, you usually can’t avoid doing the hard sale. Time is money and you want to meet as many attendees and potential customers as you can. But when you are a vendor visiting other vendors, you have to take the soft sale approach. Don’t go in with guns blazing and tell everyone about your company or product. Instead, show some interest in what they are selling. Ask good questions. Take some notes. Remember, your goal isn’t to sell on the spot, but try to get an appointment after the show.

14). Be social. That is, be on social media and follow vendors before you attend the trade show. Follow them on Twitter, LinkedIn and other sites. Let them know that you are showing interest in the company, and hopefully, in return, they will show interest in you.

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Here are some articles that can help you –

“How to Network at a Trade Show” by WikiHow
“How to Work a Trade Show” published in Entrepreneur
“Top Ten Networking Tips at a Trade Show” by Chaz Brooks

Note: If you like this post, please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

Sales and Marketing Conferences for 2017

We all have busy schedules. But no matter how busy you are, it’s important to attend at least a couple of conferences or trade shows a year. Conferences and trade shows help you network and stay in tune with the latest news and trends in your industry.

To help you find the best sales and marketing conferences for 2017, I have compiled a list below from several sites for your review.

Here are the links –

Sales Conferences

From PeakSales Recruiting

The Top 14 Conferences to Attend in 2017

From Sales Summit

2017 Sales Conferences

From Maria Milea

The Complete Guide – Marketing and Sales Conferences 2017

From the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals (AA-ISP)

AA-ISP Event Calendar

(I’m an active member of AA-ISP. I attended the Boston event last year. There are always great opportunities at their events to network and learn new skills).

Marketing Conferences

From Brafton

12 Marketing Conferences to Mark on your 2017 Calendar

From OnSpot Social

Top 2017 Marketing Conferences to Book Today

From Digimarcon

2017 Marketing Conferences

From RedStag Fulfillment

Ecommerce Conferences for 2017

Tips for Attending Conferences

1). Register early, you usually get better deals.

2). If possible, obtain an attendee list so you can schedule meetings with key people (Note – not all organizations provide attendee lists).

3). Trade Shows are usually part of the event. Review the list of exhibitors and plan which booth you would like to visit. If there is a vendor that you are interested in, try to contact the company prior to the event and schedule a meeting during the conference. Vendors tend to be very busy, so having a scheduled meeting may save both of you time.

4). Make your airline registration early to receive low fares.

5). When attending an event, especially if I’m walking around during a trade show, I prefer using luggage with skate wheels and a retractable handle. Why? Because besides carrying your laptop, business cards, pens and notebooks, you will also be given a lot of swag and free literature to take home with you.

I’m currently using EAGLE CREEK TARMAC 20 LIGHTWEIGHT CARRY ON BAG (BLACK) (see below).

I hope the above lists and my advice will help you.

Safe travels this year!

10 Trade Show Etiquette Tips

Having attended several trade shows recently, I’ve noticed some bad manners on part of salespeople that I would like to address.

The following is a list of 10 etiquette tips –

1). Don’t sit or stand behind your tabletop display. Instead, stand next to it. This will ensure more openness and hopefully more attendees coming to your display area. Sitting or standing behind your tabletop creates an artificial defensive barrier between you and the attendees you are trying to attract. By standing next to your table, you are signaling that you are interested in speaking with them.

bad manners at trade shows2). Don’t sit when the trade show is busy. Stand. Smile. Make good eye contact. Show that you are ready to talk, answer questions or do a short presentation.

3). Don’t use your cellphone or laptop when the trade show is busy. Most people are polite. If they see you busy texting or working on your laptop, they are less likely to visit you. You could end up losing a sale.

4).Don’t eat when the trade show is busy – even if other attendees are eating breakfast, lunch or other food in the trade show. If attendees see that you are eating, again, being polite, they may not stop by and speak with you. Wait until the crowd dies down before grabbing something to eat. (It’s always a good idea to keep snacks and bottle water in your exhibit area in case you have low blood sugar).

5). If you are speaking with another vendor and see an attendee walking towards his booth, immediately step away. The vendor isn’t paying good money to speak to other vendors. Like you, he’s there to make contacts, find prospects, and hopefully get some good sales down the road.

6). Arrive early to set up your booth. Nothing screams amateur more than arriving late to set up your booth area. Also, don’t break down until closing time. You will be surprised how many attendees will wait until the last-minute to visit a booth or place an order. This is especially true at large trade shows where there is a lot to see and so little time to see it all.

don't scan and spam7). Don’t scan and spam. One of the biggest mistakes vendors make is scanning everyone who walks by their booth. This is a major waste of time. Sure, you may think you have a lot of “sales leads” when you return to the office. But in reality, most of those leads are probably duds because they were never really qualified. So now you’re going to spend weeks or months making phone calls to people who either aren’t interested in your services or products, or don’t even remember meeting you at the trade show. And spamming? Please! Unless you have taken the time to speak with the prospect at the show, your chances of him responding to your emails are almost nil.

8). Index cards. OK, some trade shows don’t give you the ability to scan badges. And let’s face it, not all attendees carry their business cards or don’t have any left because they handed them all out. Now what? Have index cards available for attendees to write down their contact information. There, wasn’t that easy?

9). Have enough business cards. Don’t always depend on your trade show/conference department to pack your business cards for you. Bring your own cards. Because my trade show/conference department didn’t pack enough cards, I almost ran out before the end of a conference that I attended a couple of years ago. Don’t make the same mistake I did.

10). Smile. Smiling won’t crack your face. So smile, or you could lose some sales. Sure, we’ve all been to lousy trade shows. You know the ones where there is little traffic or the attendees are only interested in stealing your swag. Like a good trooper, just smile through it and do the best you can. Who knows – you might still get a couple of good orders from it.

Remember, the purpose of working at a trade show is to make sales. Don’t let bad manners prevent you from achieving your goal.

Note: Like my post? Please read my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

List of Major Sales & Marketing Events 2016

sales and marketing conferencesWhile I like to think that my Events Calendar is comprehensive, I know that’s not the case. There are hundreds of  national and international sales and marketing conferences and trade shows scheduled for 2016. In addition, there are many state and regional events to choose from. So as a service to my readers, below is a list of sites that include links to Major Sales and Marketing Events for this year –

The American Association of Inside Sales Professionals (which I’m an active member)

Digimarcon Digital Marketing Conferences

Marketo List of Events

The Complete Guide to Marketing and Sales Conference 2016, from Maria Milea (A Blogger who writes about travel, lifestyle, fashion and online marketing).

The Best Marketing Conferences of 2016, by Marketing Insider Group

The Top 35 Must Attend B2B Sales Conferences of 2016, from Docurated

The Ultimate Guide to 160+ Business and Digital Marketing Conferences in 2016, by Kristi Hines (Freelance Writer and Blogger)

10 Tips for Working at a Trade Show Booth

I recently came back from a trade show in Charleston, S.C. It was my first trade show in nearly a year. Based on my observations, here are 10 tips on how to work at a trade show booth.

How to work at a trade show booth1). Stand, don’t sit. Yes, I know it’s tough to stand all day. But by standing, you are inviting attendees to approach you and engage in a conversation about your company. By sitting, you are signaling to attendees that you are not interested in speaking with them, or that you are tired. Look, if an attendee is spending most of their day walking, you should at least have the courtesy to stand. If you are tired, take a short break and sit down somewhere else.

If you only have a table top display, try to stand next to the table – not behind it. Why? When you stand behind a table, you are putting a defensive barrier between you and the attendee. By standing next to the table, you are signaling to the attendee that you are accessible and friendly, and are interested in engaging in a conversation.

Don’t stand in front of the table, because you want to give attendees a chance to look at your display to determine if your company is a good fit for them. Also, you don’t want to be a stalker and pounce on attendees while they are walking by. Remain calm, compose and inviting.

2). Don’t read your laptop or smart phone. Yes, I know it’s tough to be away from the office. And there may be times during the day when you have to respond to an emergency e-mail, or make an important phone call. But try to do it away from your booth. Again, your focus should be on the attendees, not your work or personal life. And if you are still reading print newspapers (remember those), now is not the time to catch up on sports or the latest news. Put all print material that is not related to your company away.

don't eat at a trade show booth3). Don’t eat at the booth. If you are working with a group, take breaks to eat. It’s discourteous to eat at a booth while others are walking by. However, if you are working at a booth myself, wait until traffic is slow to take a break or eat. By reviewing the conference agenda, you should know when to time traffic flow during a trade show. (And don’t raid the candy bowl at your booth – it’s for the attendees to attract them to you).

4). Limit your conversations with your colleagues. I know. Working at a trade show can be boring at times, especially when traffic is slow. So you want to strike up a conversation with your co-workers. I understand. Just keep your eyes open for an approaching attendee. Most people are polite. If they see you talking to one of your co-workers, they may be less reluctant to approach you at the booth.

5). Be friendly. Nothing discourages an attendee from coming to your booth more than not seeing a friendly or inviting face. Sure, you don’t want to be a stalker or stare at attendees as they walk by your booth. But on the other hand, you don’t want to be looking down at the floor, or staring in space. Be casual and cool.

6). Speak to the right attendees. Don’t waste time speaking with attendees who obviously are not interested in your company, or are not good prospects. Be firm, polite and diplomatic, but steer an attendee away if he’s not a good fit for your company’s products or services. Remember – you only have a limited period of time to speak with people. Try to keep the booth open for the right prospects that you need to speak to. Attendees don’t want to hear about your vacation plans or your recent travels. While it’s nice to chit-chat, stay focus on the business at hand.

7). Keep plenty of marketing literature at your booth. Not everyone will want to speak with you. It’s nothing personal. Attendees are busy. So keep plenty of marketing literature, swag and business cards at your booth for quick retrieval by attendees.

8). Don’t scan and spam. Don’t waste time scanning every attendee who approaches your booth. Most of them probably are not going to be good prospects anyway. Take your time and engage in a conversation with attendees to determine if they are worth pursuing after the conference. I would rather return from a trade show with 50 good leads than 100 bad ones.

9). The last hour can be the most critical.  When the closing bell goes up, don’t be like everyone else and visit other booths for free (and better) drinks and food. Stay at your post. Some of the best orders I’ve received were from attendees who raced from booth to booth at the last-minute seeking information, and scheduling appointments after the show.

10). Collaborate with neighboring vendors. Right before the trade show begins, talk to neighboring vendors and see what they are offering. If they are not a competitor, form a quick alliance – if an attendees arrives at either of your booths that are not a good fit for you, but could be a good fit for the other vendor, encourage the attendee to visit the other booth. This could increase more traffic and sales for you. Plus it’s just good business.

Note: Like my post? Then please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

pcruciatti / Shutterstock.com (top photo credit).

AA-ISP Inside Sales Conference in Dallas, Nov. 3rd

The Inside Sales 2015 Conference series will be held in Dallas on November 3rd.

Topics will include the CRM Tools, Sales Training, Leadership and Coaching, Employee Motivation, and Lead Generation Services.

Duane Cummings, author and consultant, will be the keynote speaker. Mr. Cummings wrote The Sensational Salesman: A Second Chance Story: Providing a Simple Path to Improving Your Relationships, Career, and Life.


The book is a parable of a salesman who faces hardships but eventually rebounds with the help of mentors. The author focuses on both personal and professional development with lessons on building and maintaining relationships, setting goals and other tools you need to be successful.

The one day conference will also feature several popular speakers, including Steve Richard, Co-Founder & Managing Partner of VorsightBP, Josh Evans, SVP of Sales at Velocify, Marcheta A. Gardner, Client Manager at IBM, Nancy Munro, CEO of KnowledgeShift, and Sean Kester, Head of Product at SalesLoft.