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.

10 things to consider before Exhibiting at a Trade Show

For most major companies, exhibiting at a Trade Show is a no-brainer. With large marketing budgets, they can afford to set up booths.

But when you are a small to mid-size company, exhibiting at a trade show can be a major expense. In fact, just attending one trade show could eat up half of your marketing budget for the entire year.

expenses for trade showsFor example, besides paying a registration fee, you have to consider the following expenses –

  • Airline or travel expenses.
  • Hotel room reservations and food.
  • Shipping fees of your booth and related supplies.
  • Marketing material to display and hand out during the show.
  • Scanner rental fee (for badges worn by attendees).
  • Ground transportation to and from your hotel and the convention center.
  • Designing the exhibit booth.
  • Labor Fees for unpacking and setting up your exhibit booth, and then tearing it down and packing.

According to Smart Trade Shows, the rental fee alone for floor space is about $20.00 per square foot, but the pricing will vary depending on the event, organizer, location and attendance. So for a 100 square foot booth area, you may be paying about $2,000.

(To help you budget your trade shows, please download the free “Trade Show Budgeting” booklet from Red Cedar PR and Marketing).

So, what should you consider before exhibiting at a trade show?

1). What are your goals?

Most companies attend trade shows to gather new leads, meet with existing customers or launch a new product or service. Others may attend to expand their brand awareness.

There is nothing wrong with those goals, but you need to ask yourself if you can achieve the same objectives without going to a trade show? With so many sophisticated social media and communication tools now at your disposal, attending a trade show at the early stages of your business may not be a good idea. For example, if your website is attracting and converting a lot of prospects into customers, or if you have a good outbound and referral sales campaign, is it really necessary to exhibit at a show? In addition, more companies than ever are conducting webinars, and offering free trials.

My suggestion – take a hard look at your budget and your goals before exhibiting.

2). Attend the Trade Show, but don’t Exhibit

Rather than exhibiting at a trade show, consider going as a regular attendee. Odd? Not really. As a regular attendee, you can spend time networking by walking up and down the aisles, and attending social events and workshops. If you know of key clients that will be at the event, you may want to schedule a lunch or dinner appointment. Plus, by going to the show as a regular attendee, it will give you a firsthand look at whether it may be a good event to exhibit next year.

3). Partner with another company or join a collective

Rather than pay for an entire booth space yourself, why not partner up with another company that is related to your industry but is not a direct competitor. In other words, share the booth space by having two display table and signs. Sometimes, you may join a collective a several companies and share a larger space. However, be careful with this approach – some trade show sponsors may frown upon this, or have very strict rules about who should occupy the space. So read the exhibit contract carefully before partnering up or joining a collective.

4). What are the best trade shows to attend in your industry?

If you have been in your industry for a while, you probably already know this answer, but it doesn’t hurt to dig deeper. In almost every industry that I’ve been in, there is always one or two “must go” trade shows – the ones that are so large and well attended that your phones don’t ring for nearly a week, or if you call your clients or prospects, they are not in the office because they are attending the “big” show.

However, exhibiting at large trade shows can be expensive. So maybe you should consider going to some local or regional events.

5). Does size really matter?

Large attendance at a trade show does not guarantee that you are going to get a lot or the best sales leads. You need to determine the type of prospects who will be attending the show to see if they match your client profile. Sure, the event may attract 10,000 attendees, but if only one percent of that number matches your client profile, is it worth the time and expense of exhibiting at the event? And even if one percent sounds good to you, there is no guarantee that all 100 attendees will even stop by your booth. To help you, some organizations will provide statistics on who normally attend the events, e.g., industry types, geographic locations, business size, etc. Read that information carefully. Ask good questions. Make sure that the attendees are in fact your best prospects.

6). Contact previous exhibitors for their advice

Most organizations will publish a list of previous or current exhibitors on their website. Obviously, this is done to encourage new exhibitors and make them aware, indirectly, that some of their competitors will be attending the event.

My suggestion – call some of the non competing exhibitors and solicit their advice. Maybe they can offer you some tips on how to be successful or if it’s a good idea to even attend.

traffic at trade shows7). How will the event organizer increase traffic at the exhibit hall?

It’s in the mutual interest of both the event organizers and exhibitors to have good walk through traffic during the trade show. As a result, many organizers will seek out sponsors to provide free lunches, and happy hour snacks and drinks throughout the event. However, it doesn’t hurt to ask specifically what the organizers plan to do to encourage high traffic.

8). Contact your clients for their advice

If you know that some of your clients have attended a trade show, contact them and find out if they think it’s worthwhile for you to attend the event. It doesn’t hurt to get the client’s perspective. And while you’re at it, why not obtain pointers from your clients on what they consider to be the best practices of exhibitors, and what they look for when they attend trade shows.

9). Does the event organizer have any advice?

If the event organizer has been sponsoring the trade show for several years, they may provide tips or a Q&A sheet on how to get the most bang for your buck while exhibiting. Of course, their advice is going to be bias because they want you to exhibit at the show; however, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

10). Networking

Will you have an opportunity to network to find clients? While most trade shows have after hour social events, sometimes just going to lunch or attending a workshop related to your product or service could be a great way to network. Review the agenda carefully to seek out the best networking opportunities. Also, keep your eyes and ears open for the exclusive social events with high attendance.

To learn more on how to be effective at trade shows, I recommend that you read How to Get the Most Out of Trade Shows, by Steve Miller.

Also, please check out some of my previous posts on trade shows, including “What to bring during Trade Show,” “Good Questions to Ask during Trade Show,” and “What to do after Exhibiting at a Trade Show.”

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

What to do after exhibiting at a trade show

You just returned from your first trade show. You are both tired and excited. You have plenty of leads to call. You are anxious to start dialing.

But before you start making any calls, what did you learn from the trade show? What were the key takeaways?

It’s always a good idea to sit down with others who attended the show with you and analyze how well you did, and how you could improve at the next show.

trade show, exhibit boothsHere is a checklist of what you should discuss –

1). Did you obtain the number of leads that you expected? If you have gone to the same trade show in the past, that should be a good measuring stick on how well you did. If you fell short this year compared to last year, what happened? Was attendance down compared to last year? Were you in a bad location? Was your booth too small? Did you have enough people managing the booth this year compared to last year? Could you have done a better job publicizing the event prior to exhibiting at the show?

If this is the first time your company attended the trade show, did it meet your expectations? If not, what do you think happened? Would you attend the same event next year?

Sometimes it’s not the quantity but the quality of the leads that matter. Sure, maybe you had fewer leads than expected or the year before, but if you need a better job this year qualifying your leads, you may actually obtain better sales.

2). Exhibit Booth Location. Were you in a location with good walk-thru traffic? If not, is there a better location that you can select for next year? At most trade shows that I’ve attended, the prime location is always near the front entrance. However, that location is usually expensive. The next best location is at a corner, or near a heavy walk thru area like the rest rooms or food court area. Depending on the number of exhibitors, booth location may not make much of a difference. For example, I’ve attended trade shows where you only had 15 to 20 booths. So no matter where you were located, you would expect prospects to eventually stop by.

3). Exhibit Booth Size. Was your booth large enough to attract more prospects? If not, does it make sense to make the booth larger next year? At larger trade shows were you have 50 or more exhibitors, and 5,000 plus attendees, size does matter. Depending on the length of the trade show, not all attendees are going to have time visiting each booth. So if you have a larger booth, have more displays, and have more literature, you stand a better chance of attending more prospects.

4). Pre Show Publicity. Did you do enough to publicize that your company was exhibiting at the trade show? Did you promote the event well on your website? Did you send out enough emails to your clients and prospects before the show? Did you use social media (e.g., Twitter, Facebook) effectively prior to exhibiting at the show?  If you were lucky enough to obtain the attendee list prior to the show, did you do an effective job publicizing your booth? Would it have been a good idea calling attendees prior to the show?

5). Enough Booth Coverage. Did you have enough people working the booth this year? Did you have too many attendees walk away because there weren’t enough employees managing the booth to help them?

I hope the above checklist will help you in future trade shows. Please let me know if you have any suggestions.

 

How to prepare for a trade show

You paid your dues. You worked hard in the inside sales department. Now it’s your turn to join some of the senior sales reps to your first trade show with the company. Great! But wait – how do you prepare for a trade show?

Besides making a list of what to pack and places to see while attending the show, you need to come up with a game plan. Hopefully, your company has attended enough trade shows that they have a good sales and marketing plan in place. But what about you – the first timer? How are you going to be successful? How are you going to obtain good leads and shine in front of your colleagues? How are you going to look good in front of your prospects and clients?

Here are some tips –

1). Research the show – study the agenda, workshops, and speakers. Get a clear sense of the type of prospects who will be attending the show. Also, review YouTube clips or videos of previous shows. These days, most show organizers post videos of past shows to promote the event, and to encourage more attendance and exhibitors for future shows.

2). Talk to your colleagues – get their advice on how to do well at the show.

3). Notify your clients and prospects that you are attending the show – yes, you expect your employer to announce that your company will exhibit at the show, but you need to take a more “hands on” approach. You could send out a short email to your clients and prospects announcing that you will be attending the event, and encourage them to stop by. You could casually trade show exhibit boothbring it up in conversations.

4). Schedule important meetings – if you have major clients or prospects that you know will be attending the event, schedule a meeting with them while at the show. Or better yet, invite them out to dinner.

5). Ask your prospects and clients for advice – if you know that some of your prospects and clients will be attending the show, ask them for their advice. What do they hope to get out of the show? Why are they attending the event? And more importantly, is there anything you can do to help them while they are at the show?

6). Find out if your competitors are attending the show – for the record, I really don’t worry about competitors – I worry about making sure I’m doing a good job for my clients. With that said, it doesn’t hurt to know if your competitors are attending or not. This way you can be prepared if someone comes up to you during a show and says “your competitor at the booth two rows down claims your product isn’t any good, what do you have to say about that?” Hopefully, you have been in sales long enough to know how to handle this question.

You also need to be prepared if your competitors come to your booth. Now, hopefully your competitors will be professional and polite. I’ve attended trade shows will competitors will stop by briefly at our booth, shake hands, and wish us well. In short, we exchange some pleasantries, and then we go about our business. On the other hand, I’ve attended a couple of events where competitors will act like total jerks. In that situation, you need to remain cool, be polite, but assertive enough to ask them to leave. After all, you have a limited time to gather leads, so wasting it with competitors is not good time management nor good business.

I hope my tips are helpful.  Please let me know if you have any tips that you would like to share.
photo credit: MedicalTourismAssociation via photopin cc

Trade shows – what to expect

January is here, and that means many organizations are beginning to sponsor conferences for their members. This also means you may have an opportunity to work at a trade show by representing your company at an exhibit booth.

I’ve attended more than 20 trade shows in different industries. The trade shows have ranged between 500 to 10,000 attendees. The number of exhibitors have ranged between 15 to 200 plus. But no matter how large or how many attendees are at the show, there are some common things you are expected to do or prepare for.

Here they are –

1). You are expected to arrive at least one day early to set up a booth. This is common sense. With high flight delays these days, it’s a given that you arrive a day early to set things up. Most exhibit sponsors have strict time limits as to when you must arrive, set up your booth and then leave the exhibit hall. You are also expected to pack up and leave at a certain time. If you pack up too early, you could be penalized by the exhibit sponsor. You also may not be allowed to attend the event next year.

2). Expect to be on your feet most of the day. While you may have short breaks and even grab a little lunch, if you want to gather some good leads, and meet and greet your customers, you are expected to work the booth hard. (Suggestion – wear comfortable shoes).

3). Most conference sponsors will have lunch or social gathering events in the exhibit hall to attract walk-through traffic. There are pros and cons to this. While you may get some good leads, chances are you are going to deal with attendees with food their mouths who will only give your presentation just scant attention. Don’t be offended. It happens. (BTW, don’t eat food at the booth. That’s rude).

4). You are dealing with two types of attendees. First are the serious prospects who want to hear about your solution to their problem, and second are sovereign hunters who want to collect bags of swag for their kids or co-workers. As you work more trade shows, you will begin to develop an eye on who’s serious and not serious. (Suggestion – always a good idea to collect some swag for your co-workers who couldn’t attend the show. Shows goodwill on your part).

5). Social Network opportunities are common place at most shows. Some companies will rent a hospitality suite or area for one night or throughout the show. But most of the time, people will gather at the local watering hole or restaurant. It’s a great way to meet customers and prospects in a more intimate setting without all the hustle and bustle of a trade show floor. Have a drink, talk, exchange business cards, and hopefully develop some deals in the process. (Suggestion – just watch how much you drink. Word of mouth spreads very easily in most industries).

If you have a chance to attend a trade show this year, good luck to you! I wish you much success.

What we all want at trade shows - prospects coming to our booth!

What we all want at trade shows – prospects coming to our booth!

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore / Foter / CC BY-SA