Attending trade shows is a huge investment.
First, you are spending a lot of money on conference registrations, hotel reservations, travel, and meals. You may also pay extra fees to attend exclusive breakfast or lunch workshops.
And let’s not forget, you will be spending even more money to attend evening social networking events. While some networking events are free, some vendors may charge a small fee to weed out freeloaders and curiosity seekers.
And second, you are spending time away from your office. Sure, you can bring along your laptop and respond to emails. You may be able to squeeze in some extra work between workshops or the early mornings or late evenings. But you know from experience when you return to the office, you will have a pile of work waiting for you.
So, how can you be sure you are investing your money and time to be successful at trade shows?
Here are ten tips to help you –
First, define your goals. Why are you going to a trade show? Do you want to make new contacts? Do you want to learn more about your industry? Do you want to catch up on the latest news and gossip that you’re not finding in trade publications? Regardless of your reasons, have some specific goals in mind before going to a trade show.
Second, select the right vendors to meet. If your goal is to buy new products and services, do your homework before attending a trade show. Most trade show organizers provide a list of all vendors on their website who will be participating in the event. Links to vendor websites provide a brief description of each company and their specialty.
Take full advantage of that information. You may want to contact some vendors in advance to view an online tour or do a free trial. Or, better yet, schedule an appointment with some vendors at the trade show to save time.
Third, go to evening social networking events. Many vendors will sponsor social networking events to meet and greet potential customers. While you may pay for some events, if you visit a booth and show real interest in the vendor, you could receive a free or discounted pass.
Fourth, let the vendors pick up the tab. Let’s say you are a high paying, high flying customer, and the vendor wants to wine and dine you. Great. Let him.
Fifth, make sure the right people attend. If you are an employer, you most likely will want to take part in a trade show. But, in most cases, you will invite some of your employees to attend too. I would recommend asking your sales and marketing people to go with you. With more employees attending, you can use a “divide and conquer” approach by spreading everyone out to meet key vendors on the exhibit floor.
Sixth, prepare for a long day. Attending a trade show can be exhausting. I’ve attended more than 30 trade shows in my career. Based on my experience, trade shows can last two to three days. According to Spingo’s post “20 Powerful Stats on the Value of Trade Shows and Expos,” the average attendee spends 8.3 hours viewing exhibits.
That’s a lot of time on your feet.
To prepare for those long hours, bring along a knapsack. Or, even better, bring a small carry-on suitcase so you can wheel around all your content. This way, you don’t hurt your back with all the swag and literature you will pick up. I always pack a small notebook, laptop, business cards, water, snacks like protein bars, and cell phone.
Seventh, ask succinct questions. Most experienced salespeople know that they should ask qualifying questions of attendees. Their goal is to determine if they are a good fit for what they’re selling. But trade shows can make even the most harden salesperson giddy with excitement.
With all the potential leads approaching his exhibit booth, a salesperson may disregard his training. He may do a “product vomit” on you, i.e., tell you everything under the sun about his products and services before having a chance to qualify you as a good lead. Or worse, he may ask you to watch a long video presentation with the promise of giving you…yes, you guessed it, more swag to pack and take home.
To avoid lengthy and unnecessary visits at exhibit booths, don’t ask the age-old questions, “What do you sell or what do you do?”
Instead, ask this question –
“What kind of problems do you solve?”
That question gets to the heart of why you are attending trade shows. If the salesperson at the exhibit booth can help solve your problem, keep talking. If he can’t solve your problem, keep walking.
Eighth, take advantage of early-bird specials. If you know for sure that you want to attend a specific trade show, then see if the event sponsor is offering early bird specials or discounts. The discounts usually apply not to conference registrations but hotel reservations too. Depending on the popularity of the event, you may want to book a hotel room early.
Ninth, sparely hand out business cards, and avoid being scanned by too many vendors. I know it’s tempting to hand out your business cards to everyone you meet. I also know you want to be polite when a vendor asks if they can scan your conference badge for your contact information.
My advice is to be careful who you give out your contact information to, or you may end up getting flooded with spam and bombarded with phone calls. Since your time is valuable, you only want to connect with vendors that you feel will help your business. So be selective about who you give your contact information to.
And please – don’t fall for the old trick of dropping your business card in a jar to win a prize. Based on my experience, I’ve seen some vendors selectively and strategically pick a prospect’s card to “win” an award. Why? So they can curry a favor with the winner and get a large order. The remaining cards are for lead generation.
And finally, have fun. Trade shows can be stressful. You don’t have to stick with a rigid schedule. So, wander the exhibit hall for a while. Go to a couple of booths that aren’t on your list. Take some swag. Make new contacts. Develop new ideas. Go to lunch outside the exhibit hall to clear your head.
Trade shows are a learning experience. The more information, contacts, and ideas you take away from a trade show, the better chance your company will be more successful.
Don Lee is the author of Jumpstart your Sales Career, Help for New Salespeople.