How to Make the Most of Trade Shows
Trade shows are a part of every industry. They can sometimes seem to be no more than expensive gabfests that take business owners and team members away from the office and diminish their productive hours, or else expensive networking opportunities but with no hard core business purpose.
But used correctly trade shows can be valuable relationship builders. Some are definitely going to be better at providing real business value than others. How can you make the most of the opportunities they represent?
As seasoned exhibitors know, trade shows are almost never going to be a lucrative short term investment in time and resources. They’re about contacts rather than contracts. Many B2B trade shows actually prohibit selling on the show floor.
But even if it’s impossible to close a deal while so much is going on around you, a trade show can set the stage for gaining work later on. A lot depends on the way the show is organized and the professionalism of the organizers.
Rob Clifton-Steele of the Jai Yen Investment Group had this to say: “I have found the most productive trade shows to be those where appointments are made in advance with interested buyers for 15 minute information sessions …By the end of the day one has spoken to 30 or so qualified contacts and has handed out materials to any passers by who show interest. Such shows are exhausting but produce good results.”
Doing some research about the show can pay big dividends. A show that’s targeting a mixed audience of trade and consumers is probably not going to cater for the serious businessperson. It’s also advisable to choose a show that’s established itself over a period of at least three or four years.
Trade shows offer a number of opportunities to raise your firm’s profile if you’re willing to spend some money. Displays are the heart of most trade shows and a good display will attract the right kind of prospects.
One Canadian consulting firm found the best results came from having a display that didn’t give everything away on the outside – delegates to the show had to come up and ask about the firm’s services, which they did because of the way the display was constructed.
Another proven display technique is to have a monitor or other visually attractive object set up at the back of the display to draw passers-by into the area where the selling content becomes visible.
Keep your display relevant to the theme of the show. If you’re exhibiting in the hopes of adding new automobile dealerships to your client list find a way to prominently incorporate the word ‘Dealers’ and an automotive graphic in the display.
The golden rule for exhibiting is to never set up a display that looks cheap. The appearance of your display is how delegates to an exhibition will remember you. It’s better to not exhibit than it is to try and do it on a shoestring.
Many trade shows incorporate workshops – breakout groups that focus on specific areas. You can sponsor or even take part in conducting a workshop if there’s a relevant place for you in it.
There are other little things every trade show participant should do. Always have a handout with your name and contact details on it. Make it something that the delegate will keep after the show. Make sure your display is staffed at all times by your most enthusiastic team members, and get the details of all contacts made at the show for follow up later.
Finally, if you do decide to take part in a trade show don’t forget to tell all your clients about it. If possible send them complimentary admission passes, often available to exhibitors at reduced or no cost. You never know who’ll show up!