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Get More from Your Trade Show
By Phillip M. Perry
So much to learn. So many people to see. And so little time.
If you face this predicament at your next trade show, you’re not alone. Confronted with crowded aisles and hectic booths, attendees too often return home with no more than a confused mass of general impressions.
Trade shows can be powerful tools for boosting business profits.
Read these tips from trade show experts:
Tip 1: Set your goals
“Before arriving at the show, make a plan with specific ‘keeper’ ideas,” says Mina Bancroft, a management consultant in Palo Alto, Calif. “Then prioritize them.”
Include specific descriptions of what you want to find at the show. Here are some possibilities: New products. Lower costs in existing lines. More productive lines. Select the best and list them in order of importance.
Next step: Translate your goals into an ‘A’ list of vendors to see. “Do some research on the show’s website to identify companies and booth numbers,” says Howard Friedman, a trade show consultant in Los Angeles.
Bonus tip: Ask yourself “What is the biggest problem I have in my business?” Write it down and take it to the show to get answers from exhibitors.
Tip 2: Strategize your walking pattern
Once at the show, it’s tempting to spend the first hours performing a walk-through. That can be a mistake.
“The last thing you want to do is shop the floor as you shop a flea market, just walking down the aisles and looking at things,” says Peter LoCascio, a Salem, Ore.,-based consultant. The clock moves quickly. He adds, “Too many times, a couple of hours before the show closes you’ll see people running through the aisles trying to get things done.”
Instead, use the show floor map to plot out your walking pattern so you can see the greatest number of vendors in the least time. Schedule a certain amount of time for each vendor on your ‘A’ list.
Bonus tip: Allocate tasks among other people from your business who are attending the show.
Tip 3: Take charge at booths
Deal with booth personnel efficiently. Determine early whether they are willing and able to answer your questions.
“Prepare some quick questions that pertain to your buying interests. If the booth people can’t answer those questions then you have to smartly move on,” says Bob Dallmeyer, a Los Angeles consultant.
Not all booth personnel are alike. “A well constructed booth has people at various levels,” says Bancroft. “One person will be at ‘in depth’ level; others will be at beginning and intermediate levels.” No in-depth person at the booth? You need to decide if you have sufficient interest to ask for an appointment with the right person.
Alternatively, obtain the contact information of a person to call after the show. If you are serious about learning more, you may wish to obtain the name and number of the local sales person in your territory.
Bonus tip: Save time by stating “I need to make a business decision” as you enter each booth. Then state the nature of the decision and ask how the vendor’s products will help.
Tip 4: Schedule appointments wisely
Remember that ‘A’ list of vendors? Make sure you see them all by scheduling advance appointments, either before you leave for the show or when you arrive.
“There’s nothing wrong with reaching out and saying ‘I would like to meet with a specialist on product X,’” says Friedman. “That will make your time more productive. And the exhibitor will be delighted.”
Bonus tip: Map the show floor to identify the booth locations of your ‘A’ vendors. Clustering your appointments by location will reduce walking time.
Tip 5: Take notes efficiently
Haphazard note taking can result in a confused mass of papers stashed on a shelf back home. That means you lose information critical to business success, including the names of key contacts.
Modern gadgets to the rescue. “We are seeing all kinds of new technologies to avoid the traditional business card exchange,” says Doug Ducate, president of the Dallas-based Center for Exhibition Industry Research.
“At some booths you can use computers to send yourself information about what you have seen,” says Ducate. “Push a button, and the information shows up on your smart phone and sits on your computer back at the office.”
“Old tech” — business cards and notes — has its place. “These can be great memory joggers to help connect the dots after the show,” says Friedman.
Bonus tip: More attendees are entering information into iPads. Digital notes are efficient for later review and also for passing along to others.
Tip 6: Pow-wow at quiet times
“When you go to a trade show, the individual who has paid for a booth is trying to sell you something that may be quite complex,” says Bancroft. “That means you must initiate a way to find out more about that item, and you can’t do that at the typical show floor, which is usually a chaos of noise and confusion.”
Solution? Schedule some ‘quiet time’. “Ask the booth sponsor to meet you for breakfast or lunch, where the quiet atmosphere allows you to go through the information you need to compare products.”
Bonus tip: Reduce travel time by scouting out a convenient venue for business talks before you meet exhibitors.
Tip 7: Allow for serendipity
Schedule your time, but leave some open space. One of a trade show’s strengths is a potential for ‘serendipity,’ or the discovery of unanticipated knowledge or connections. So leave time for random encounters.
“Everyone at the show wants to discover new things and meet new people,” says Friedman. Find opportunities to say hello to people.”
Bonus tip: Allow yourself fortuitous discovery by visiting lower profile booths.
Tip 8: Choose seminars wisely
Seminars are important to your bottom line. “We have found that 40 percent of today’s exhibit floor is devoted to concurrent sessions, up from 20 percent some years ago,” says Ducate. “People are looking to solve technical problems, and they will attend sessions that promise to do that.”
Attend those that deal with topics of immediate concern to your business. Ask yourself: “Will the information in this seminar help me solve a specific problem?”
Bonus tip: Reach better decisions by calling seminar leaders before the show for more details about a prospective presentation.
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