Trade shows and conferences are generally quite costly to attend, but they also continue to be a gold mine for businesses that understand how to best utilize them to meet their needs. Here is a six step plan for making sure that you utilize your appearance at your next trade show or conference to maximum effectiveness.
1. Decide in advance exactly what you want to accomplish
In almost any industry, there are any number of trade shows or conferences that a business can make an appearance at. Understanding what your ultimate goals are will help you not only narrow down which conference or trade show you want to attend, but will help you plan for maximum impact once you are there. A trade show is about marketing and just like any other marketing, you will have a target demographic. Are you looking for new clients or consumers; to attract new talent into your entry level ranks; or for new leadership to fill out your executive staff? Understanding what your goals are will help you plan the most effective strategy for meeting those goals.
2. Set up appointments in advance
Don’t wait until the trade show or conference starts to begin reaching out to people. Find out who is going to be there and start setting appointments. Some businesses don’t even attend a conference unless they set up enough appointments in advance to make it worth their while to attend. Many trade show organisations offer to invite prospects on your behalf to the event. So you have a high chance to meet them there.
3. Make it worth people’s time to talk to you
You don’t have to give away a new car or a weekend getaway to get people to talk to you, but you can offer them pastries, chocolates, water, coffee or maybe even sandwiches. Whatever you offer, however, offer the best. If it’s worth paying the high cost of attending, then it’s worth paying to make sure that what you have to offer is the best. Regardless of whether you are trying to attract new clients or executive personnel, show them from the first moment you meet them that you want to treat them well. Think of the people you are meeting with as guests and treat them accordingly.
4. Respect people’s time and be aware of their cues
Going into a trade show or conference having an agenda is a great thing, but pretty much everyone there will also have an agenda. Pressuring them to abandon their agenda so that you can meet yours is not a good thing. Some people will be excited about what you have to offer and will genuinely want to hear more – and that moment may be their only chance to meet with you for some time to come. Other people are just not interested, while other people are interested but also have other meetings scheduled and don’t have the time to listen to an entire pitch.
It is in the best interests of you both for you to pay attention to the cues the people you are meeting with are giving off. Are they asking a lot of questions, paying close attention to what you are saying and not fidgeting or looking at what’s going on around them? Then you have their attention and they are not anxious to be elsewhere – so use that time wisely and carry on. If they are fidgeting, repeatedly looking at their watch, phone or what’s going on around them, then they are not interested. Rather than trying to push your product or service on someone who is not interested, you could be using your time more effectively to pitch to someone who is genuinely interested. If you come across someone who is not interested, give them contact information for the future in case they become interested, wrap things up quickly and move on to someone who is more interested.
Here I want to mention that you compete with 2 main challenges: 1.) the 20 other vendors fighting for every lead and 2.) the short attention span of prospects in the noisy environment of a trade show. Be aware of it. Organize a separate room for demo or in-depth talk, or – and that’s my preferred solution – plan a cool side event. I once invited the most interesting leads on a trade show to a dinner-boat-tour on the Amsterdam canales. Something every lead will remember and associate positive to you.
5. Plan a great booth to attract new leads and contacts
While it is important to reach out ahead of time and secure as many appointments as possible, it’s also important to leave some time and have a plan in place for attracting anyone you missed ahead of time.
6. Do immediate follow up
The best outcome is to set up an appointment for the days immediately following the conference or trade show, but otherwise, have people on hand to immediately start keying in business card information or other information gathered at the show (like from a prize giveaway or drawing). Have them send out a follow up email and make a LinkedIn connection on the spot. Being at the trade show put you on the radar, it’s important to then „strike while the iron is hot“ and do everything you can to stay there.