Whether your company is exhibiting, or you’re attending, standing out in the crowd and having a strategy to get the biggest ROI on your investment is critical to tradeshow success. Here are a few simple reminders and things to consider as you plan your tradeshow strategy and get ready to head out to the SHOT Show in a few weeks.
1. Stand by your brand. Your company has invested a lot in its brand and attending tradeshows. As a live representative, your job is to live the brand and represent your company effectively. Be prepared to easily and confidently tell someone what your company does and the benefits that it offers. You may want to practice delivering variations of your company’s messages using “question-based techniques” to actually engage in dialogue that will give you an opportunity to respond with targeted messages based on responses.
And don’t forget to polish your shoes. Looking professional, refreshed, and respectable goes a long way to differentiate you and your company in today’s “relaxed” business environment. Just because everyone is wearing flip-flops at Disney or in the casino, and even sometimes at the show, doesn’t mean you should follow suit (pun intended). Remember, you are the brand on the road. Dress appropriately.
2. Remember why you’re here. Tradeshows represent a great opportunity to network, learn, and engage with people that you might not have an opportunity to see but once a year. There’s a lot going on and it’s easy to lose focus. If you haven’t already done so, it’s not too late to layout a show strategy for you and your team. What are you realistically hoping to achieve by attending tradeshows?
Who do you want to see and for what reason? Who are the priority people? What does show success look like? What learning opportunities do you want to take advantage of; how will you use that information later? What challenges is your organization facing and what vendors or people do you want to see that might be able to help?
3. Stay on task. Once you’ve answered some of these questions, you can develop a strategy to help you use your time wisely by setting appointments ahead of time and having written objectives to keep you on task each day. I find it helpful to refer to these often and to make a list each morning and evening so that I don’t wander too far off schedule. With all the action and activities, it’s too easy to get off track and before you know it, an afternoon is gone and all you have to show for it is a pair of sore feet.
Also, if by chance you’re sending a team, or your staff, you might want to ask for a show plan. As a business owner and someone who has been around the tradeshow floor a few times, I’m often amazed at the number of “professionals” who spend a lot of time focusing on collecting “tchotchkes” and entering raffles and contests to win the latest handheld device or piece of technology. A little direction and setting expectations can help. And, in defense of those who love the promotional items and booth candy, being thrown into a large space with thousands of people isn’t easy for even the most extroverted attendees or exhibitors.
4. “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Speaking of expectations, I always have to tell myself that just because I’m going to be in the presence of, say, 1,000 of our hottest prospects, doesn’t mean that even one deal is going to be made. On the contrary, big tradeshows are great opportunities to put a name with a face, make a connection, and build and/or nurture relationships. Think about it this way, the person you are hoping to do business with, or collaborate with, is trying to do the same with others as well. And even if you’re about to sign a deal with a new customer, chances are their busy schedule might interfere with that transaction. I find that the best approach is to not try and do too much with any one individual or company. Instead, make connections, talk next steps following the show, and follow through.
5. Be a team player. Once you realize that you cannot do it all in a short-time frame, you might want to consider that you really CAN do a lot more if you work as a team. Have you ever had an experience where two people from the same company visit your exhibit at different times, both on a similar mission, but clearly not coordinated on the outreach effort? It gets worse when they are both representing the same company and products but have very different messaging.
I love to tell them that they just missed each other. These guys could cover more ground and make more connections if they worked together in a cohesive manner. And by doing so, they could also avoid communicating to others that they really don’t work as a team and don’t offer a coordinated effort or product.
Working with strategic alliance partners is another way to maximize your outreach strategy and time at tradeshows. Who else sells to the audience that you want to reach? Who else knows someone that you want to meet to help you expand your organization? Make these connections now and see how you might be able to help them as well. Referrals to a client or partner is a great way to solidify an existing relationship or help to open doors to a new one.
6. Mind your manners. Basic good manners really do transcend time and work for all occasions. A few things to remember: stay present with the people that you meet and make eye contact. This means you’ll need to not walk around checking email or spending a lot of time texting or on the phone. This is especially true if you’re exhibiting. The goal is to be approachable. Consider eating only at a table, sitting down if possible. Let’s face it, are you really going to approach anyone who is obviously eating lunch? Or who has their hands in their pockets or is busy texting?
And, of course, be sure to follow up with everyone you meet or have connected with by sending a thoughtful email with next steps.