We’ve all been to industry events, and most of us have had success at them. But if you’re like me, you have walked away from at least one trade show and thought to yourself “I wish I would have done X, Y, and Z differently.”
During the Spring, there are events approaching left and right. Here are my nine tips, tricks, and tools to help you before and during the upcoming shows.
Know who you want to connect with, what your objectives are, and how you want to achieve them. If you walk into the expo center with no plan on how to tackle your goals, you will find yourself back-tracking, lost, and wasting time. Make a plan of attack for how you will see the show, during what times, and who you will run into where based on that plan. Measure your success at lunch the first day and adjust accordingly.
2. Be strategic with appointments
No need to waste 2 hours on a lunch with an account that is mediocre at best. Catch up with contacts in a 5-10 minute standing “huddle meeting” and reserve your lunches and evenings for contacts worth your time.
3. Know your stuff – come prepared with pricing, catalog sheets, order forms ready
You’ve got 5 – maybe 10 – seconds to convince me to stop walking, and only another 20-30 after that to help me engage on a deeper level. If all you know is the longer 10 minute pitch, you need to rehearse your 30 second elevator pitch and have at least 4-6 engaging lead ins on deck.
4. Know how to ask engaging questions
Too many salespeople rush in for the kill WAY too early. Before blabbing about your product, your new line, or your prices, ask questions about the people you interact with. Show genuine interest in their responses. The eventual “so what is your business all about” question will come up and when it does, your audience will be listening, and you will have something to connect your business to their interests, passions, or business.
Many pens smudge on business cards. Some shoes will take you out of the game. I carry a backpack to carry material so may hands can be free. A runner does not start a marathon without thinking through what she needs to finish. Whatever it is that will help you be most efficient and present at the event, bring your “gear” to support you. Even if at the end of the show it feels like you just ran a marathon, at least you made it to the end!
6. Do not sit down in your booth
This sounds simple, but I am SHOCKED at the amount of vendors I see sitting in their booths. IF you are going to play the stand and wait game and hope to get lucky at a booth style show, at least do the work to dress professionally and appropriately, wear a smile, stand up and towards the front of your display, and actively engage attendees. (This goes without saying, but having your eyes glued to your phone or computer in your booth doesn’t help, either. Surprisingly, I see it a lot!)
Eating right, drinking in moderation, and getting enough sleep and rest is a big deal when days last 12-14 hours. Bring healthy, protein packed snacks and eat every 2-3 hours, no matter what. If you wait until you are starving, you will gorge and then crash. I like a beer or a glass of wine in the evening after a long day, but the first nights of a trade show are not the time for me to kill my immune system and crash because “I went out for the night”. I try to sleep at least 7 hours and I like to get a workout done in the morning, even if it is only 10 minutes long. All of these things keep me energized and motivated beyond 11am.
Many think that being at a trade show means email and text goes on hold. It should be just the opposite. As your connections increase, you must be ready to follow up on conversations quickly before they dissipate out of the minds of your soon to be customers. Be sure you have a way to read and respond to emails, texts, and voicemails related to your event contacts AT LEAST daily. 3-5X a day is even better. I reserve 1-2 hours in the evening for emails when I am at shows.
9. Ask for the sale
Sure, you made “a ton of great connections” and came home with a stack of business cards. But what does that actually mean? If you have a conversation with a potential customer, do not be afraid to ask for the sale. When the timing is right, insert: “So what do you think, are we going to do some business together?”
My family has been to our fair share of trade shows in the past. In fact, my folks were so disgruntled by the format of typical booths shows in the 80s and 90s that they founded the National Lawn & Garden Show, creating a uniquely formatted industry trade show in 1995. I hope these tips keep you focused, productive, and healthy at your next industry event! Good luck!