There are many reasons to attend trade shows. Whether you have developed products that you want to license or sell wholesale, or you’re a prospective buyer interested in finding products, services, and solutions to meet your growing business needs, attending a trade show specific to your industry provides a powerful opportunity to network with other industry professionals and expand your business goals.
For three whole days, an exhibition space is filled with countless companies. Each occupies a booth where they display, showcase, and demonstrate their latest products, technologies, solutions, goods, services, or merchandise. Because an entire industry is concentrated under one roof for a condensed period, a trade show offers an incredible opportunity to get down to business, but in order to stay focused and cost-effective–trade shows can be remarkably pricey–you will need an organized plan of attack if you want to make the most of your investment.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
As mentioned above, trade shows are expensive regardless of whether you are a buyer or a seller. There are certainly ways to save money, of course. You could opt not to rent a booth and instead walk the trade show and connect with targeted industry professionals freely. You could also opt against staying in the same hotel as the convention, which is often a five-star, and quite expensive, establishment. But even if you get thrifty, lowering your trade show expenses won’t matter if you aren’t attending the best trade show in your designated field. First, thoroughly investigate the trade show that you’re considering by visiting its website. What companies are registered to attend? While the registration process may unfold slowly and not all interested attendees have signed up, you can review last years attendees to get a sense of which companies tend to go to that trade show annually. Depending on your industry, there could be several trade shows in different cities across the country every year and a lot of the same companies, especially the larger ones, might be in the annual habit of going. So, after researching all of your trade show options, go with the one that guarantees the most bang for your buck, i.e. it has the highest number of professionals that are on your targeted networking list.
Every trade show has its own set of policies, rules, and regulations for attendance. Luckily, most trade shows offer substantial discounts for early registration. You will have to do a little homework in this regard, but there are a hefty number of trade shows with registration fees that increase as the event date nears. An early bird registration could save you hundreds of dollars as opposed to registering two weeks or even one month out. The downside to early registration is mainly that the trade show’s website will only list registered companies and professionals so you might find a very short list at the time you register early. That doesn’t mean that the biggest names in the industry won’t attend, but as more companies register, their names will gradually appear so that by the time the event arrives, every registered attendee will be listed. While registering early might feel like a gamble for this reason, remember that if you’ve properly researched the trade show, then you already know the “usual suspects” that attend every year, and this should set your mind at ease. If you find, on the other hand, that a trade show you would like to attend will not allow you to register due to the fact that your business does not qualify–for example, a retail trade show will only allow retailers and wholesalers to register–don’t give up just yet. Qualified attendees often receive extra trade show passes. It will require a fair amount of legwork on your end, but if you call the trade show ahead of time, you may be able to secure a badge or pass from a qualifying company.
COMMIT TO THE CONVENTION HOTEL
While you could definitely book a room at the same hotel where the trade show is being held–and if you can afford it, this option is ideal–at the very least you must commit to staying as close to the trade show location as possible if you want to get the most out of the industry trade show you’re attending. The fact of the matter is that most trade show attendees will have booked hotel rooms so that they, too, can stick to the convention center, or as close to the convention center as possible. The reason for this is that the networking opportunities do not end once the convention floor is closed for the day. There will be ample business opportunities unfolding all around the convention center, including in the hotel lounges, restaurants, bars, and lobbies. Heck, even the hotel gym and indoor pool could be places where you finally get one-on-one time with the top industry professionals on your meet-and-greet list. If you choose to instead stay at a less expensive hotel or motel to save money, at least commit yourself to being in the convention center and trade show hotel as much as humanly possible so that no mingling opportunities go to waste. This could mean leaving the hotel bar at 2am, stealing a few hours sleep, and then returning to the hotel lounge bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. That being said, getting the most out of attending a trade show is work. Hard work. Period. Which means that if you’re networking until 2am at the bar, make sure the drink in your hand is non-alcoholic, or else you risk not lasting very long as the days wear onward.
PLAN & EXECUTE YOUR OBJECTIVES
Prior to showing up at the convention center, you should organize your goals and objectives, plan out a daily to-do list, and once you arrive at the trade show, stick with and execute your daily missions. The website of the trade show will include both a list of all of the attendees and a floor plan that shows which companies are occupying which booths. These are the two most important tools at your disposal up until the day you set foot on the convention floor. Attending any trade show when you aren’t a salesperson in a booth requires a lot of walking… you might even walk the equivalent of a marathon by the time the trade show is over! You can save yourself time, confusion, and blistered feet, if you use the floor plan information and carefully map out and order the companies and industry professionals you would like to connect with. Even if the trade show you’re attending is smaller and doesn’t have this information on their website, the actual convention center will. Arrive early and study the wayfinding maps available. If you already have the list of companies and professionals you want to hit, you can map out your daily plan of attack right then and there. What you don’t want to do, however, is assume that going with the flow and milling about will be productive. Most trade shows are massive. Some exhibition spaces occupy multiple floors. The more research and planning you can do ahead of time, the better. Once you accomplish your daily to-do, or “talk-to”, list of objectives, then and only then can you meander at your leisure and chat with professionals who are completely new to you.
DRESS FOR SUCCESS
Otherwise known as “dressing the part”, you will want to dress for success. If you’re a high-fashion designer who has invested in a booth to display your fall/winter clothing line, you aren’t going to do yourself any favors by showing up dressed in a corporate skirt-suit–too stuffy! Instead, wear pieces from your line! If you’re attending an athletic goods trade show, it’s okay to dress in athletic attire, but never do so if the trade show is all about gaming and A.I. That being said, pay special attention to your footwear, because as we mentioned earlier, chances are you will be doing an unbelievable amount of walking. Ladies, if you must wear heels, pick a sensible pair that you’ve already broken in and can trust. This is no time to compromise comfort with a brand-new pair of Jimmy Choos! Remember, smiles sell and grimaces are hell!
BRING BUSINESS CARDS
Yes, it’s 2020, and yes it seems like everything–and we mean absolutely everything–is digital these days, but if you’re attending an in-person trade show, then you’re going to have to do a lot of real-life networking, which includes exchanging business cards with other industry professionals. You want their cards, and you also want them to have yours. You may be asking, why? Couldn’t you simply verbalize your email address and telephone number? Of course, you could. But wouldn’t the other person just jot it down anyway? If you leave it up to the other person to correctly write down your contact information in a legible way, then you run a serious risk of never hearing from them again. Invest in printing business cards. It’s a worthwhile expense. Be hypervigilant about collecting the business cards of the professionals and companies on your objectives list. Also, if you’re attending the trade show with the goal of selling goods, solutions, or services, be sure to have a stack of neatly printed sell-sheets stowed in a sturdy, professional-looking folder that is on hand with you at all times. You never know when you’ll meet an important contact and you’ll want to be ready, whether you’re in the hotel lobby, the exhibit floor, or one of the elevators.
COLLECT EVERY PIECE OF LITERATURE YOU CAN
In addition to collecting business cards, you’ll also want to pick up a copy of every piece of literature you can. This includes the printed materials available at each convention booth, as well as the printed materials that the trade show distributes and also the materials of your competitors. Studying the innovations of your competition, and also how they brand and market themselves on their materials, will be extremely enlightening once you return home after the trade show.
WHEN BOOTHS ARE PACKED, HANG BACK
The convention floor brings a certain, indescribable ebb and flow. If you’ve ever attended a trade show, then you know what we’re referring to. One moment, a booth could be packed and the next, completely empty except for a few winded salespeople. While adhering to your daily talk-to list and following the mapped plan you’ve devised, you may come to a booth that is so full of professionals that it’s virtually impenetrable. When this happens, hang back. If you approach when the top sales personnel are swamped, you run the risk of speaking with an assistant, or worse, an intern. Be mindful, however, that sometimes hanging back is all the invitation a hungry intern needs to see in order to pounce. Again, you didn’t pay big bucks to speak to a college freshman, simply move on to the next booth on your list, but make note to circle back at a later time. Along the lines of the ebb and flow of any given trade show, you will also come to find that the first day can seem like a madhouse, whereas the third-and-last day can look somewhat vacant because many companies have packed up their booths and left town. For this reason, you might structure your daily objectives so that you are interacting with more professionals on day two, as opposed to the first and last days.
BEING APPROACHED IS MORE VALUABLE THAN APPROACHING
Unless a salesperson is approaching you, they aren’t mentally and administratively ready to give you their full attention. This is why it’s far more valuable to allow the salesperson to approach you, rather than proceeding the other way around. While approaching even the booth itself can feel intimidating, especially if it’s your first trade show, you can still make good use of your time by perusing the materials on display in the booth and mentally organizing how you would like to execute your objectives. This is also a productive time to observe how the sales personnel are interacting with other professionals in the booth. You might overhear valuable information to make note of. When you are eventually approached by a salesperson, try not to feel rushed or the need to instantly dive into your questions and objectives. It’s beneficial to take a moment to breathe, connect on a human-to-human level with the salesperson, and also compliment them on what you admire about their company. Once you get to the meat of your discussion with the salesperson, be sure to ask interactive questions, such as “can you show me how this (product) works?” If you lead with curiosity and questions, it will naturally inspire the salesperson to be curious about you, your business, and your reason for attending the trade show. Forging a business connection that’s rooted in genuine and mutual interest will always be more beneficial in the long run. Before you part ways and leave their booth, be sure to exchange business cards and also give them your sell-sheet so that you have something tangible to discuss when you follow up with them after the trade show.
BE DISCERNING BEFORE BUYING
While we trust you’ve done extensive research prior to attending the trade show, you will still need to look out for red flags if you’re a buyer who wants to find the best solutions for your business. There are distinct characteristics to look for in a salesperson that can indicate the integrity and value–or lack thereof–of the company they represent. So, what are the signs that a salesperson is trustworthy versus the signs that they aren’t? Reliability is number one when it comes to the characteristics of a trustworthy salesperson and company. If you’ve made an appointment with either the company or a particular salesperson, then when you show up on-time at their booth, they should be ready for you. If instead, that salesperson has impulsively jumped on a walk-in professional and is proceeding as though you’ll patiently wait while they sell to the new prospective buyer, then what you’re looking at is a lack of reliability. If you can’t rely on this company to keep an appointment, can you really rely on larger deadlines, contracts, and commitments? Once you’re speaking with the salesperson, ask yourself, are they investigating your business needs in order to offer you relevant products and services? Or does it sound like they’re reciting a script they’ve rehearsed a thousand times? It’s imperative that your time isn’t wasted and salespeople who want to sell you every item in their booth with no regard for whether or not you need it, aren’t being respectful of your time. This characteristic goes hand-in-hand with the next critical characteristic to look out for in a salesperson, namely honesty. Salespeople should know if a product is right for you or if it doesn’t meet your needs no matter how great it is. If that salesperson is still trying to strong-arm you into add-on products that are costly and unnecessary, then you know you’re dealing with a company that cares more about profits than customer satisfaction. Be certain to note how the salesperson responds to your questions and also pay attention to the questions they ask you. If they aren’t deeply probing to find out the extent of your business needs, then they might not be committed to doing all that they should for you. Another highly revealing strategy to discover the salesperson’s, and the company they represent’s, integrity level is to observe how they interact with other potential buyers. Does the salesperson have current customers that are stopping by their booth to chat? Are they demonstrating a positive rapport with the professionals who they already do business with?
There was a reason you collected business cards and company materials while you were at the trade show. Once you return home after the trade show, take some time to organize yourself in terms of which companies and professionals you plan to follow up with and what exactly you plan to say and accomplish on those calls. Don’t wait longer than a week to follow up with people or else you will run the risk of being forgotten. When you do follow up, remain open minded to their ideas, but be sure to assert your own objectives, too. You want to do business with them so share your vision and aim to lock-in the next step towards working together while you’re on the phone. And we mean that literally. Your follow up efforts should involve the telephone. Emails are more useful as follow-ups to phone calls, because with emails you can recap what was discussed during the phone call and that way you’ll keep everything in writing.
BUSINESS UP FRONT, PARTY IN THE BACK
We’ll give you a moment to stop chuckling. No, we aren’t referring to the best haircut that ever was or will be, otherwise known as the 80’s mullet. We’re actually referring to the attitude you should carry yourself with throughout the duration of the trade show. We strongly recommend that while you take the experience seriously, make the most of every interaction, and never forget that you’re there to promote and grow your business–you’re there to work!–you should also challenge yourself to adapt depending on the setting. Are you at a meet-and-greet that’s scheduled before a lecture or demonstration? The atmosphere will be different in that instance than at one of the booths, which means that you can modify your attitude to match. There are moments to be assertive and there are times to remain relaxed. Never overlook the particular setting and just as you’ve dressed the part, be sure to also read the room and act the role as well.
Those are the twelve must-do tips that will help you to get the most out of the next trade show you attend, but what if the next trade show you register for is a virtual one? Due to the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19, many trade shows are in the process of considering, and also switching, to a virtual space, i.e. holding their entire convention online. Does that mean that the twelve tips we covered in this article are irrelevant? In fact, all of the advice we’ve given is applicable, except you could probably get away with wearing whatever shoes you would like! So, in addition to what you’ve learned so far, what else do you need to know in order to be successful when attending virtual trade shows?
Let’s first be clear, a virtual trade show is still very much a trade show, which means that you’ll want to prepare and plan your attendance with the same thorough and strategic organization that you would for an in-person trade show. However, we recommend you take the following additional measures:
• Invest in a virtual booth–they’re far cheaper than the real thing
• Pre-book virtual meetings with leads–make sure every meeting is a video-chat, not a phone call
• Think strategically about the salespeople you want to meet with who won’t pre-book–how will you “catch” them when you can’t literally “see” them?
• Create a virtual business card to distribute–take advantage of GIFs, video, and other technologies that can make your business card interactive
• Prepare attention-grabbing visuals for your products & services to include with your sell-sheets, if applicable
• Utilize online organizational tools and keep active computer documents–perhaps the greatest perk of virtual trade shows is that you can keep organized while you attend, because you’ll be sitting at your computer anyway
If you’re interested in digital business solutions and would like to connect with the FTx team, please do not hesitate to book an appointment with one of our dedicated sales reps. FasTrax is registered to attend the following trade shows:
Smoker Friendly Conference & Tobacco Festival
August 27 & 28, 2020
The Omin Interlocken Hotel, Broomfield, CO
October 12 – 14, 2020
Las Vegas Convention Center, Las Vegas, NV
Find us at Booth #5877
Tobacco Plus Expo International
January 27 – 29, 2021
Las Vegas Convention Center, Las Vegas, NV
Find us at Booth #1014 or Contact Lea Edmondson LeaEdmondson@tobaccobusiness.com