The Basics of Being Trade Show Savvy

Posted on January 1, 2006 by LCT Staff - Also by this author

Seminars, new vehicles and products, networking, social functions and more — industry trade shows offer myriad opportunities for limousine operators to hone their craft, sharpen their skills, purchase products and meet others in the industry. Trade shows provide attendees dedicated time to focus solely on themselves and their company, without the day-to-day interruptions of running a business. But to make valuable (and profitable) use of their time, attendees need to first determine what they want to achieve at the show.

Just as some exhibitors seem to do their job better than others, there are attendees who get more out of a trade show by knowing how to do it. According to Margit Weisgal, president of Sextant Communications in Baltimore, an exhibit and event marketing consulting service, “Surveys show that today’s attendees are more qualified than ever before. Seven out of 10 use trade shows to make actual purchasing decisions and nine out of 10 gather information that leads to a buy. In addition, almost 40% of attendees have the ability to write a check.”

By their very nature, trade shows are planned with too much built-in, says Weisgal. Upon arrival you have to check-in at the hotel, pick up show guides, find where the shuttle buses are if the show is off-site, locate rooms for social events and possibly find friends and colleagues you haven’t seen since the last show.

Then there are the educational sessions, committee meetings, too much rich food, too much drinking, too little sleeping, too little exercise, and, in general, burning the candle at both ends, Weisgal adds. “By the time you get home you want to collapse but it’s back to the office and 40 phone calls to return — and that’s if everything goes well. We pace ourselves one way when we go through our daily work routine, but at shows, or any business travel, our adrenaline seems to run 24/7 because we’re not used to the tempo.”

Formulate a Game Plan
To fully capitalize on the opportunities the show has to offer, you need to do the legwork ahead of time. About a month prior to the show, Weisgal recommends setting up a file folder and placing pre-show mailings, invitations and any other show-related materials into the file. Be sure to also include a show floor plan and exhibitor list.

She also suggests printing out a list of vendors whom you’ve purchased from in the previous year and check to see if they will be exhibiting. If so, they should go on your “must-visit” list for a couple of reasons, says Weisgal. First, do they have any new products or services that would be beneficial to your company? Second, should you reacquaint yourself with the people you have regular contact with to reinforce your relationship?

Your “must-visit” list should also include each company’s booth number. Since exhibit hall hours may vary each day, make sure you schedule enough time to stop by their booths. Any extra time can be spent visiting lower-priority vendors. Keep this list in your folder, making a note of those who are most important.

The beauty of trade shows is that while on the show floor, attendees have the ability to compare apples and apples, says Weisgal. Here are vendors A, B, C, for example, and you have the opportunity to ask each one why you should purchase their product over another one. Also keep in mind that vendors are speaking with customers all over the world and they can share trends with you to help grow your business, Weisgal adds.

Many operators who attend industry shows can be categorized as those who are there to learn more about a product or vehicle they intend to purchase next year or those who have done their research already and plan to purchase a product or vehicle right now. Weisgal refers to this as “learning needs” and “buying needs,” respectively. Operators who are there to gather information on a product or vehicle and speak with different salespeople have an entire year to build relationships with these companies and are able to make an informed decision based on their knowledge.

Next, prepare a timeline for the seminars and workshops you want to attend. To help you make the best choices possible, you need to evaluate what areas of your business you want to improve upon, learn more about and possibly grow so you can choose the educational offerings best-suited to your needs.

According to Weisgal, “What drives the development of trade shows is the education available. This is the real reason trade shows exist.”

Once you’ve chosen your seminars and workshops, fill in the days, times and locations on your timeline. You should also write down any mandatory meetings you need to attend. Note all of these on your personal day planner as well.

Now it’s time to plan for social functions and extracurricular activities offered at the trade show. These can range from a cocktail reception to a charitable golf tournament. Not only are these gatherings entertaining and fun, but they also offer networking opportunities in a relaxed environment. Since you may not have the time, and in some cases, the resources available to attend every social event, you should choose the ones that will be the most advantageous for you and your business in terms of who will be attending.

Last, but certainly not least, keep some mealtimes open, if possible, to dine with others in the industry, such as a fellow operator or one of your vendors. This one-on-one time can be very valuable and productive.

Says Weisgal, “Once you’re at the show, it’s all too easy to say, ‘Let’s get together during the reception, the gala or at the hotel bar.’ These are social venues featuring lots of noise and hand-shaking so they’re not conducive to serious conversation. It is far better to set up a breakfast meeting at the hotel, for example, in advance of the show.”

Another option, prior to the show, is to schedule a meeting outside one of the seminar locations if you have some downtime before or after a class.

The final preparation stage is compiling show-related items such as your show folder, business cards, briefcase, notepad and pens, a hand-held tape recorder (highly recommended), paper clips and any other materials you will need.

As for what shoes to pack, since the countless hours of walking can wreak havoc on feet, women should wear casual low-heeled shoes and older, comfortable dress shoes. Both men and women should bring foot powder and apply it every morning and a good foot soak to use about 15 minutes before going out in the evening.

Weisgal suggests that right before you leave for the show or during your flight, take out your “must-visit” exhibitor list and floor plan from your show folder. Then, use a highlighter to mark those vendors you absolutely have to see and use a second color to mark booths that, if there is time, you’d like to visit.

Execute Your Agenda
Once at the show, attending the seminars and workshops is actually the easiest part because all you have to do is sit and listen and take notes. Plan to arrive a few minutes early so you have your choice of seat, and ready your notepad, pen and tape-recorder.

The most difficult part, however, is walking the exhibit floor because it’s time-consuming, challenging, and, at times, draining. Be sure to keep your map handy on your first show floor visit, which should be a complete walk-through without stopping, says Weisgal. Also, take this opportunity to pre-spot the location of your “must-see” vendors and make notes on which exhibitors you may want to add to this list. Your only stops should be to set up an appointment with those on your list for a later time, preferably one when the floor is less busy, she adds.

On your second show floor visit, call upon the exhibitors of particular interest, just to get a better feel for what is offered, suggests Weisgal.

Your last show floor visit should focus on the few vendors that appear to be best-suited for your needs. Weisgal recommends spending a little extra time with each of them to share information. At this point, you should decide whether you want them to call on you after the show. Depending on how much you accomplish, also use this time to see non-priority vendors or others that warrant another face-to-face discussion.

When it comes to talking with exhibitors, Weisgal says don’t just walk up to their booth and ask, “What’s new?” since this refers to anything you haven’t seen before and isn’t specific enough. “Vendors should be good resources on more than just their products or services. They should be problem-solvers, too,” she says.

After introducing yourself to a vendor, tell him or her what you need. Weisgal says a typical opening should be something like this:
“I am (name) with (company). My job (title) involves (talk about what you do). Our problem is (state your problem or need). Do you have any solutions for situations of this type?”

Also, if you received a pre-show mailer that perked your interest, mention this up-front. Do the same for a product or a service featured in the booth that catches your eye, Weisgal adds.

Once you’ve decided there is merit in continuing your conversation, close the discussion with what action you’d like next, such as, “Please call me on (day and time)” or, “I need to involve two others in this decision. Can you send information?” or, “Can we make an appointment?”

Evaluate Show Results
When you return to your hotel each night you should write a report on what transpired that day. This way, says Weisgal, two months down the road, when your memory has mislaid all those little details of who had what product, or where you saw that “perfect solution,” you’ll be able to look at your summary and find information that otherwise would be lost. If you are attending with others from your company, have a brief meeting each night to compare notes.

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