Business-to-business trade shows are great! When you’re an attendee you can expect a virtual smorgasbord of vendors vying for your attention, and if you’re a vendor, there are plenty of businesses walking right by your booth you can turn into fans and customers of your products and services.
Regardless of your role, all you have to do is pack a small bag, travel to the venue, and hit the show floor, right? Unfortunately, if you use that approach, it won’t take long to realize that your failure to plan is indeed a plan to fail. Here are eight pro-tested tips to help you get the most out of your trade show attendance.
Flying by the seat of your pants may work in certain situations, but whether you will be attending a trade show on your own or you’re part of your company’s delegation, planning is critical. You may be able to make the decisions on your own but it’s more likely that multiple people will be involved. Get others invested and excited. Big investments are made in terms of time and money attending expos so choosing which ones will truly benefit your business aims matters. Do some research. There are far more shows that you’ll not attend than ones that you will.
Once you pick a show, lay out some specifics. Choose lodging that makes the show easily accessible. This can be in terms of proximity or available transportation options. Place emphasis, too, on who will attend.
It’s Who You Know…and Who You Need to Meet
In making your plan, you must determine early who will be most advantageous for you to contact. First priority should be those with whom you have a relationship. It’s best to contact them initially by email. Let them know that you’ll be in attendance and ask if they will be as well. It’s a nice touch to personalize the email. Make reference to your previous encounters, make a personal comment, or at least remind them that you know and care about their business. Don’t be surprised if they don’t respond immediately. Writing them early gives you time to send a second email or make a call without being bothersome.
For new contacts, check out their company website and other sources of information about them. This will help you write an introductory email to them and still make it engaging and focused.
Take Advantage of Social Media
Whether researching individuals or organizations, peruse their business and personal social media presence. They’ll be talking about their show attendance, and it can give great insight into what’s important to them. You can usually gain knowledge of people that are significant to them, especially using LinkedIn.
Post on your own profile your interest in the show. Use the knowledge you gain from other attendees and vendor posts to highlight areas of common interest. Don’t forget hashtags. Using ones for the show in general and ones that apply directly to companies you’re interested in visiting can alert them to your interest and enthusiasm.
Map Your Plan
Obtain a copy of the trade show map as soon as possible and check for updates because they often change as exhibitors evolve. Most shows’ maps include a list of exhibitors so that’s a great source for contacts, too.
Usually, shows make the map available early on their website or show app. If they don’t, contact the management of the show. Waiting to arrive at the venue to get one is too late. You’ll need the map to streamline your plan and plot the most efficient route of who you’ll see and when.
If the event has a Show Daily magazine, like CES or CEDIA Expo does, those issues often highlight room or booth changes made at the show and are a valuable resource beyond the articles.
What to Wear…and What to Avoid
The rules of what constitutes proper attire are not quite as strict as they used to be. Nonetheless, dressing appropriately communicates a sense of professionalism to others that will help you in your conversations. Remember that the goal is to impress your contacts with your competence, not your fashion bravado.
In general, the target zone is business casual. Bright colors and flashy adornments are discouraged. A suit for men isn’t usually necessary but think about your audience. A nicely pressed, button-up shirt topped with a sharp blazer is a good bet. So too are impeccably maintained slacks. Women have a few additional options such as choosing a skirt or trousers. Still, some form of a conservative outfit is perfect. A small splash of color also works well.
A Word About Shoes
One thing that’s certain about an industry trade show is that you’ll be walking a lot. You need one, and preferably, two good pairs of walking shoes. The universe of manufacturers that emphasize walking shoes that are appropriate for business wear include favorites like Rockport, Cole Haan, and Doc Martens but do your research. There are many others.
Athletic shoes are common for shows, but this isn’t the time to show off your edgy sneakers. They shouldn’t be too flashy or controversial. And always, they must be clean.
What to Bring
A backpack is a good start because you’ll need several things throughout the day and you’ll not be near your hotel. Have a supply of business cards readily available but keep your deep stock in the backpack or another bag. Your cell phone is essential, but have at least one backup charger at the ready. You should also have some pens and a small notepad. Don’t forget yourself. Have water on hand and likely some light snacks. Most people won’t find it necessary to tote a laptop around all day. Keep it in your room and use it after the floor hours.
Follow up. Always.
You can’t underestimate the value of following up with those you’ve met. Wait about a week after your encounter, then send an email thanking them for their time and valuable information. Again, form letters aren’t appealing so keep it friendly and collegial.