5 Tips to Make Attending a Trade Show a Success

Make Trade Shows a SuccessThe corporate version of dating & relationships, Trade Shows can be brilliant places to locate new suppliers and re-enforce existing relationships with suppliers and their staff.

However, there is a huge difference between just attending a Trade Show and making the event super productive, leaving with new supply leads and your existing suppliers thinking you’re fab!

This how-to-guide gives you five practical topics and plenty of tips that you can use when you visit your next trade show to make it truly rock!


Tip #1 – Be Prepared

Be PreparedNope no scout badges here, dib-dib-dob-dob… but the saying is true, “be prepared” before you attend.

This is not just the day before, this is two weeks before.

Almost all trade shows now have online sites which include exhibitor lists. Print them off or copy them to excel and identify which ones you wish to visit and speak with and which ones are existing suppliers.

Similar to the exhibitors list, it’s very common for there to be a floor plan available too, after all the exhibitors pay good money to speak with you and they are assigned blocks of land rented for the duration of the show.

Print the floor plan out and work out where each supplier is going to be based, put stars on the suppliers on your print out, one colour for existing and one colour for new suppliers.

Your Check List:

Follow these tips to prepare before the event so you know where you are going and who you need to see while you’re there.

  1. Print out the exhibitors list
  2. Print out the exhibitors floor plan
  3. Identify which exhibitors you need to visit
  4. Mark them on your floor plan with stars one colour existing suppliers and one colour for new suppliers

Matt’s Note:
If this is a new trade show for you and don’t have any existing suppliers, that’s OK, you’ll just have one colour of stars on your floor plan print our and take special note of special section that follows shortly for doing your homework with new suppliers.

Tip #2 Use the Cafe Area as a Base Point

It’s important to locate where the cafe/rest areas are too. This isn’t because of my obsession with coffee, this is is because you’ll need a base to work from.

After working through a couple of suppliers, take a break for a few minutes. This allows you to be composed for the next meeting, take notes from previous meetings and just take a break from all that chatting.

Trade shows can be really busy events and if you can help a sales rep or account manager break away from the stand for a few minutes, they’ll drop their guard down and move partially away from their business mode and move into social mode.

Don’t be afraid to ask others to meet you at the cafe area for a soft drink.

We want the buyer-seller relationship to be a personal one, the moment you can turn it into a social one too, even if it is a few minutes over a drink, you’ve just broken the normal “business cycle” on the stand and helped them escape, all for the price of a cup of tea or a bottle of coke.

Your Check List

  1. On your floor plan, circle the cafe area
  2. Use this circle to invite an existing account manager or sales rep to join you, if not straight away, later at a set time.
  3. Try and keep the meeting’s as one on one, two at most.
  4. If you are a smoker, take chewing gum!

Matt’s Note:
If it’s just one or two people on the stand, do them a favour, go get them a drink and bring it back to their stand.

Favours are repaid with favours (see this book for why), this is something I do at every public event I go to, try it and they’ll remember you for it.

Tip #3 Existing Suppliers First, Then New Suppliers

If you’re anything like me then talking to new people can be scary, so instead, stick your toes in the water by speaking to existing suppliers first.

“Oh I just saw the new products X at lunch/over coffee with Supplier XYZ”

You already have relationships with them so it’s much easier to speak with them and remember your sales rep or account manager is going to be in the same situation, they’ll prefer talking to existing clients for short periods of time because you’re familiar to them.

As a bonus of not only getting you warmed up, if planned correctly, arrange lunch or coffee with an existing sales person or account manager for later that morning, so that you can use this as a reference point in conversation with a new supplier.

Your Check List

  1. Arrange at least one meeting in the cafe area with a known supplier representative, even if it is for 2 minutes
  2. With your print out of your existing suppliers, work around these first and tick them off as you go

Matt’s Note:
Make sure the supplier you are visting knows that you are going to speaking with their prime competition. If you have just visited their competitor(s), then ensure that you have one of their flyers, catalogues or business cards right on the top of you clipboard.

Tip #4 – Go to Meet People, Not Companies

Let’s put the corporate facade to one side for a moment. All business is conducted between individuals, granted they may be groups of individuals, but they are single people none the less and what do such individuals like the most in the world? Themselves!

All we now need to do is locate the right people in their team to meet

LinkedIn LogoSo let’s say you’ve done your research in the previous tip’s and know exactly which companies you wish to approach, that was the ground work. What we now need to do is locate the right people in the team to meet.

We need to know their name, their history and what they’re role is within the company and we don’t need to know just one person, we need to know at least two.

The first person is going to be our primary contact, this person should be the one that you connect with before the meeting, however we should not let “chance” ruin what is going to be an excellent day or few days out of the office, so we need a backup contact person too.

“Turning up on their suppliers stand, whether a new supplier or an existing one and asking for a person by name, is far superior than saying I’m interested in X, even if that person is not free.”

You can use the relationship that you may not even have made yet with the contact person to form a new relationship with the person you’ve just met, they know the original contact name and because you’ve mentioned them by name, they expect you know that person in some shape or form.

Much better than turning up and stammering, like I have done in the past, don’t you agree?

Your Check List

  1. For each supplier, existing or new, make contact with them before the event.
  2. Tell them that you are attending and ask for a name of a representative that is attending so you can meet them on that day.
  3. With this name, find them on LinkedIn, Facebook and/or Twitter. As these sites have profile pictures, see what they look like and find out their work history.
  4. Now find out who they work with and see if you can have at least one other name from the same department as your primary contact.

Matt’s Note:
If you find that the contact name you have been given has moved from one supplier to another, this is an excellent question to ask them at the meeting.

I saw on LinkedIn that you moved from company X to company Z, what happened there, was it just time for a move?

We’re not trying to put them on the stand or appear as a stalker, phrase it in a conversational way and where you found that information to. You never know you might find out the real reason why they moved or maybe a contact name of someone there who they’re friends with. Even more leverage for you on that meeting!


Tip #5 – Remember They NEED Your Business

It’s never been better or easier to find new suppliers

They need YouTimes are apparently tough (they always are though!), leverage this to your advantage and remember that they need your business.

Don’t let red tape or visual appearance of suits get the way, having already worked out which person to speak to, on the day and a back up person just in case the other person is not available or not attending you are primed to start up a relationship with the company right from the beginning.

You don’t have to place an order there and then, speak to contact person, see if you like the person you’re dealing with and what the products and pricing is like. Use the personal relationship you are making with them to get around any awkward topics such as opening new accounts, maybe on a cash only basis to begin with is more suitable.

If applicable, just be upfront about not wanting a credit account and that you can see potential in thier products and want to start small and build up.

Make it easier for your sales rep by not asking for a “credit” account

Creating credit accounts can be a barrier for some companies and ironically you could be making it much easier for the sales rep to create an account for you, by not asking for credit. But make sure you do your homework on the companies you are meeting and check over any account types they offer by checking their website, asking or reading any application forms.

Matt’s Note: 
Make it as easy as possible for the sales rep to make you an account. They not only want your business, they need your business never forget that.

And Finally….

Remember to follow up the meetings with a email or call to the person you met at the trade show. Even if you don’t intend to buy from them, open the account anyway, you can use it as a leverage point for another reference to another supplier.

Step away from the freebies!!!

Avoid picking up tat from stands and end up carrying around bags and bags of corporate junk. It looks much better for anyone and everyone that you do intend to be working with, resist and you’ll not be instantly dismissed as a tat-junkie.

To summarise what we’ve covered:

  1. Be Prepared
    Be prepared and do your homework on the trade show before attending, know who you are going to be meeting, where they are and what their history is.
  2. Set Your “home” for the Day
    You’re in a different environment for the day and we need somewhere familiar. As soon as you’ve checked in, make the cafe your base point and the moment you need a break, escape to the base point and take a rest for a few minutes.
  3. Make it Easier For Yourself
    Meet with existing suppliers first, it makes making new relationships with new people (notice how I’m not saying “suppliers” here) later in the day as you’re warmed up.
  4. Remember You’re Meeting Real “People”
    If have a decent relationship formed, ask if they’d like to join you for a coffee or soft drink in the cafe area, make the relationship a personal one, not a corporate facade.
  5. They Need You!
    You know how customers make your business tick. Guess what, in the buyer-seller relationship, you’re the buyer and you are more important.

These simple, yet effective tips to making the most of the next Trade Show that you attend can make the difference between attending a trade show and a trade show that rocks for you and your business.

If you have any other suggestions or comments on how I can improve this guide, let me know in the comments box below.

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