Being Heard In The Crowd: Winning at Trade Shows

It’s that time of year again!  When you meet all of your favorite clients, prospects, co-workers, associates, mentors, ex-employers and a bunch of people you don’t want to see.  It’s that wonderful time of year when thousands of strangers all come together in a single place with a single goal: TO BE HEARD!!!!!!

That’s right.  It’s trade show time!

This coming week, I’ll be heading to New York for the NRF Big Show.  Thousands and thousands of retailers, designers, consultants, and every one else involved in this amazing industry.

The big question all bosses and managers have when it comes to trade shows is whether they are even worth attending because there is too much going on to actually be heard and have a good conversation that will lead to any value or potential work.

The simple answer is that they are definitely worth it.  I love these shows and find them to be a worthwhile challenge.

The longer answer is that they are worthwhile because your whole target base is in one place at the same time, but you have to work at it.  Don’t expect everyone to come and find you or that you are going to just run into that prospect you’ve been trying to get a hold of for two years on a floor of thousands of people.

Here are 3 keys to success to being heard at trade shows and making them valuable for any salesperson or business development lead.

  1. Schedule Meetings Ahead of Time – Nearly a year ahead of time, you should start mapping out what shows are going to be the most valuable for you and your team.  Once you know what shows you are going to attend, look at the previous year’s attendees and start putting together lists of your top prospects.  Once you have that lists, get on LinkedIn and start connecting.  Send a nice message around the show, why you’re attending, and seeing what they are looking to get out of the show.  If they respond, set up that coffee meeting and start planning out what you want to get out of that 15 minutes.  Yes, you’ll only have 15 minutes!  They have a 100 meetings, be mindful of your time.
  2. Don’t Spend All Your Time At The Show – Some of my best meetings at trade shows have been away from the trade shows.  Actually most of them have been away from the trade show.  Trust me.  Your prospects don’t want to be walking the floor having people stare at their badges and getting elevator pitches for 10 hours a day.  An hour or two?  Sure.  When you are setting up those meetings, try to find a happy hour nearby or a cool coffee shop a few blocks from the conference center.  They’ll be happy to get out of the madness.  One thing our firm has done that past two years is set up store tours around the shows.  This is a great way to start dialogue with clients and prospects in friendly environments that start to unravel some of their pain points.
  3. FOLLOW UP!!!! – It blows me away when I hear bosses and sales managers say that trade shows are pointless and a waste of time.  Can they be?  Absolutely.  The failure normally doesn’t come from the actual show though.  The failure comes from the follow up.  If you think you can run into a prospect once a year at a show and they will trust you enough to give you valuable work, you are out of your mind!  If you think one follow up note saying, “It was great to see you at the show.  I had the green shirt on” will win you any sort of valuable work in the future, YOU ARE OUT OF YOUR MIND!  Follow up consists of strategic organization of your notes, re-hashing the show with multiple co-workers or industry publications, and a road map of touch points that provide value to all of those people that you met with at the show.  Every 6 weeks after a show is perfect timing for follow up.  Not too pushy, but consistent enough that the prospect knows you are thinking about them and their business needs.

Follow these 3 tips, and I promise you’ll have a great and productive show that will help fill your pipeline for years to come!

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