Trade Shows

Trade shows are designed to let entrepreneurs meet potential customers face-to-face in a brief period of time inexpensively. According to the Trade Show Bureau, more than 4,300 were held nationwide in 1994, attracting 85 million visitors.

Trade shows help level the playing field for smaller firms, since booth space is generally inexpensive ($13 per square foot on average, with the typical small booth covering 100 square feet), and even small companies can afford attractive displays. With creative marketing and booth design, small businesses can appear as substantial as larger corporations.

Trade Show Benefits

Because trade shows generally take place at a single location, have short runs (usually one to three days), and bring together thousands of exhibitors and potential customers, they are a very powerful marketing medium. The Trade Show Bureau claims that the average total cost of closing a sale in the field is $1,080, while the cost of closing a sale to a qualified trade show prospect is $419.

It is possible during the course of one trade show to personally meet most of your important clients and suppliers, making shows a good way to establish and reinforce relationships. Because business-to-business shows typically do not allow selling on the show floor, generating sales leads is the most common reason exhibitors participate. Another popular reason for exhibiting is introducing new products.

Tips for a Successful Trade Show

1. Seeing half of two seminars beats one full session.

Many trade shows offer excellent seminars where you can add expertise and knowledge. Indeed, it’s difficult for a trade show to excel without great sessions. If the show you are going to has these, bring a notebook and take quality notes.

However, many attendees lock into a seminar, jot down everything, and realize later that much of the session was of limited utility. Leaving a session early might not be good manners, but it’s better to be rude than miss an opportunity to learn. Besides, most speakers prepare for busy professionals with comprehensive summaries and overviews. (Another tip is to, whenever possible, grab the printed materials. Many speakers will go off a slide show without adding much to what’s on screen.)

2. Make a networking plan.

Looking at the seminar sessions before the show is critical. Your goal is not just to make an efficient plan on learning, but also in networking. If there is a seminar led by someone that could really do your company or career some good, play the star pupil: arrive early, ask good questions, and stay late. Since this is somewhat contrary to the first tip, make sure you limit your networking choices to only the best-fitting candidates.

3. Tour the dealers’ room daily and thoroughly.

Trade shows offer a perfect “silver bullet” opportunity for merchandisers and service providers that sell to your industry.

Depending on the quality of the dealers and representatives, you can learn more from dealers than seminars. You do this by giving the sales reps on the floor the courtesy of listening to their pitch, than ask questions about what’s really of interest to you. The goal is to find out what’s out there, and to widen your networking reach. You do this by being yourself in front of fellow professionals, and determining who the real players are in your industry.

4. Don’t be stingy with your business cards.

Don’t limit your distribution of business cards on the show floor. Hording your cards sends a clear message that you are not important enough to have a card, or not interested in what your new contacts have to say. Since business cards are cheap and first impressions are important, neither approach is a good idea.

5. Lighten up, but with an agenda, and make sure to follow up.

Aim for a happy medium. Entertain attendees, but don’t lose all inhibitions. Socialize, but not to the point that you won’t be reasonably sharp on the next day of your assignment – and make no mistake, a trade show is an assignment. If you’re worried that your dinner bill will cause trouble with accounting, skip a meal to make your total more palatable. And most of all, keep your schedule reasonably flexible. If your most important contact at the show wants to talk longer, you don’t want to play clock-watcher.

Also, make sure you follow up with your show contacts once you get back home. Failing to do this, to some extent, throws away the money you spent going to the trade show in the first place.

By USBA (United States Small Business Administration) and PageWise, Inc.


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