Trade Shows are Valuable Marketing Tools for Industry Suppliers

The beginning of each year brings another round of trade shows for most associations.  Industry suppliers are already gearing up to meet clients and potential clients to talk business in all areas of operations and services. 

While trade shows are only one of many tools in a supplier’s sales and marketing tool chest, they are often the most expensive investment from the cost of the booth or sponsorship, travel, hotel accommodations, and meals to employee time and salaries. So, it’s imperative that they realize a return on the investment.

Here are some tips for preparing before, onsite and after a trade show to ensure you maximize your investment at the events you attend. 

Pre-Conference Preparation

  • Select an event carefully.  There are hundreds of events, forums and trade shows in most every industry, so do your homework and select only those that drill down to reach your target markets.  Research the trade show’s reputation, attendees’ buying power, topics, and supplier time allotted to choose the best one for you.  Are your competitors attending?  Is time allotted for suppliers to meet with potential clients?  Are the attendees the right people in the organization for you to reach? 
  • Select your best onsite sales team.  Designate your top-notch sales team to attend and prep them on your expectations.  Then, collectively set an expected return on your investment. The earlier they are assigned, they can prepare themselves as well as prepare to be away from home.  Please don’t use this valuable sales opportunity to ‘reward’ office staff with a trip who have not been in a sales position previously.  While they may be excellent at their company position, they may not be knowledgeable enough about your product features to answer questions and counter objections.  Thus, they may leave a less than stellar impression of your company. 
  • Prepare your target list of prospective customers. Learn as much as you can about the company and contact them before you leave to let them know you’ll be there.  Invite them to your booth or a company event early before they accept other invitations. You can also use social media posts to reinforce this message.
  • Invite your current customers to attend.  While I understand, this can be interrupted that you will pay their expenses, I am not suggesting that you do so.  That’s your call. But, attending the event can also confirm that your company is a reputable part of the industry and expose them to topics and colleagues that will strengthen their appreciation for you.  
  • Refrain from badgering prospective clients before the conference.  You can easily upset a potential client if you send them multiple emails and leave numerous phone messages when they are rushing to get their responsibilities buttoned up at work before they leave the office.  Think about it, if 300 exhibitors leave 2 messages each, that’s 600 communications to one client! 

Onsite at the trade show

  • Attend the educational sessions.  Not only will you learn about the challenges of your clients and refresh your knowledge about the industry, you can meet potential clients in a neutral environment and strike up a conversation which could lead to building a long term relationship. 
  • Focus on building relationships with potential clients not just gaining business.  The best business relationships are built on trusting, personal relationships.  So, most clients want to get to know you personally before they hand you a piece of business; especially one worth several thousand (or million) dollars. 
  • Develop relationships with other suppliers. Other suppliers, in non-competing verticals, can be great resources for future business, for sharing contacts and for discussing collaborative business opportunities.  Plus, they can become lifelong friends!
  • Practice your elevator pitch.  You may only have 30 seconds with a prospective client, make your points quickly and ask for a follow-up meeting.  Update your pitch regularly. If you company is evolving and growing, then your pitch should be also.
  • Introduce a new product or service at a trade show.  Use the event to draw attention to your company.  Also, inform the hosting organization if you have an announcement so they can help you gain publicity from any attending media.
  • Remember, you are always “on.” While experienced suppliers understand that trade shows are about business, first time exhibitors/suppliers sometimes drink and party too much causing other attendees to question their professionalism and business judgement. A potential client may like to party with you, but that doesn’t mean they want to do business with you.

Post Event

  • Follow Up, Follow Up, Follow Up with everyone you meet.  Frequently, I’ve heard from attendees that exhibitors don’t follow up afterwards.  If they ask you to do so, do it within two weeks.
  • Follow up with current customers.  Check their assessment of the conference and offer suggestions for next steps to expand your business relationships.
  • Follow up with other suppliers.  Keep the relationship alive to ensure that you build that relationship for future opportunities.  Refer them to your customers when appropriate. 
  • Respond to the conference evaluation request. Conference organizers truly appreciate your input and can only improve if you tell them what’s working or not.
  • Assess your return on your investment. While the event is still fresh in your mind, assess whether the event met your expectations.  Did your investment provide the ROI you expected? Were your expectations realistic?  Should you put it on your calendar for next year?  Conduct the same evaluation six and nine months later and evaluate your client development from the event?  To be fair, your may not see an immediate return, but your follow up may prove fruitful months or even years later. 

Have a great trade show!