Companies exhibit at trade shows to find new business opportunities, foster relationships, and increase industry presence and knowledge. Unfortunately, these are often an afterthought of show preparation and budgeting. A lot of work goes into preparing for a show but so often, a lot of that work has more to do with booth details than it does with gaining leads.
Some consider trade show exhibiting a necessary evil of their business and will participate as a defense mechanism to show that they are “in the game”. Others love trade shows and the excitement of working a show floor, entertaining clients, and being on the road in a new environment. Neither view is horribly wrong, but both are missing the point.
The primary purpose of exhibiting at a trade show is to get leads. Secondarily, the trade show environment is great for fostering client relationships and gaining knowledge. Yet, you can foster relationships with clients in other (more creative and less expensive) ways. You can gain industry knowledge and increase industry presence in other ways, as well. But trade shows provide a unique opportunity to meet clients and prospects in neutral territory, and in an environment that is focused on showing off your company and staff.
There is far more to “working a show” than two hours of booth duty each day. Standing in a well-executed booth, smiling at attendees and wishing them a warm “hello” is not a recipe for success. Handing out a very cool giveaway and graciously accepting raffle entries and business cards does not constitute a successful shift. A business card or a raffle entry is not a qualified lead.
Despite the frenetic pace of trade shows, there are opportunities to rank leads by level of potential. There are also plenty of chances to better understand the attendee’s: role in the company, sense of urgency, current provider, frustrations, needs, upcoming projects, goals, and/or timeframe for decisions. With a little extra time recording details at the show and effectively managing conversation content and time, you can ramp up your success rate by quite a bit.
Finally, remember that the booth is not the single source of trade show leads. Your job starts and ends at the airport or in your car, with plenty of opportunities to engage clients and prospects in between. Working a show can be fun, educational, and productive, simply by dialing it up just a notch.