Every business has some type of association and association’s host trade shows. My experience with trade shows has been that they are an opportunity to connect with people that you may have difficulty setting up an appointment with. Often, decision makers are attending the shows and have more time to meet one-on-one. If you plan to exhibit at a trade show, start promoting the fact to your customers well in advance of the trade show’s date, preferably 4 to 6 months. Promotion can be done via Face Book, Linked In, Twitter or email blasts. Personally send out invitations to key potential customers to stop by your booth or set up an appointment to meet with them, about a month in advance of the show. If you are not exhibiting, but just walking the floor, make sure your customers know you will be there and request time to meet. A day before any scheduled appointments or meetings, send out a courtesy reminder to your customers.
Follow up is very important as well! After meeting with a customer, always send out a thank you note describing your discussions and any agreed upon action items. If they missed the meeting, when following up with them say they were missed and request a time to bring any trade show samples, materials, or giveaways to them personally.
If you are not exhibiting at a show, but just walking the show, make sure to have a list of the people you are trying to meet and go to their booths to ask for them. How do you know if a customer will be attending a show? Look at the previous year’s exhibitor list or check out their company website. Sometimes the information will be posted, as they want their customers to know they will be at the show as well!
Remember to always keep a list of potential new customers you have met at the trade show and follow up with them within two weeks of the show’s close. Send a personal note stating it was nice to make their acquaintance along with any collateral information or action items that were discussed. Add them to your data base and follow up with them regularly!
Trade shows can be expensive and time consuming, so before exhibiting it may be a good idea to attend first and see what it is all about. You can meet a lot of people walking a show. Remember to bring marketing materials and samples with you to show potential customers.
If you are nervous about attending a national trade show for the first time, try attending a regional or local show to work out any kinks in your elevator pitch and marketing materials. Trade shows are a great way to build relationships, network and develop new business.
Relax, enjoy and good luck!
Laura Katz, MBA, is the Area Director of the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center in Athens and specializes in marketing and business development. Ms. Katz can be contacted at: 706.542.7436 or firstname.lastname@example.org.