While most of my consulting experience has been in the world of Operations Management, I have spent many hours working with sales and marketing teams.
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A business development consultant and sales manager, Glen Harnish, who works for a popular natural foods company has been kind enough to offer some expertise in the world of trade shows.
He has attended countless trade shows and I have witnessed his strong ability at these shows. Some of his expertise and advice is discussed below. By using Mr. Harnish's advice, you'll certainly get more from your trade show experience.
Drawing people to your booth is one of the most important parts of a trade show. It's equally important to avoid spending too much time with people who aren't prospective buyers or suppliers. Prior to the show, determine qualifying questions and ask them at the trade show. To better identify leads you can invest in lead retrieval software to scan badges or rent these at the show for an additional fee.
There are many show specials that you can take advantage of; free shipping is a great example. You should also make sure, prior to the show, that there a good workable schedule for walking the show and visiting other booths. You don't want to stay at your booth the whole time; there are vendors and customers that have their own booths, which you need to visit. You should be adequately prepared when approaching these booths to gather information and make contacts in an efficient and professional manner.
You can make better use of your time by making appointments with potential vendors and customers. You want to make sure that you schedule these appointments ahead of time or at worst by that morning. Make sure you attend all of your appointments and be adequately prepared prior to these meetings.
Remember, the trade show doesn't end when he trade show ends. Some of the most important meetings and contacts are made, and business deals negotiated, at dinner or at networking events. Be sure to check in with show coordinators to find out the schedule of any show hosted events.
Often times potential vendors may invite select companies to privately held parties- these can be informative and can help offset money spent on wining and dining potential customers. Industry specific events such as award ceremonies and lectures are frequently held before, during or after the show and can be valuable sources of info about emerging market trends as well as potential contacts. Your "exhibitor status" should get you free and unrestricted access to these events.
Make sure you have adequate order forms. You should have a laptop, if possible. You should be prepared (and willing!) to take orders and to communicate with the home office regarding issues or shipments that require immediate attention.
All sales reps should have a check list of VIPS and know to keep an eye out for them. If they come into your booth, make sure they are greeted warmly and are not kept waiting too long for the sales manager or other company officer.
One lesson that is learned in time is that not all booth visitors are created equal, and as a sales person's time is a scarce resource. Unfortunately, there are times when they must make an on the fly decision to diplomatically extract from a less valuable conversation in order to focus on a "bigger fish." This requires skill, sensitivity, experience, and quick industry knowledge on the part of the sales rep.
Deepest thanks to Mr. Harnish for offering this invaluable advice.