How to Work a Trade Show - Part 2



How to Work a Trade Show – Part 2



Bob Maksimchuk, Principal Consultant

Project Pragmatics, LLC


In part one of this article, I discussed advice given to a consultant colleague who was presenting at his first trade show.  I talked about being an active attendee and gave pointers on presentations.  Part 2 continues on theses topics and then talks about interacting with vendors.


6.   Near the end of your presentation, when you are taking questions, invite people with more questions to stay afterward to talk with you.  Then you can answer their questions more intimately while you "interview" them about what they do, for what company, what problems they have, etc.  And remember to exchange business cards.


7.   Along similar lines, look at the conference schedule.  If the conference has birds-of-a-feather sessions or some similar type of gatherings, pick one of interest or related to your topic / services.  Then near the end of your presentation you can mention that if anyone wants to talk more on the subject, you will be at such and such a birds-of-a-feather session.  Invite them to stop by and chat.  Even if they don't show up, you will be at a birds-of-a-feather session where you can do a bit of networking. 


8.   Don’t forget the basics.  Your title slide and ending slide should have your name and contact information on them.  You may want to even put your name and contact info in the footer of each slide (small font so as not to distract from the slide content).  


Talking to Vendors

9.      Don’t overlook the conference’s trade show floor where many vendors will be showing off their wares.  Many people will just breeze through all the booths, not making eye contact because they fear being cornered by overzealous salespeople.  However, this is a very valuable environment for you in two areas: education and opportunities for work.


But first, let me tell you of the various personalities you will run into at a trade show booth.  There are five basic types of people who are standing in those booths: Executives, Sales, Marketing, Technical, and Models.  Smaller companies may have their founder, CxO, VPs, or some other executive in the booth.  Their focus is on growing their company. They may be at the conference to look for business partners, venture capital, scout their competitors, etc.  While they are looking for possible sales, you may find they will engage you in a broader conversation than salespeople would. 


Salespeople are measured by revenue.  Everything else is secondary.  They will probe in a more focused manner, about what you do, your company, your project, other project like yours, and so forth.  They are looking for how to “sell into” your organization. 


Marketing is there to get “leads”.  They too may talk to you about what you do and what they have to offer, but they are specifically measured on how many leads (especially “hot” leads – people with immediate needs) that they gather.  They will have a fast trigger finger (to scan your badge) but when you ask a detailed question you may find they hand you off to a technical person. 


Generally the technical people who are in the booths don’t really want to be at the trade show.  They have usually been pulled away from their real jobs.  And they know their work is just stacking up.  These folks will be the most knowledgeable about the products or services that are offered by the vendor.  Just forgive them if they look a bit tired. 


And lastly, there are the models.  Yes folks, especially at larger trade shows and with larger companies, some of the people in the booths are hired “talking heads” / “booth babes” / “booth boys” as they are known in the business.  They are there to get your attention, while another person in the booth snags you to begin a conversation.  Some of them might actually know a few talking points about the vendor’s offerings, but will quickly hand you off to someone who really knows what the vendor sells.


Don’t get me wrong.  These are all good people just doing their jobs.  But it behooves you to be able to identify who you are talking to and their motives so you connect with the right people.  Some of these folks are a mix of the various roles, which may make it difficult to identify their roles.  In that case, just ask them what they do in the company.  (I have found that very few trade show attendees actually do that.  Thus they end up talking to someone who really can’t help them very much.) 


As mentioned earlier, you want to talk to the vendors for two primary reasons: education and opportunities for work.  The education side is obvious. 

Ask what they do?  How's business?  You may learn important information about the marketplace – what’s hot, what’s not.  You can learn of the new tools and trends by finding out what the vendors are promoting. 


Remember that these are the people that employ others, either as full time employees or as contract partners.  Talk to the vendors, especially the service providers.  If they work in the same space you do suggest they contact you if they need any extra “horsepower” for an opportunity.  If they don't do what you do, ask if they ever thought about extending their "product line" to include services like yours.  For example, at a conference last year I met a company that had no services people, but had a client that was asking for services.  I’ve partnered with them ever since.  It expands their business possibilities and provides me more opportunities.



Make the most of attending a trade show.  Be an active attendee.  Seek out like minds and talk with them (many people are at these shows by themselves and would like someone to talk to).  Be a memorable presenter.  Treat vendors as potential partners (or employers) to whom you can provide valuable services.  Trade shows can be fertile ground for planting seeds and growing “your business”.  They are not just about the chachkas.






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