How to Grow Your Business at a Trade Show

By Nick Lionello| Jan 15, 2015| 1835 Views
How to Grow Your Business at a Trade Show

Today marks the start of the ISS Gear Up: 2015, a trade show Beacon Funding is attending that promises to provide "everything you need to grow your decorated apparel business." Because we have some pretty extensive trade show experience, we figured we'd pass along our expertise. What does a trade show mean for your company? Simple— it’s how you gain business. You want to get your company’s name and brand out there. Trade shows are one of the absolute best ways to do this. What’s more, they’re crazy effective. Face-to-face meetings are the bread and butter of sales. Well, a trade show is nothing but face-to-face.

But you won’t get those kinds of results unless you take full advantage of the opportunity. There are some key strategies to gaining the most from your trade show experience, so listen up!

What percent of my success comes from preparation?

We’re tempted to say, all of it. And that’s the mentality you should probably start with if you want to get anything meaningful accomplished. Before you even think of attending a particular show, make sure it’s the right one for you and your company.

If you’re stumped on where to start, look up which shows your competitors are attending. Or talk about it with your re-sellers. They may also be willing to share a booth with you, splitting the fees and gaining some valuable customers through one another.

Picking a trade show that has a lot of wanderers is a complete waste of time. Watch out for the really big ones with lots of different industries represented; they aren't typically full of your target audience and can be overwhelming. Go for a show that focuses on your type of product or service only. We attend shows that focus on trucks and embroidery equipment – because that’s what we finance. Do your homework both on the show and on the attendees. Again, this is where finding people or companies with some firsthand insight comes in handy. Check the list of attendees, which is usually on the trade show website or in a general trade shows directory. You won’t have far to look, as everyone else wants to hunt down the same prospects.

Once you know which show to attend, the same attendees that looked enticing on the list are going to be the ones to keep your eye on. Knowing who is going to be there, and at what time, will save you the energy in vetting prospects you're unfamiliar with on the trade show floor.

Someone uses a tablet to look at a chart.

Just act natural

Attending a concert or baseball game, you find out what friends are going to show up, right? Ask around. See who’s tailgating with a couple franks and a bean bag tournament. Trade shows are the major league when it comes to getting business. When you’ve chosen some attendees who strike your fancy, give them a call or shoot them an email. Let them know that you’ll be joining the crowd, and that you would love to have lunch or coffee with them before or after the show.

A trade show is a meeting of the minds. How often are you going to be in the same city as all of these prospects? Once a year, maybe. Let’s cram a year’s worth of lead nurturing into a single meeting. Think you can pull it off?

Make an impression with a few powerful clients

These things have masses of people converging on a single location. You’re not going to meet them all, let alone impress even half of them. So focus on your ideal candidates. This is where preparing way ahead of time makes the most sense. Just like at a job interview, you want to do your research. Tailor your booth to wrangle in some of the best customers. As an equipment leasing company that specializes in very specific areas, like screen printing machines and boom truck rentals, we draw a very particular type of client. By focusing our booth only on these categories, we don’t see a huge audience; instead, we get to meet only the attendees who are most interested in what we do. We want quality over quantity. 

How do you get just the right names to notice your brand? A hands-on tactic is best. That doesn’t mean you have to bust out massage chairs or an interactive robot, but something in the same vein that fits your business is best.

Present uniquely. Present hard.

If you sell software, have a demo available on some top-of-the-line monitors you can reuse at later trade shows (and some of your best employees to show prospects how the program works). If you’re an embroidery company, allow customers to see a machine in action, or make T-shirts specially designed to be passed out at the show (everyone loves a free t-shirt).

Show, don’t tell

Don’t forget: these people are being talked at all day. They want the opportunity to discover something awesome without being told how awesome it is in 8 different ways under 8 seconds long. You might hear industry experts talk about how little time you’ve got to make your case. So don’t waste time making your case. Good products don’t sell themselves, but sometimes they do their own marketing.

You can safely leave the introverts at home

Having said that a good demo trumps a good pitch, don’t underestimate a friendly face. It’s seriously not unheard of to hire a third party to come in and give your company some pizzazz on the booth front.

Bringing in an actor to masquerade as one of your employees is a little bizarre, but calling on a PR firm to lend you their personable work force for a few days might be the best way to handle an event like this.

Keep your less outgoing team members at the home office. If you’re bringing someone who can’t hold a conversation or shoot the breeze with just about anybody, then you’re not bringing anything to the table. Reconsider asking your experts to come along. They keep your business alive, but most trade show prospects won’t be persuaded by industry jargon as much as they will by a professionally built presentation that sticks out.

Don’t loosen your tie quite yet

Ok, your prospective clients have bags bulging with your literature, key chains, pens, shirts, and what-have-you. They promised to give you a call. They have all of your info. It’s in the bag, literally. Right?

Nope. This is when the fun really begins. If you did it right, you got your hands on a pretty long signup sheet of email addresses and a stack of business cards. Now is when the lead nurturing begins. Making contact the very next day is pretty inconsiderate. Most attendees will be making travel arrangements to get out of there ASAP. Your booth will be the farthest thing from their mind the day after. Wait a few days, but try to keep responses within the first week following the show.

Send an email blast. It’s not as personal as a phone call, but you already covered that step when you shook their hand on the trade show floor. Use an email to weed out the solid leads from those poor suckers who were just being too nice to say no. Bring up something from your booth that might be memorable, or break the ice by referencing a popular event from the show. If you have less leads than a whole blast warrants, take this opportunity to write a personalized email for each one. Say you remember them mentioning their hunt for a good lease on tow trucks, so come back to that in your email.

Different colored letter envelopes flow out of a laptop.

One show is never enough

Lead nurturing is an important part of every trade show. Not only is seeking out new venues a good idea, but also coming back to the same ones is extremely helpful for establishing your name. If the show you’re attending is local to your business, even better!

Remember that trade shows aren’t just a great way to bring in prospective customers. They’re perfect for meeting vendors. Need a supplies retailer who specializes in your field? Looking for reasonable equipment leasing services? Trade shows are more than just a place to show your wares. They’re a place for you to see what everyone else is showing, too. So, keep your options open.