What do trade shows mean to you? Are they a way to meet new customers? Or do you use them to reinforce current relationships? Whatever your answer, the key is that when you discover how trade-show selling is unique, you’ll have additional sales tools to help you close more deals at the show, and long after you travel home.

What makes trade shows profitable for us is how we use them to connect with customers in ways that we’re unable to on the phone or through the mail. Here are some ways to use trade shows to help you plant seeds or get the order:

1. Develop an Action Plan in Advance

In the same way you would make a regular sales call, do your homework and have a pre-show strategy. Scrutinize the attendee list, and see who’s there that you want to meet for the first time. Existing customers will be there as well, some who will expect you to give them special attention. Each category will require specific preparation on your part.

2. Send a Note

As part of your advance work, send out personal notes to people you want to meet. I want to stress the words “personal note.” A form letter isn’t the best way to increase the odds of getting important appointments. Find a way to express, in as few words as possible, why they would take time to meet you. For example, offer them a “show special” or share an exciting product development before other customers hear about it. And, of course, follow up with a call to choose a convenient time to meet. Remember, many people would rather “float” at the show and not be tied down. So first, secure in advance the appointments you’re able to, and when you get to the show, immediately work on getting more.

3. Identify Alternative Selling Opportunities

Think about selling off the trade-show floor. For example, many shows have field trips to local sites of interest. Find out from your prospects if they’ll be going on any of these. It’s a great casual way to get to know potential clients. Also, if someone you want to work with is speaking at a workshop, make it your business to go and listen. (At least, you’ll learn something new.) If possible, right after the presentation, introduce yourself to the speaker. It will serve as a compliment that could have a payback for you.

4. Timing is Everything

From the minute you leave home to when you get on the airplane, be aware, alert and ready to network. Stay professional at all times. You never know who might be sitting next to you. Once I was on a plane from New York to Los Angeles, to attend a show, and the man sitting next to me happened to be one of my key prospects, who I had never been able to meet before. What a great opportunity to get to know someone, when you’re 35,000 feet above ground and nowhere else to go. In this case, I used a successful technique. I asked him questions about himself, and I listened. However, we need to be respectful. If the other person doesn’t want to talk much, take the hint. Your chance for a second “audience” will be highly increased.

5. Keep Your Antenna Up

As you’re walking around the conference center, keep your eyes and ears open. When you see someone you want to meet walk by or approach your booth, introduce yourself and ask him or her for a convenient time to talk. The other person may be totally booked during the show. Yet, if you’ve made a good, sincere and friendly impression, you’ll most likely get a meeting another time. The key here is to follow up right after the show with a personal note or letter. As was said before, forget the form letters. Write one that the person will keep on his or her desk and not in the circular file.

6. Know Your Objectives

Why did you or your company bother to attend this trade show? It’s amazing how often we lose sight of our original intentions. One of the biggest personal objections we need to overcome is remembering that this is work. Trade shows are one of the most challenging sales assignments we get. Besides looking for new customers, you’ll be checking out the competition. If you’re not engaged for 18 out of 24 hours each day, you’re not taking full advantage of the show.

Also, as you prepare for the show, you might think about objectives such as:

  • How will we introduce new products?
  • How can we shine up our company’s image?
  • How can we get new names to build up our database?
  • What type of market research could we conduct?

The ABC’s of a Successful Trade Show

The next time you prepare for a trade show, think of these ABCs that will lead you to more closed sales after the show:

A – Always be attentive. Customers buy you first, and then your product. So ask and listen to your customers like close friends. Do this, and customers will be more inclined to give you information on how they wish to be sold.

B – Be better than the rest. Strive to stand out from the competition. A sure-fire way to do this: Prepare before the show, present with confidence at the show, and after the show produce what you promised.

Another “B” is be brave. It takes courage to go up to many different people at a show and, yes, at times, get rejected. It’s a numbers game, and, in the long run, people respect people who take that first step. Just remember to do it in a professional way.

C – Stay competitive. Know your product and your competition. Before and during the show, find out why your product is better, and learn to express it briefly in terms your customer will appreciate. Also, before you go to the show, perhaps weeks in advance, make calls according to a strategic plan. Trade shows are busy battlefields. Therefore, implement a plan of attack.

Take these keys to successful trade-show selling, and make your next show a powerful and profitable experience.

Andrea R. Nierenberg, executive coach, networking strategist and consultant is the force behind The Nierenberg Consulting Group. Called a “networking success story” by The Wall Street Journal, Andrea is founder and president of The Nierenberg Consulting Group which focuses on the communication skills that impact the bottom line and to attract and retain more business.

Take care of your business relationships and your company will prosper.

Learn more about Andrea’s Building Business Workshop Series.

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