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Getting the Most Out of Trade Shows

Next tradeshow season, consider a game plan for your staff.

During the course of a year, most of us find time to break away from our businesses to attend at least a few of the trade shows offered in our industry. Generally, doing so requires a sacrifice of both time and money, not to mention the challenges that inevitably occur when management is out of the office. Considering this, as you attend the various shows, you should make sure you get your money’s worth from the trip. What follows, then, are just a few ideas to help you achieve that goal.

First off, before paying the entrance fees to the next show and booking airfare and hotels, first ask yourself a few questions: Will this trade show help my business? Are the exhibits and information at the show relevant to my current business? Do the costs truly justify what I will get in return?

While most shows in our industry do offer useful information, you might find yourself, out of habit, signing up for an event that you’ve attended for years without realizing that your business has evolved-and the show is no longer applicable to your company. Or perhaps the show itself has changed its focus in recent years, and the technology there no longer pertains. The point is, make sure that the trade show you’re attending will be worth the cost to your business.

Who will attend?
In addition to planning which trade shows to actually attend, it’s equally important to decide who will attend. Because our business is headquartered in Salt Lake City, there’s a great advantage when trade shows are held in Las Vegas (which, for better or for worse, is rather often). We take occasion with those "local" shows to bring quite a few more people than perhaps we would do for a show held in, say, Orlando. We’ve taken our department managers, our purchasing team, and others.

On one occasion, we brought in all of our sales reps from our California and Utah locations and held a sales seminar at the show. We rented a hotel suite to provide some corporate training. Additionally, we invited two of our key vendors to address our sales team about their products and how they might leverage their sales higher. We then took the sales team to the trade show floor and visited the key areas of the show that would help them better understand the relevant equipment and materials in our business. It was a great success.

You might want to consider similar opportunities in your own business by combining a trade show with this type of event for a larger group of your employees. As a side note, plan these type of events early enough to save money on airfare, hotels, and other travel costs.

On the show floor
Another way to bring value to a trade show is to spend time beforehand planning out the event. Research the various companies that are exhibiting on the show floor and decide who you must visit. Prioritize those visits-don’t wait until the last day. If you want to have significant discussions about possible equipment purchases or other products, contact the right people in advance and set up meetings.

If you’re taking a group of people, divide and conquer. While it may make sense to visit some of the key booths with your whole team, don’t spend the entire time wandering from booth to booth with the entire group. Instead, put together a plan with assignments for individuals to visit specific booths, and make it their responsibility to report to the group what they learn on their visits.

I’ve heard some business owners complain that some of their employees attend the show for a few hours and then head for the casinos or other local amusement. Avoid this by putting in place a plan that includes assignments for those attending the show. Assign them the task of reporting back to your employees at the business once they return. This will serve a twofold purpose: First, it will ensure that those attending the event are actively engaged at the show and, second, that the new information and ideas from the show will benefit all of your employees.

As you’re visiting the various exhibitor booths at a show, spend the necessary time to gather valuable information about the products. Don’t just ask general questions about their products-ask them how they see their products benefiting the specific needs of your business. You can sometimes just listen in on an ongoing conversation and learn quite a bit about an exhibitor’s products.

One of the things I’ve learned while attending many trade shows over the years is that the sales reps in the booths are typically less informed about the products than the technical people-particularly when it comes to new equipment. And there are almost always technical personnel available in booths where their equipment is running. I’ve found that it’s usually very helpful to get a technician’s viewpoint on a piece of equipment rather than a sales rep’s. On more than one occasion, we have had a technician tell us, "There is no way this piece of equipment is ready to run yet, it has too many issues." You may not get that kind of frank discussion from a sales rep.

Opportunities with staff
Finally, keep in mind that you should have fun at the show, and have fun with all your team. Some of the greatest opportunities to bond with your employees may be in the evenings after a grinding day at the show or at a breakfast meeting before the day starts.

We always make it a point to take our people somewhere nice to enjoy a relaxing meal and talk about what they might have learned at the show. After dinner, we’ll usually let them head off on their own or we’ll go do something fun together. These are great opportunities to let your people know that you appreciate them and to reward them for their hard work.

Next time you prepare to attend a trade show, consider a few of these ideas. By doing so, you can leverage the information and experiences at these shows to improve your people and your business. Good luck, and maybe I’ll see you on the show floor.

Marty McGhie (marty@ferraricolor.com) is VP finance/operations of Ferrari Color, a digital-imaging center with locations in Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Sacramento.

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