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Getting the Most Out of Trade Shows

(November 2008) posted on Mon Nov 10, 2008

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


By Marty McGhie

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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