6 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Trade Show Experience as Live Events Return
As an event-driven industry, we are celebrating in-person events and resulting business making a comeback. Promotional product trade shows are no exception. While some smaller regional association one-day events have been happening—both outdoors and indoors, with all of the safety protocols—we are seeing the multi-day events returning in July and August.
It's time for us to dust off our show shoes, find our clothes without elastic and hit the show floor. Setting all "re-entry" and social stresses aside, will we remember how to do this? What did we learn from not attending in-person trade shows? Can we apply our new knowledge and practices to make trade shows really work better for us now?
Of course, the personal interaction has been missing in what we tout as a "relationship industry." We have missed seeing our colleagues, customers, suppliers, show producers—and maybe even a few of our competitors. We are all craving that sense of community that in-person events create.
We have missed the products. While images and technology helped fill the void, there is something to be said for getting our eyes and hands on the actual items. We would have a hard time advocating for our advertising medium if we did not ourselves believe that the products are much more impressive in person.
Just like a lot of other things in our post-pandemic lives, it seems likely that we will not take those things we have missed about trade shows for granted—well, at least for the time being. We need to catch up with everyone and everything. Moreover, catching up entails working smarter in order to get there sooner rather than later.
I have learned a few tried and true best practices over the years in speaking with distributors. While a few of these are tactical and specific, some are about new considerations and perspective.
1. Budget your time
Which supplier booths will you be visiting? If it is a small show, perhaps every booth is doable if you keep pace. Larger shows require some strategizing to avoid the disappointment of not finishing the tour. Targeting referred and familiar suppliers versus new and unknown vendors is worth considering. Some seasoned distributors tell me they allow time for a certain percentage of new suppliers, as those vendors seen only at the trade shows. If you have a colleague working the show with you, perhaps you even divide the show floor to make it more manageable. Keep good notes and share post-show.
2. Start in the middle
If there is one easy takeaway, it is start in the middle of the show floor. Most everyone starts at the furthest aisle to the left (i.e. lowest aisle number). The challenge, of course, is when the show opens everyone is waiting on each other in crowded aisle 100 to talk to suppliers and see products. Meanwhile, there are suppliers five rows over that will not see anyone for quite some time. They are more than anxious to talk to you and would be delighted to see you for an unrushed conversation.
Incidentally, starting in the middle and working in the same direction as the "herd" traffic is still probably easier than starting from the other side of the show and working against traffic flow. Just remember to go back to the jumped lower booth numbers/aisles when you have exhausted the higher numbers.
3. Engage with exhibitors
Unrushed and meaningful conversations to start the show day now sets you up for engaging more with suppliers as you work the entire show. Make us earn our value at the shows. Ask us questions. Of course, the No. 1 question we field is "what’s new?" Not a bad question, and certainly apropos as we reopen for business, but there are other leading and refreshing questions that may lead to more enjoyable and productive conversations for you.
What is your best selling product? You may be very surprised by the answers. Who uses it and how?
What would you recommend for my client(s)? Suppliers are a treasure trove of success stories and can help you adapt those proven ideas to your projects and customers.
4. Engage with your clients
The client-driven conversations, after all, are the most interesting for all of us. It is how we all prove our value. To that end, make sure to involve your client in the trade show (even if they are not attending physically as a registered end-user). Reach out to your clients before the show and let them know you are going.
This is a great and natural opportunity for yet another client touch, but certainly can often lead to greater results. Ask them if they have any upcoming projects and let them know you will get back to them with fresh ideas from your factories. Text them from the show floor. Send product photos and videos with supplier reps, helping you bring validity to new products and ideas. Use your trade show time to begin the selling cycle. Clients will appreciate you thinking of and working for them.
5. Visit with the industry technology and service providers
Make certain you are aware of the latest technology and information to help maintain and grow your business. Be sure to familiarize yourself with any association or industry calendar information that is being announced at the event.
6. Follow up
Of course, the follow-up that is required from and with supplier booth personnel for results and orders is what can make your trade show really successful and worthwhile. Push out those virtual images, ideas, quotes and samples.
We are all looking for results and ROI on our time and marketing spend. As we are putting these in-person events back into the mix, we need to ensure we are making the most of it.
Mark Jenkins, managing director of Pioneer Balloon Co., has been involved in the promotional products industry for more than three decades. He has led the national sales and marketing efforts of three different suppliers. Jenkins is a road warrior, traveling nationally an average of 36 weeks per year, visiting distributors and participating in trade shows, sales meetings and industry events. A former PPAI board member and chair, he has been active in volunteering, bringing his industry knowledge, perspective and leadership to the table. Visit his website here.