Trade shows and conventions

Most industries have an annual bash (or a series of them) in the form of a trade show, where practitioners, suppliers, and others gather to learn, sell, buy, and make contacts. At these large get-togethers, consultants can strut their stuff, meet new clients, catch up with old friends, and monitor the competition. Be sure to attend the annual trade show for the industry you serve.

If you're unsure which show is right for you, check www.tsnn.com, one of the largest trade show locators on the Internet. You can search for shows by industry, function, geography, and schedule. You'll get a description of events and instructions for registering.

A consultant's ultimate objective at trade shows is to speak at the general session, a panel, or one of the many seminars offered. Approach the conference organizers several months in advance to secure a spot. If you offer to speak on a compelling topic, it can land you an opportunity. And, if you give a good speech, you'll walk away with at least a few leads.

Decide whether you want to have a display booth at the trade show. It's increasingly common to see consultants with sales booths, so don't rule it out. To decide whether to invest the time and effort in a booth, consider several factors:

Will the show's attendees include a fair percentage of decision makers?

Can you get an affordable location that isn't in the northernmost outpost of the hall?

Can you assemble a booth that adequately represents your firm, its culture, and capabilities?

If you choose to have a booth, you'll have access to thousands of contacts and potential clients in a very short period. Most trade show attendees fly down the aisles, so you need to offer something dynamic that captures their attention. Consultants can feature their current research, offer miniseminars on specific topics, and distribute gifts. You may not have as many visitors as the booth featuring a movie star signing autographs, but you'll attract people with an interest in your business.

A trade show booth can be time consuming and costly, particularly for multiday shows. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your investment:

Get training on trade show etiquette. If you haven't hosted a booth, you'll find it valuable to understand how to approach attendees and when to leave them alone.

Don't be pushy. People will turn off if they think you're giving them the hard sell. Be respectful and courteous.

Rotate your booth staff frequently. It is tough duty greeting people for hours and hours, so give your staff regular breaks. ^ Turn off your cell telephones.

^ Make sure visitors take something with them. Whether it's a research report, a key chain, or your business card, make sure they don't leave empty-handed.

Take criticism lightly. Occasionally, an attendee will give you grief about something. Shake it off with a smile.

^ Don't sit down. Attendees will feel as if they're interrupting you and may hesitate to approach the booth. ^ Follow up promptly. If you make a promise to an attendee, follow up as fast as possible. Memories of trade shows quickly fade after visitors go back home.

Conduct a competitive assessment. When you're not working the booth, scour the trade show and collect as much competitive intelligence as possible. You will rarely have a better opportunity to understand exactly what the competition is doing, so make the most of it.

Trade shows can be a rich source of leads for prospective clients, whether you have a booth or simply visit the event. So, go to trade shows, work like crazy to get on the speaking agenda, and consider the costs and trade-offs of sponsoring a booth at the show.

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