Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Trade Show Do’s And Don’ts—How To Max Your Potential At Conventions

In a past blog we discussed how to find new leads. We didn’t touch upon trade shows, so we’ll do that here. Trade Shows, Conventions, Confabs, whatever you want to call them, can be a good way to find new leads/prospects/customers. They can also help an independent sales rep find more vendors to sell for….as well as other business opportunities.

You may attend a trade show that has a number of your vendors exhibiting. If you can offer your help by working their booth/booths for a shift or two, this may allow you to write some business during the show, perhaps find new customers. But anyone who thinks the value of a trade show is just in the business one can write-- there and then at that show-- is missing the point and not maximizing the potential a show can present.

The main purpose of a trade show is to make contacts and establish relationships and reputations. Better industry trade shows make a point of making that happen. Lousy trade shows make that difficult, or a hassle.

Let’s say you’re attending a show and have five lines that are exhibiting. You have booth duty at all five of them. During that time you can write orders…but be sure you are clear as to how much commission you make on show orders. If orders written are for customers in your usual territory, the vendor may give you all the commission. If not, they may split it to cover cost of the booth. If you write orders for customers outside your normal territory, you may have to split commission with the rep that handles that region. Whatever new leads you can keep (via follow-up work) after the show is over and beyond, try to get them. Remember the bold print in the beginning of the last paragraph.

You should reserve some time at such a show for you to be free to wander around and make connections with other potential vendors. Be sure to bring updated résumés with you. Many vendors openly advertise if they need reps. Unless you are sure as to their reputation, be wary of jumping into any relationship right there and then at the trade show. You want to check them out just as they would check you. Tell them you’ll talk after you all get back home.

You may find an opportunity to exhibit a variety of lines by renting a booth yourself at a show, or perhaps sharing a booth with a line that doesn’t mind splitting space with some of your other lines. This may present you with maximum potential in obtaining leads and prospective customers. It may limit your ability to wander the show to find new vendors…so tell your booth mates you will need a break or two each day to check out the rest of the show. Before you take such a break, see if you can study a printed show guide or online directory to scope out vendors whose product lines look interesting.

If you are renting your own booth, take advantage with any advertising or press release potential that you can. Prospective vendors, customers, other potential business relationships may come about because of this. That opportunity may be something you as a rep never even imagined, but the other party reading your press release or ad may think: “This is just the guy we need”, and give you a call with a proposal.

Be sure to bring plenty of business cards, brochures, handouts, whatever you can that can give a short synopsis of what you do. Hand these out to all passers-by and booth visitors…but do so at a price. The price for your handout? Their business card. And be sure their card has their phone, email, all applicable current contact info. You’d hate to get home and find out you can’t do any follow-up with this person.

Make your booth layout inviting, allowing customers to come in and look at the samples you have on display. In other words, tables or other furnishings should not block the front of the booth,. Once a prospect is in your booth, you may find they are easier to talk to; it allows you both to open up. From such beginnings, relationships develop. Remember that bold type in paragraph #3!

At many large trade shows, the industry’s heavy hitters will have enormous booths that may be completely enclosed, with a gatekeeper or guard-type person at the entrance. If you don’t have an appointment here, tough luck. What purpose does all that serve? If they are only at the show to meet with previous engagements, why attend the show? Those booths cost a lot of money—tens of thousands. They could do just as well sending reps, either in-house or independent, out on the road with a bunch of sherpas to lug their new product samples along, and visit those accounts’ home offices.

You may find shows that have a preponderance of such exhibitors may show a lot of foot traffic, but how much of this foot traffic are true potential customers? Are they retailers looking to grow their business? Or are they other industry types who want to do joint ventures or other “inside deals”? Nothing against the latter, but those kinds of relationships may be very limited and they may not include you as a rep.

There are vendors and reps that attend a trade show to write a bunch of orders, then ship them sometime after they get home, then gear up for the next show where the process is repeated. Sometimes those orders take months to ship, and you may find a lot of the samples exhibited at the show were not produced as part of the regular line at all, they were there only to gauge customer interest. If they did not get enough interest, they were not manufactured. This doesn’t sit well with customers that did order those items.

This bait and switch type practice is like a diet of doughnuts. They fill you up, give you a rush…but in the long run end up clogging arteries and killing you.

A trade show doesn’t end at the close of the last day. That moment is a beginning; to go back home and start establishing a steady relationship with as many of the contacts you made as you can. You are adding to your customer base—serve them well after the show and they will look forward to seeing you again the next show. Who knows? They may recommend you to people they know, those people attend the next show, and the process will repeat. This is the kind of repetition process you want, because it will eventually generate business all year long—between shows as well as during shows.