Monday, February 6, 2012


Did your boss suggest or order you to attend a trade show? Maybe you are the boss, and realize you need to learn a bit more in order to make your business hit a tipping point.

A change in routine may be as good as a break, but a trade show is a special opportunity. Whether you are interested in boosting your career or boosting your business there is information just beyond your current grasp or someone you can meet for your mutual benefit.  I am most familiar with the retail environment so that is what I will refer to most often, but the advice is useful for other situations.

In most retail environments there are more products than any one person can possibly be an expert on.   Yet most of your customers assume you know more than they do about the products and services you sell.  They assume price is THE key factor in deciding what they should buy. If you could be more knowledgeable about products (and their applications), and know who to turn to for advice and support and be aware of upcoming trends more of the people that walk into your store would come back more often and tell their friends.

When salespeople come to talk to you at your retail location, you might be busy or focused on some problem, even if you had agreed to an appointment. You might forget that one of your customers had been asking you about the salesperson's product or their company. Or just as likely about a similar product. At a trade show you can delve into the matter more closely with a wider variety of experts. When you can deal with your customer's needs more effectively you become more valuable.  The goal should be to solve more problems.

Plan your work and then work your plan is also good advice for a trade show. Find out what is there ahead of time and decide what are the most important stops. Every day it is more likely that there will be a Facebook page or twitter account for the show and can be a good way to keep up to date with developments regarding the show. Keep an eye on your smart phone as you may find information right at the show.

If you are going as part of a group you might assign different tasks to different people so as to maximize coverage and minimize duplicate effort. You can collect a lot more information, literature and samples as a group as just lugging around a bag that can get pretty heavy.

We all have time limitations and often we have very specific concerns. It is wise to plan your trip to make sure you don't miss anybody who could help resolve one of your concerns. Even so, one of the advantages of a trade show is finding things you weren't looking for.  In other words there are known unknowns and unknown unknowns that you can profit by learning.

A trade show is an information gathering process. In many cases you will get a chance to ask questions, see demonstrations. Sometimes you won't, but if you are able to scoop up some literature you will have something to consider. and as a reminder.   Don't be shy about asking for samples as there is nothing better than trying out a product or having your customers try it before you commit to it.

It is not just information you gather, but also contacts. Some of the people you encounter can be your future trouble shooters and further sources of information. As business people they have similar problems to you and you might be surprised at how some of them handle them. They call on different businesses and are familiar with what works for other retailers and what doesn't.

Information is a two way street. When you visit someone you have done business with before you can report on how their products or services are working out. If you have not used their products before you can relate your own problems and you might gain a better understanding of applications.

After you have visited the show make notes of what you learned and who you met. The good ones will be following up, but if you are interested in others that don't follow up you will have to make the effort.  File away literature for studying at a convenient time and put aside samples for testing.

Another category of trade show visitor is the buyer. Often a trade show is where the largest discounts are offered. New product introductions are often made with heavy discounts. Judgement and negotiating skills can mean that a trade show can be the prime buying opportunity of a year. However be careful not to get caught up in untested products and gimmicks that encourage you to overspend. Also in your zest to make killing purchases do not overlook other opportunities at trade shows to gain important product and contact information and keep up with new products.

Was it worth the effort? Sometimes you might be reassured that nothing too drastic is threatening your market place. On the other hand there might be so many new trends and competitors that it is wise to consult with those you trust in order remain competitive. Sometimes it might be something that didn't register on your conscious mind that will serve as a warning of a new trend or someone you should pay attention to. Be assured more changes are coming and trade shows are one way to keep on top.

If you ever get to be on the other side of the counter, i.e. selling at a trade show be sure to check out the things I learned:

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