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Industry and association trade shows and expos are one of the best places to network when landing corporate clients is your mission. There are usually hundreds if not thousands of people in attendance which means that decision makers from your target client list are likely to be among them.

You may visit these events as an attendee only to network and make face-to-face connections, or you may be exhibiting to showcase your products and services to your ideal client. Here are the key issues to consider when making the decision on how to participate:

  • Do you have the budget to buy a booth, travel to the event, and cover all expenses? Remember booths can be very costly and this is not a retail show so you will not be selling anything. You will only be enticing corporate buyers to learn more about you. In other words, this may not be the best use of your marketing dollars. My recommendation is the visit the booths of the corporations who are on your target client list. Remember to have a targeted pitch. If you missed my recent issue where I cover how to align what you offer with what your clients need and how to develop a targeted pitch you can read it here.
  • Will your prospects be attending? Business fairs and expos list their corporate sponsors, exhibitors and speakers on their websites so you should be able to gather this information months in advance. Do not invest in a booth if your potential buyers are not attending.
  • Will you have help staffing your booth? This is important because you will also want to spend time to walk around the event and attend seminars and meals for advanced networking opportunities.

Here are some tips to work a trade show like a pro:

  • Consider volunteering your time or expertise. Contact the organizers to offer your products or services in exchange for an ad in the event program or other valuable exposure.
  • Organize an event within the event.  If you have a booth, ask for permission to conduct 10-15 minute presentations or mini-workshops throughout the day. If you do not have a booth consider hosting a cocktail party before or after the event for high-level visibility.
  • Network with other business owners. Do not focus all your attention on potential customers. These events are also a great time to identify potential businesses that you can partner with. Look for businesses that offer the same product or service with you to increase your capacity and look for businesses that offer complimentary products and services to add additional value to your customers.
  • Attend workshops and meals. All of the magic does not happen on the trade show floor. Some of the best connections are made in other settings, particularly during breaks, in the lobby at night and continental breakfasts where seating is not assigned.
  • Follow up, follow up, follow up. To show you are serious about making a real connection it is important to follow up within a timely manner. If the event is a multi-day event, I recommend waiting about 1 week to follow up so that you give them time to get caught up on work and also give your self a better chance of standing out from everyone who will follow up within the first 2-3 days following the event.  

Trade shows and expos are a great way to fill your pipeline for an entire year. Plan to attend 1 per quarter for best results.

The NMSDC annual trade show and conference is just right around the corner–October 27-30, 2013 in San Antonio, TX. If you plan to be there shoot me an email at [email protected] with NMSDC in the subject line. I’d love to meet you in person!