Ever return from a trade show, exhausted, overwhelmed and wondering what, exactly, you accomplished?
It can happen to anyone. But there are ways to prevent fatigue and, more importantly, wasting time. It all starts with the preparation.
"If you are an attendee at the show, first of all, you have to know and understand why you're going to the show," says Susan Friedmann, The Tradeshow Coach. "What are your goals and objectives? What are you going to get out of it? If you're the company or you're representing a company, you want to make sure that their money is well invested in having you attend the show. So that needs some planning and preparation beforehand."
Plan on exhibiting?
"What exhibitors tend not to do is plan it out," Friedmann says. "A month before the show, they suddenly say, 'Oh, we're going to the show in a few weeks time, what should we be doing?' That is a bit late in the game for that to be happening."
The most important question a company must ask itself is why it is going to the show, and then it must define quantifiable goals it would like to achieve.
"It's not just that we're going to get leads. How many leads? How many people do you want to speak to? How many customers do you want to interact with? How many sales do you want to make as a result of being at the show?" Friendmann says. "This kind of thing is really, really important and also exhibitors don't take enough time to really plan that out."
By starting with the goals in mind, exhibitors can work backward to decide their marketing technique – promotions and giveaways – at the show and how to get the right attendees in front of them.
"You have to know your target audience and not think that just because there are several thousand people going to the show that you're going to get to see all of the people – you aren't," Friedmann says.
First, do your research to find out what companies will be exhibiting and develop a list of which ones you want to visit. Friedmann recommends dividing the list into two: the "must see" and the "want to see."
"A lot is going to depend on how much time you have available to be at the show," she says. "You've only got a certain number of hours, so realistically how many people can you see in that time."
Once you have the lists of companies you hope to visit, decide how much time you want to spend at the show and at each booth.
If there are multiple people from the company going and 50 companies on the list you hope to talk to, it may be wiser to split the responsibilities in order to maximize time.
Preparation should even get as detailed as defining what information you want to get from each company you visit as well as a list of questions you hope to ask, Friedmann says. Also, if there are specific people you want to speak to while at the show, think about making an appointment beforehand to ensure they'll be at the booth when you stop by.
Other items you need to factor into your schedule: where each booth you would like to visit is located, networking opportunities, education courses, browsing and bathroom and eating breaks.
Just as important as preparing for the show is your strategy upon returning to the office. You need to know what you're going to do with the information you received, so it doesn't get stuffed in a corner and forgot about. Questions to think through: How are you going to implement the information you gathered? Who else in the company do you need to report your findings to?
"The big thing is preparation because it's just physically impossible to wander around the show and get something out of it if you don't go in with a plan," Friedmann says.
The author is an associate editor at Lawn & Landscape. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.