In recent years more small business owners have been bowing out of trade shows and exhibitions—many due to the hefty price tag that sometimes accompany these events. This may seem like sound reasoning when it comes to belt tightening, but in reality this actually can be bad for business.
Trade shows aren’t necessarily supposed to be used for making a sale although this is a fairly common assumption, so when small business owners aren’t able to turn a profit at the event they throw their hands up and turn their backs on trade shows.
Consider these shows instead as an opportunity to make new friends and build relationships. I know, I know, you aren’t in business to make friends, you’re in business to make a profit, but the two are inextricably linked which is why giving up on shows that allow you to develop personal relationships will only hurt you in the long run.
What are the benefits to attending trade shows?
Large businesses have luxuries their smaller competitor’s lack. A bigger budget and larger staff make it easier to balance resources between traditional marketing strategies, expos and trade shows. Meanwhile many small businesses have been opting to use their limited resources to push smaller and more traditional campaigns like print advertising.
What these businesses are missing out on, however, are connections and opportunities with buyers who are specifically interested in their product—these customers are reaching out to businesses—traditional advertising is the polar opposite with businesses reaching out in an attempt to garner interest from potential buyers. The difference is significant, people who attend shows are often paying for entry and are purposely there to make connections and search out products.
Furthermore, many companies who don’t necessarily make a large number of sales have success making connections that in turn can help with ROI when those people make solid referrals to your company.
How do you make lasting connections?
You don’t want to be superficial when you make connections and it’s important to genuinely invest in the people you’re meeting and speaking with. One trick—and perhaps the easiest but more overlooked is showing up early and staying late.
Nobody likes to show up early and feel awkward, but that is precisely what you need to do. Meet the other early birds and make a couple friends. These people will arguably remember you more than anyone else they meet at the event and will feel a sense of camaraderie toward you. Solidify your relationship by referring them to other people you see at the trade show that are interested in their services or products and ask that they mention you sent them over. The people you send referrals to will appreciate your genuine gesture and often reciprocate. These are important relationships to maintain after the show through email and social media and if you have a company blog it can be a great place to mention the people and prospective clients you met as well as somewhere to give a shout out to current clients.
Find out who is attending the show beforehand
Make a point to connect with any current clients in attendance also. A great promotional strategy is to (with the client’s permission) take a photo of them at your display and post it to your social media accounts. Consider renting a projector and buying a wall banner so you can stream photos and videos at the event. Not only will clients generally want to share the photo with their own social sites, people who know them but not you will see them interacting with your company through your display which could lead to more connections.
Follow up after the event is essential for success
Instead of going for the sale or directly asking for a referral from the people you met with at the event shoot them an email telling them it was great meeting them. Add them on twitter, Google+ and other social sites and if you did write a blog post about your expo experience share it with them. Touch base regularly and as the relationship progresses feel free to ask if they can but you in touch with anyone who might be interested in your services or products.
Finally, use your existing clients to your benefit. Ask for referrals at the bottom of email communications and in your company newsletter. You can also offer rewards for referrals or compensate customers when a referrals results in a sale. Although these methods are admittedly commercial the added incentive can be extremely lucrative.