How to Build Your Network with Your Trade Show Displays
The benefits of running trade show displays are numerous, which accounts for their continued popularity even in today's economy. They are prime places for building out your professional network, in that they allow for the face-to-face interaction you just can't get from traditional marketing techniques. In many cases, the business networks formed at trade shows lead to a reciprocal referring of clients between partnering companies, making for a mutual benefit each company can grow on.
Using your tradeshow booth to draw these prospects isn't as much of a chore as you'd first think. It's all about making your exhibit do “double-duty to encourage networking, as well as buyers, and that means ensuring a memorable display that fuses both needs seamlessly. From the visual and audio aspects of using lighting, sound effects and signage to delivering interactive demos and relevant information, your goal should be to highlight yourself as a viable partner and making the experience at your tradeshow booth a good one for every visitor. Another aspect of tradeshow networking is to visit other trade show displays and initiating communication with fellow exhibitors.
It Takes Nerves of Steel (and a Calm, Focused Mind)
Networking at trade shows isn't as easy as some would have you imagine. Being able to introduce yourself to strangers can be downright nerve-wracking, especially when you consider that you're more likely to get results when you're alone to avoid intimidating those you approach. Ask yourself: Would I feel overwhelmed if a group approached me to discuss partnering up, in the midst of the action? How would I prefer to be approached?
Leave your nerves behind by reminding yourself of your goals for the show and that the effort is all about building your business - you just happen to be the face of it! Setting solid, measurable objectives, such as collecting X number of business cards or introducing yourself to X number of people, can help keep you on track.
When You're Approached
You want to make your trade show display experience good for every visitor you get and work hard to ensure this by setting up an eye-catching booth, presenting high-quality information, offering an entertainment aspect and providing giveaway products advertising your brand. Oftentimes, this is enough to draw sales leads, when done correctly and with your audience in mind. However, building a network with your exhibit requires an extra touch - more dedicated communication.
Among the things to consider when approached about a networking opportunity is whether or not this is a company you want your business to be associated with. Simply being in the same industry doesn't destine two companies to be a good fit for one another and, if you can't see the benefit, you should decline politely and honestly in a way that doesn't ostracize or embarrass the other person. After all, you'd expect the same treatment in that situation, wouldn't you?
When continuing a discussion with potential benefit, it's good practice to discuss the other exhibitor's needs before getting into your own. This has a double advantage: First, it allows you to see the exchange from their perspective before offering up yours and, secondly, they initiated the conversation, so letting them go first is both polite and keeps you from looking like the “pushy salesman”.
Trade shows are busy places, with speedy communications given precedence. That said, a valuable networking opportunity requires (and deserves) some extra attention and, if you provide it, you're more likely to see favorable results. However, when the discussion's over, leave it open to pick back up later by exchanging contact information and either offering to swing by their tradeshow booth, connect via email/phone or even meet for lunch.
When You Approach an Exhibit
With all the excitement and traffic, it can be hard to step away from your tradeshow booth to look at other exhibits and network. However, when you realize that other business owners may be thinking the same thing, it necessitates taking the time out to initiate visits of your own to other trade show displays, in order to build out your network. Also, it gives you a chance to do some recon of other trade show displays and see the show from a “big picture angle. With reasoning like this, can you really afford NOT to?
Leave a trusted associate to run your exhibit while you walk around to look at the other trade show displays. If you see one that's particularly active, find out what's drawing the traffic and see if you can translate it in a way that works with your own tradeshow booth. Give new vendors a try and see what they're about; they could become a great resource for future leads. Be sure those you stop at would be a good fit for a partnership to use your time wisely.
This may seem trivial but, as a courtesy, be sure to wear your name tag so attendees and other exhibitors know your name without being embarrassed if they forget, which can easily happen in such a busy setting with everybody talking with many different people.
When you go to strike up a conversation with a fellow exhibitor, be clear about your reason for visiting their tradeshow booth. While being friendly is always recommended, an implication that you want a personal friendship when you're after a networking opportunity comes off as misleading, which doesn't serve anybody. Also, when introducing your company, it's best not to make it a sell. Instead, be a resource for info, leads, etc. and make it a win/win proposition, after which you leave your contact information and an invitation to your own tradeshow booth.
Keep in mind that trade show networking works best when you have your goals in perspective - it's about building relationships, not sales, so your approach should reflect that. Successful conversations, leading to successful follow-up communications, can be all your business needs to create enduring partnerships that grow each participant's company.
Skyline Chicago is part of the global Skyline Exhibits network that includes more than 1,500 employees worldwide. Skyline Chicago is a leading provider of custom Chicago trade show displays and portable Chicago trade show exhibits. Founded in 1980, Skyline Exhibits is the source for unforgettable face-to-face marketing experiences. The company holds more than 100 patents and has been repeatedly recognized for its creativity, innovation and performance.