Coming At Trade Shows From Another Angle

trade-show-badge-0614If there’s anything that I’ve done more often than attending trade shows, it’s been writing about attending trade shows.

That includes both editorials and blog posts about how to work the show as an exhibitor to get the maximum return on your company’s investment, as well as suggestions on how, as a member of the press, to do the best job of covering the news coming out of the show. Not to mention giving advice on how to survive the daily (and nightly) grind of being either exhibitor or attendee.

Today, I’m going to take a different tack and talk about how best to use trade shows to find new business leads, not as an exhibitor, but by cold calling the exhibitors at the show!

As the job-title implies, being a sales rep involves, you know, actually selling. And being a manufacturers’ rep, I’m responsible for growing my brand’s business.

There are a couple of ways to go about growing the business. I can depend on my existing dealer network to deliver sales growth on their own. OR I can go out and find more dealers.

If, like me, you find that you’re already at or nearing saturation in your primary business channel, that’s when it’s time to get creative, and start looking outside at new channels where your products would be a good fit.

Being pretty old school, I believe that nothing is better than face to face cold calling. Cold calling by phone, or, even worse, by email seems incredibly lazy to me. It’s also far less effective than meeting in person, and giving your prospect a chance to size you up.

Where better, then, to find new business partners than in a trade show dedicated to that specific channel? Dozens, perhaps hundreds of prospects all under one roof!

So, if you’re going to hit a trade show with the purpose of prospecting the exhibitors, here’s some advice:

  • Do your homework in advance. Trade show websites list all their exhibitors, and include links to their websites. Research your prospects ahead of time.
  • Make a shortlist. If there are 150 companies exhibiting at the show, odds are that not all of them are going to be the kind of businesses you’re looking for. The objective of researching your prospects is to winnow down the list to a smaller number of likely prospects that you’re more likely to be able to make a deal with.
  • Hit the show on the first day. Most trade shows run Thursday to Sunday, occasionally starting on Wednesday. Regardless, the first day of every show is always the quietest, while the weekends are far crazier. You have a better chance of achieving your objectives on the first day of the show when the crowds are thinner.
  • Most of the booth staff at a show are salesmen like yourself: They’re there to find new prospects themselves. Be courteous and polite with them but brief. Get them to point out the boss.
  • Unlike a regular day in their office, the owner or general manager of your prospect isn’t going to be hidden in his office behind a gatekeeping secretary or receptionist.
  • Even so, when cold calling, get to the point: Introduce yourself, make your elevator pitch, and ask if that’s something their company would be interested in. For those of you who don’t know, an elevator pitch is short, to the point, and takes very little time, as if you had 30 seconds in an elevator to network with someone new.
  • When they’re interested, exchange contact information, and follow up in more detail after the show. If they aren’t, thank them and move on.
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Keep those points in mind, work your list of prospects at the show, and you should leave the event that day with some new business.