A little more than a decade ago, our country experienced a devastating event – 9/11. That put a halt to business travel and trade shows. But as the saying goes, time heals all wounds. As such, travel and trade shows are on the rise. Karen Malone, vice president of Meeting Services at HIMSS, firmly agrees. Malone has been overseeing events for more than 20 years. HIMSS is one of the top trade shows for the healthcare IT arena. The show is scheduled for March 3-7, 2013 in New Orleans, when Hurricane Isaac will hopefully be a distant memory. It is never too early to start planning for a conference.
According to Malone, being in one place with your competitors, clients and prospective clients, as well as media, is important. Trade shows offer an effective face-to-face opportunity to see products and solutions, but also to build relationships.
Go or No Go - When trying to decide whether or not a trade show is a fit for you, Malone suggests contacting current and prospective clients and asking them if they are familiar with the show, if they have attended and what they think of the show. You need good references, and the best ones are your clients. Do your homework and find out where competitors are going. In addition, in her article titled, “10 Tips for Working Trade Shows,” Carol Tice suggests reviewing the speaker and attendee list, and reading the description and target audience.
Booth or No Booth - One of the biggest issues is the “booth or no booth.” Malone advises, “Know your strategy.” What is the product or solution you want to showcase, and what’s the best way to “be seen”? At HIMSS for example, instead of setting up your own booth, you can participate in a HIMSS Knowledge Center. The Center feature multiple vendors all focused on a particular solution or category, making it easier for attendees to find vendors of interest.
Scheduling Appointments - When it comes to scheduling appointments at the show, Malone has a 70/30 rule – schedule 70 percent of your meetings in advance, about seven to 10 days prior to the show, and leave 30 percent of your schedule free for last minute meetings. Malone suggests arranging meetings in the food court. Chat people up while you are standing in line for food and sit down with people to extend the conversation. “Exhibitors must take time to engage clients and prospects in conversation,” says Malone.
Visiting Booths - Is there a method to madness of visiting booths? Malone says yes and no. This is personality driven. Analytical people will have a show floor mapped out, and some people will wing it. Tice also suggests visiting booths systematically. As she puts it, “You can save a lot of time and shoe leather if you have a logical game plan.”
Best Pre-Show To-Dos - Pre-show communications can set the tone and make or break the success of your conference participation. Let your clients and prospects know you will be at the show and schedule time to meet in advance. Create materials to take with you, such as a thumb drive of product information and press releases. Plan what you will discuss with clients and prospects. Malone advises first-time attendees or exhibitors at HIMSS to take advantage of webinars they offer which will help you prepare for the show. This year, HIMSS is also offering these conference prep webinars for show veterans.
Be Comfortable - When you’re constantly on the go, you need to wear comfortable shoes and clothes. The current business casual styles allow you to look professional on the outside and feel relaxed on the inside.
Have Some Fun – If you are in an interesting city with opportunities for site seeing, and carve out some time for a tour. If you are a runner or walker, grab a map and sketch a route for a morning walk or run. Better yet, invite a client or prospect to join you.
What to Avoid Doing - If there is anything you should avoid it is poor booth etiquette. “We have seen exhibitors standing at the booth reading their iPad or a newspaper and not engaging with people coming to the booth,” says Malone. “Although they are at the show, they do not take full advantage of opportunities to speak with clients and prospects.”
After the Show - Tice offers some suggestions for post-show follow up as well. She says that the real work starts when you get back to the office. Don’t just throw all those business cards in a drawer and plan to get to them soon. Instead, find creative ways to follow up, as soon as you get back to your office -- connect on LinkedIn or Twitter, send prospects an interesting article. Develop ways to stay in touch that go beyond saying, "Why don't you buy something from me?"
“The biggest difference I have seen in trade shows since I started to work in this industry is technology,” says Malone. Although technology has helped more than it has hindered, technology can cause us to underestimate the value of face-to-face meetings and engagement. “Seeing a smile, talking with people directly and making eye contact go further than words in a text or email. There is still a time and a place for the personal exchange.”
Do you have any tips for preparing and working a trade show? We’d love to hear about them.
Posted by Davida Dinerman on September 19, 2012 at 3:20 AM