You can use trade shows in two ways: as a visitor and as an exhibitor. In both, you have scope to enhance the competitive advantage of your business.
Making best use of trade shows as a visitor
For any businessman, visiting trade shows appropriate to the line of business is a must to get a bird’s eye view of the technological trends, activities of competitors and to find new avenues for distributorship or for new collaborations – all at a single place. As a visitor, one must take care of the following:
1) Choose the most appropriate trade shows to visit: The show must be prestigious enough to attract lots of “big names” in your industry and if you are aiming big, look for exhibitions where there is global participation.
2) Focus: Collect adequate information like exhibitors’ list, site map, timings of any buyer-seller meets or conferences etc. Most of such information can be collected in advance from the Internet. Visit to large trade shows can be quite taxing and tiring. Hence limit your wanderings to the most appropriate stalls which are top priority to you.
3) Go prepared: Take adequate quantity of business cards. If you are looking for new distributors or new collaborators, go well prepared with a couple of folders containing your company profile, product catalogs, list of customers etc which can be handed over to any top level executives whom you may come across to meet at the appropriate stalls.
4) Collect as much information from your competitors’ stalls as possible. At times, it may not be advisable to give your business cards, particularly if the competitor is likely to become non-communicative upon seeing it! Collecting information more as a casual visitor may work out and you can always say you have exhausted your stock of business cards in going around the trade show.
5) Segregate wheat from the chaff: Many companies, particularly at the time of Trade Shows tend to bring in their “half baked” and “experimental” technologies and try to show-case them, claiming them to be path breaking technologies for the future. Many such new products and prototypes may die a natural death after the trade shows. If your competitors are doing any such gimmicks, you have to be smart enough not to get carried away by such “dubious trends”.
6) Look “up” as well as “below”: What are the likely future business trends? What are the possible lines of diversification you can think of? Can you locate some new customers for whom you could become a supplier? These are things to look “up”.
What are the smaller players doing in the business? Is there a better market for a technology level lower than what you are currently offering? Is there any new supplier or sub-contractor that you can locate who can help improving your quality and competitiveness? These are the things to look “below”.
Making best use of trade shows as an exhibitor
There is nothing like showcasing your products in a trade show to get a very large exposure at a very short time. You have a two-pronged advantage here: you can visit other stalls as a visitor too, invite prospective collaborators, distributors and sub-contractors to your stall and try to have more fruitful discussions. As an Exhibitor, you must take care of the following:
1) Size and strategic location of the stall: Making a decision on this is one of the daunting tasks, particularly if you have budget constraints. A balanced decision should be made on this aspect taking into considerations about the prestige of the show, the likely exposure you are going to get from prospective buyers, cost of transportation of equipment and deploying your man-power etc in addition to the cost of hiring floor-space and other incidental expenses.
2) Do not economize on pamphlets: Good pamphlets are going to do the talking for your products and company even beyond the exhibition. Your pamphlets should ideally be grouped into General Information about your organization, overall brief information about all your products and services and product catalogs and specifications related to your specific products of display.
3) Deploy your best man-power: Those who man your stalls should be very pleasing personalities, who talk politely and impressively to visitors and be very courteous. They should be smart enough to segregate the casual visitor from a serious inquirer and treat the “big fish” with appropriate care.
4) Offer special exhibition prices: For any customer willing to take a quick decision, offer extremely attractive prices considering the fact that taking your exhibited products back to your plant will have its own costs.
5) Send your boys around: Let your personnel who are deployed to man the stall have their own free time to go around the exhibition and supplement your search efforts for more business opportunities and competitor’s information.
Participating in trade shows may not probably flood you with immediate orders; but the type of exposure you give to your prospective customers will be invaluable in the long run.
Related reading: Reflections: Participating in trade shows