It’s Not About the Tradeshow

Too often, suppliers are caught in the trap of putting all of their eggs in the tradeshow basket.  Gone are the days when suppliers will leave a half-day’s work standing on the exhibit hall floor with a stack of RFPs as souvenirs.  Tradeshows have become meet-and-greets, a place to see and be seen, a place for networking, for new ideas, and for reacquainting with friends and colleagues. 

But tradeshows don’t often happen in a vacuum.  More commonly, the tradeshow is just one facet of a larger conference complete with educational sessions, meal functions, networking receptions, and breaks. Suppliers need to embrace that the tradeshow is not the only opportunity to secure business; in fact, these days, of the four other aspects to a conference mentioned above, the tradeshow may be the least likely location at which business is conducted.

Educational sessions at industry conferences are generally geared towards educating the planner on new meeting planning techniques and trades.  For this reason, any savvy supplier who sits in on an educational session, will not only glean the lessons of the day, but they’ll be surrounded by the very planners they hope to capture when standing on the tradeshow floor.  Arrive five minutes before the session and stay five minutes after for increased networking and exposure, and be sure to mingle with your neighbors to your right and left.  Who knows who holds the next meeting for your hotel? 

Ah, the general session breakfast.  Oh that rubber chicken lunch.  If you’re a supplier skipping out on the group meal functions, you’re a fool for two reasons.  For one, food is fuel, and you’ll need it to survive the tradeshow you’ve sunk all of your marketing dollars into.  But more importantly, when asked to pass the salt, you’ll be seasoning the tasteless food of a prospective customer no doubt.  Be the life of your table.  Indeed there will be a mix of suppliers and planners alike at the average ten-top banquet round, but allow your sales personality to shine and make a friend.  That friend whose salad was dressed thanks to your reach might have a holiday party that fits perfectly in your largest ballroom.

A networking reception at an industry conference should nary be missed because, unlike any of the other events, this one is designed for the very reason you’ve attended the conference.  Mix and mingle by bouncing strategically from one high top to another.  Stand near the dance floor, dance if your skills won’t preclude your ever making another friend, and make sure you watch your cocktail intake.  Staying loose at the networking reception is key, but being sloppy defeats every purpose surrounding the event. 

And finally, please do not ignore the breaks.  More business can be conducted in the narrow prefunction space of the junior ballroom, and in the hotel lobby, and in the elevator, than may be conducted on the floor of the expo.  Take a moment to check your email and voicemail.  Take another to grab a granola bar.  But save the lion’s share of your break time to network with individuals you haven’t already seen.  The time is invaluable and too few suppliers seize these moments.

The tradeshow can’t be ignored.  Certainly, it’s the time when one is most prepared to speak eloquently about their product, to showcase and highlight their advantages, because marketing materials are readily available.  But it’s also the time at which suppliers are most succinctly pitted against their competition, sometimes no more than ten feet away.  And, sadly, it’s also in many cases so overdone, that planners don’t spend the time suppliers had hoped for. 

The irony is, that many suppliers come only for the tradeshow and spend all their marketing dollars on creating the perfect booth.  And if no RFPs were collected while standing in their 10×10 cell, it’s deemed a failure.  Hardly!  The tradeshow is just a wee part of the overall conference and by no means the only place where the investment can be returned.

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