Trade shows are a big part of our industry. The current economy means contractors and vendors are being more prudent with company spending. Executives are questioning why they should attend conventions.

There is a simple answer, especially during these difficult times: value. There is value in face-to-face meetings with fellow members and executives, educational seminars, and the opportunity to visit vendors. According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), attendees find 40 percent more value today then they did two years ago. Between 63 and 70 percent of attendees place a high level of importance on face-to-face interaction during the prepurchasing stages.

The challenge is to satisfy our fiduciary responsibility by making sure we get the full value of attending the convention. That requires a plan and strategy to get the biggest bang for the buck.

I have attended hundreds of shows as both an attendee and vendor. I have observed many attendees aimlessly wandering the aisle of the exhibition floor. They avoid any eye contact and repel any attempts by vendors to invite them into their booth. They use the evasive, convention-standard line, “I don’t have the time right now, but I’ll stop back to see you later.” Of course, many have the time to pick up a free gift. Similarly, you may find vendors aimlessly wandering in their own booths or sitting and having a discussion with their cohorts, most likely about dinner arrangements.

People who would rather be doing something else and approach the exhibition as a waste of time are just “PITers” or Putting-In-Timers. If you arrive at the show with this attitude, you are wasting your time and money. Don’t be a PITer. It makes for a long and boring show. Attend the convention and exhibition with a purpose. Both attendees and vendors should take advantage of the opportunity to develop contacts, gather valuable information, obtain education and discuss issues that affect your business and industry.

For attendees

Plan on allocating time to visit the exhibition floor. Prioritize your time by using the exhibit guide that maps vendors’ locations and summarizes what they will be displaying. To make an effective plan, review the direction and problems your organization faces today. Then divide those issues into past issues, present needs and future wants.

Past issues

Most vendors’ booths are populated with sales executives or product managers from corporate headquarters. If you have issues with their products, and you can’t get satisfaction from local representatives, then this is a good opportunity to get those issues addressed. These people can either discuss your problem and resolve it right there or refer you to someone who can. I suggest that you call the vendor prior to the convention to find out who will be attending the convention and arrange a meeting either on the floor or off premise. If possible, bring copies of invoices, letters, agreements, etc., because whomever you speak with will need that information.

Present needs

Bring a list of requirements or specifications for vendors to review. If the products are on display, request a demonstration. If the product manager is there, he or she can be a great contact, especially if you are intending to purchase that product. Again, check the exhibit guide for the product listing.

Future wants

Trade shows are good barometers to indicate where your industry is heading and what business markets you will face in the future. The key is to look at the new products being introduced at the booth and at the “New Product” display in the lobby. Review the advertisements in the exhibit magazines and program guide. Also, pay attention to vendors’ conversations about future products that may not be at the show.

Discover where each vendor you wish to visit is located on the show floor plan, which you’ll find in the program guide. Plan a list of vendors in each aisle and work the aisle. You will discover that by working in an effective and efficient manner you will spend less time wandering and more time being productive, thereby justifying the expense and prevent boredom. Make sure you have plenty of business cards. If you run out, have your office send more.

Some hints

Here are other hints to follow that can help you enjoy your show experience.

•Since we shake hands with our right hand, you should place your badge on the right side. People can read your badge without looking across your body. Don’t wear your badge near your waist; it makes people uncomfortable to scan the lower part of your body.

•Bring glasses, even if you wear contact lenses, because on the show floor, the lighting, dust, computer screens, eyestrain and dehydration may cause your eyes to get irritated. It is good to have a backup.

•Wear comfortable light clothing and bring broken-in, soft-sole shoes for the show floor. If you are forced to wear a coat, check it. You will be surprised how heavy they can get after a few minutes. Besides, you’re going to need both your hands to carry all those giveaways.

•If you are carrying a briefcase and it doesn’t have wheels, make sure it’s light and has a shoulder strap. Any unnecessary material, including a computer, should be left in the room.

•Remember this fact about giveaways: They are gifts at the show and clutter at home.

It is important that you spend time on the show floor and interact with the vendors. According to CEIR, 76 percent of attendees rate face-to-face interaction with potential vendors and suppliers very or extremely important in performing their jobs. This is your opportunity to meet several vendors that affect your business in just a few days, in one place. Besides, vendor’s fees support your convention and, to continue that support, the convention must be deemed a successful event. Vendors measure success by the number of visiting attendees and leads they receive.

For vendors:

The CEIR report on face-to-face contact is very revealing.

•Eighty-seven percent of exhibitors rate face-to-face interaction in marketing their company’s products or services very or extremely important in performing their job.

•It takes an average of 1.6 calls to close an exhibition-generated lead, compared to the industry average of 3.7 field sales calls to close a field-generated lead.

•Because time is money, it is useful to analyze the cost of developing leads and closing sales. The cost of contacting a prospect in the field is $308 vs. $212 cost per visitor contacted at an exhibition.

•Previous research on the Total Buying Plans found that 53 percent of attendees are planning to buy one or more products and services as a result of what they saw at an exhibition.

•Fifty-one percent of executive decision-makers asked a sales representative to visit their company after the show, and 76 percent asked for a price quote at the last show they attended.

Unfortunately, statistics also point to some problems:

•Only 15 percent of the show audience is comfortable being approached by a booth worker.

•Attendees believe that 42 percent of the booth workers didn’t understand their needs because they weren’t listening attentively.

Attendees place a high importance on product knowledge and this coincides with the desire to utilize face-to-face interaction throughout the purchase process. Attendees chose the following attributes as the three most important for vendors:

1. Knowledge about product or solution

2. Willingness to provide information

3. Credibility

Tips

Vendors’ body language must send the right message. Stand up straight and avoid appearing stiff and unapproachable. Don’t cross your arms or stand with your hands in your pockets. Trade show booth duty is a grueling experiences—don’t let it show.

•Keep your presentation short. Five to seven minutes is the best length for a show-floor presentation, according to a CEIR report. With limited time, focus on the key points, tailor content to address the attendee’s needs and package information for listeners to remember easily. The CEIR report suggests bridging from the qualifying questions to addressing the attendee’s concerns and explaining the information by describing each feature and its benefit. Close by repeating features and benefits, and suggesting the next step (follow-up visit, a purchase, etc.).

•Give attendees a seat if you are making a formal presentation

•Sales pitch boredom is caused by presenting the same information over and over again. Listening to the attendees’ concerns and addressing them directly and uniquely will prevent you from sounding like a recording and will also prevent boredom.

•Bring more that one suit or jacket, especially if you plan to be iwearing one all day for both the show and evening.

•Bring two pairs of comfortable, cushioned shoes. Show floors are concrete and standing all day will affect you. Also, never break in a new pair of shoes at a trade show. Afterward, try to elevate your feet and legs.

•Try to eat a good breakfast and only eat healthy snacks during the day. Most “show food” is high in salt and will aggravate the swelling in your joints and cause dehydration. Besides, it will probably ruin your dinner plans.

•Dehydration is a major problem, so bring bottled water and refill it from the fountains. Alcohol is a diuretic that contributes to dehydration problems, so try not to overindulge. It is tough to work a show the next day when your head is bigger than the convention center.

•Smoking, breath-killing foods and dehydration are sources of most bad breath. Bring mints or spray, but don’t chew gum. It is difficult to speak clearly with gum in your mouth; also, gum annoys many business professionals.

•Respect all visitors to your booth, no matter what you may assume is their title. Maintain the same professional attitude toward all visitors. You cannot know who they are or what influence they may have.

At the convention and exhibition, it is an opportunity for both attendees and vendors to work together in a mutually beneficial business environment. Take advantage of the time you have and the opportunity it presents. Have a great show. EC

MARTIN is a business consultant for Alan Martin & Assoc., consultant for SBA, speaker and adjunct instructor with NECA-MEI, based in Morris Plains, N.J. He can be reached at 973.540.1298 or necamartin@aol.com.