AQUA Live will be a great place to meet new vendors, learn from seminars and chat with colleagues. But while all those activities are fun, they should pay off with a fatter bottom line.
The key lies in smart follow-through when you return from the show. That means keeping the dialogue going with vendors, reviewing lessons learned with coworkers, and sharing the new industry trends with customers.
Here are some tips for doing just that: (and don't forget to REGISTER HERE)
Tip #1: Prepare to Win
The best follow-through begins before you leave for Charlotte. Each person attending the show must plan in advance to take the right steps after returning. That means having an answer to the question: How will I maximize the contacts I make with exhibitors and other individuals I meet?
Every attendee needs to exercise the best techniques for maximizing their time. Maybe that means collecting business cards, having their badges scanned to receive product literature, scanning QRC codes in booths, or taking smartphone photos of new and interesting products.
Tip #2: Set Specific Goals
General goals are important — but translate them into specific actions. Define your game plan in detail and be able to answer the key question: What do you intend to achieve by traveling to North Carolina and the Charlotte Convention Center?
“Develop specific answers in advance to critical questions,” says Nancy Drapeau, vice president of research, Center for Exhibition Industry Research. “How many booths will you visit, and which ones? Are there specific educational seminars you will attend? And how about networking events? How will you track your activities?”
Plan your time in concrete terms. Get the exhibitor list from the magazine or website, suggests Peter LoCascio, a Salem, Ore.-based consultant. “List the products and services you are looking for and draw up a plan to visit the booths of the relevant exhibitors. Avoid walking the aisles aimlessly.”
Reaching specific goals will require effective networking skills. “If people don’t know how to network, they will not know how to obtain valuable information,” says Alice Heiman, founder of her own sales consultancy in Reno, Nev. “Teach your staff how to start productive conversations with strangers and how to keep people talking. Make sure they can answer the question, ‘What do you do?’”
Networking goals can also be specific. You might require your staff to find 10 new people with whom they can develop continuing relationships. They can do this by attending various networking events, such as the Welcome Party at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, industry forums, and the AQUA Backyard Happy Hour. “The idea is to learn about the industry trends that will be affecting your company and your customers,” says Heiman.
Bonus tip: If you are going to the show as a group, get more done by splitting up and pursuing individual goals. Don’t walk the show in a pack.
Tip #3: Debrief Coworkers
When the show’s over, have attendees share what they have learned with their coworkers. What were their impressions of the show? What did they learn from exhibitors about new products? From seminar speakers and colleagues about critical trends in the industry?
“Set a date and time for a follow-up meeting before you go to the show, to make sure the job gets done,” says Meridith Elliott Powell, sales and leadership strategist based in Asheville, N.C. “Decide in advance how the meeting will be structured and how you will debrief. It’s important to tell not only what happened, but also to share your leads. Whom did you talk to? What did you discuss? What will the next steps be? What topics were of interest to you?”
When talking about vendors and their offerings, says Powell, it’s important to go beyond a list of new goods and services, and explain how purchases will integrate into your current structure. What will it take to earn back your investment?
Encourage attendees to present their findings in a way that engages their colleagues. That means more than just standing and reading their notes.
“One approach is to present findings in the form of a quiz,” says Heiman. “Or engage the audience by repeatedly asking for ideas on how what has been learned from the show can be applied to current operations.”
If the show has been particularly extensive, avoid overwhelming the audience with too much material. “Consider having each attendee pick two or three vital insights discovered at the show, then do a deep dive into each one — perhaps doing additional research on the topic before the presentation,” says Heiman.
Bonus tip: Schedule the follow-up meeting within 48 hours of the time people return from the show, while memories are still fresh.
Tip #4: Review Performance
Good trade show follow-through includes reflections on how well the attendees utilized their time, and how they might improve their technique the next time around.
“There should be a post-show discussion about how participants performed, including what worked and what didn’t,” says Orvel Ray Wilson, a speaker and coach on trade shows. “Which steps were effective and which were not?”
Consider what you were looking to achieve and assess whether you were successful. “If something worked, point it out and plan to repeat it in the future,” says Drapeau. “If something did not work, discuss the reason.”
Answer the tough questions such as: How could attendees have improved their use of time? Did you send the correct amount of people?
Bonus tip: Have each attendee prepare a short report on three ways the business can improve its return on investment in attending the next show.
Tip #5: Follow Up With Vendors
Once you’ve briefed your colleagues on the show, follow-up with the important vendors. Trying to reach out to everyone will seem overwhelming since you have your regular duties to attend to at the same time. So start with a few who have the most potential.
Above all, say the experts: Make it personal. Remember that the most important reason to go to a show is to build relationships, not to get information.
“Write hand-written notes,” suggests Heiman. “In an age of email, these can be especially effective because no one does them anymore. Say things like, ‘It was nice to meet you. I had so much fun discussing how the industry has changed over the years. I look forward to continuing our relationship and discussing business trends.’ And include your business card.”
Social media can also personalize your feedback. “Are some vendors active on LinkedIn? If so, connect with them,” says Heiman. “And don’t just connect. Interact by ‘liking’ or sharing posts they have made that would be interesting to people who follow you.”
In some cases, says Heiman, it is appropriate to schedule a phone call: Maybe the person has special knowledge and you want to know if he or she will present virtually to your company.
Bonus tip: Take the initiative when following up with vendors.
Tip #6: Share With Customers
Maybe coworkers and vendors are the most obvious people for follow-up. But don’t overlook customers who could not attend the show and who will appreciate your thoughtfulness and expertise if you inform them of what you learned.
“Communicating your show experience with customers can be one of your best marketing tools,” says Powell. “You want to stay visible to your customers, and you want them to see that you are staying knowledgeable about the industry. Consider sharing the top three things you took away from the show, and explain how they will benefit your customers.”
Bonus tip: Updating your customers in person is always preferable, but consider including some select information in your social media posts and your newsletter. Or cover the topic in a webinar or video you email to your customers.
The Big Picture
As the comments in this article suggest, getting the biggest bang from the buck invested in attending AQUA Live depends on how you sweep up after you get back. Smart trade show follow-through begins before you even leave for the show and continues long after you have returned to your workplace and debriefed your coworkers.
Done right, the time and effort involved in attending a show can pay off in happier customers and a fatter bottom line.
“The convening of such a large audience at a trade show creates a profound and impactful experience for everyone attending,” says Drapeau. “Face-to-face marketing remains very strong in today’s world, despite the explosion of digital communications such as social media. In fact, the two channels complement each other.”