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Traveling to a trade show? Depending on your personality, this is either out of your comfort zone and makes you sweat, or you thrive in that type of environment and it gets your adrenaline pumping.
As someone staring down her 11th International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, I fall into the latter category and love a good trade show. Why? Because there is opportunity to form face-to-face connections and generate new business — and the investment of travel time and money is well worth the expense when it leads to new revenue.
Related: Why Do You Need to Cold Call?
Netting a new client at a trade show goes beyond just showing up — especially at CES, one of the world’s largest tech shows. A plan is needed (plus a few best practices) to make the highest and best use of your time.
1. Start early.
Whether you are an exhibitor, speaker or attendee at CES, preparation starts months in advance — and your prospecting strategy should be no different. The fine folks at CES make it relatively easy to filter exhibitors by geography, category, marketplace and hall location, so you can whittle the list early to identify your target companies.
Contact info is rarely available, so head to LinkedIn or the company’s website to identify the specific person with whom you would like to have a conversation. Keep in mind that most exhibitors send their sales and marketing teams to staff the booth. The founders may potentially be there depending on the company’s size. If you are looking to speak with decision-makers in IT or finance, they are likely not at the booth, or at the show at all. Once you have identified your target prospects, it’s time to make outreach and set up initial conversations at the show.
2. Be brief.
While there are new business opportunities at the show, remember that it is not the right place or time to actually close a deal. There are distractions, other meetings, noise, interruptions — so understand that you are asking for no more than 15 minutes of someone’s time — just enough to determine if it makes sense to speak in greater detail during a second conversation.
In your outreach, make it clear that you are only looking for a 10- or 15-minute block of time and ask the best way to get on that person’s calendar at the show.
When you do meet, stick to the stated timeframe and let the prospect be the one to determine if he or she has additional time to speak. Leave the conversation with clear next steps: either a call after the show or another meeting away from the trade show floor or back at the booth.
3. Know your route.
CES takes up every square inch of the massive, three-hall convention center and expands every year into other locations such as the Sands, Venetian, Aria and Westgate, among others. Getting to and from each hall — let alone to another casino — takes around 30 minutes during the day and over an hour in the mornings and at show close. For this reason, scheduling your meeting by location is a must. As soon as you secure one meeting, build your schedule around their location. For example, if you have a 10 a.m., 15-minute meeting in the back corner of South Hall, it’s even difficult to make a 10:30 in North. Try to block out 2-3 hours in the morning or afternoon to be at the convention center, leaving time open for meetings at other locations.
The Las Vegas monorail is the easiest way to get around, as taxi lines are long, Uber rides are booked and the shuttles run on timed schedules. This year, you can connect your monorail pass to your CES badge before you land in Vegas. Scan your CES badge at the monorail stations for entry vs. keeping track of a separate ticket.
4. Embrace salespeople.
When time allows, walking the show floor is a killer way to get intel about target companies with which you were unsuccessful getting meetings scheduled. In this instance, salespeople are your best source of information. Unless you are in one the massive booths in Central Hall, most salespeople staffing a booth are available and willing to talk to anyone to pass the time, so use this to your advantage.
When you walk up to introduce yourself, be transparent about who you are, why you are there and who you are trying to connect with at the booth. Once that is out of the way, ask questions!
For example, I want to uncover competitors, recent product launches (Were they successful? Why or why not?), their thoughts on how the company markets itself, industry perspective, etc. These are all pieces of information that I can use when I finally do connect with the right person. Coming away from this conversation, I discover that the company isn’t a fit and move on or if I’m still interested, I’ll figure out when the right person will be back at the booth and I come by a second time for a face-to-face meeting (again, no longer than 15 minutes).
5. Follow up.
This is obvious, but there are a few tricks of the trade to make the second touch point memorable. Of the few really good conversations you had — the ones that you believe could turn into business — come back by the booth again with a piece of useful information. Often, I will visit a prospect’s competitor booth and come back the next day with a nugget or two of useful information for them, creating a valuable second touch point.
After the show, I like to go vintage and craft a handwritten note (with a real pen and everything) thanking them for the time and expressing how I look forward to speaking again. An email is easy, and expected, so receiving a note makes a bigger impact.
As with any type of prospecting, being genuine and treating people like humans will always yield more positive results that trying to coldly sell, and a trade show forces you to make those connections face to face. It’s a great opportunity to hone your ability to connect with strangers, nail your messaging and hopefully bring on new partners as a result.