Some may think that trade shows belong in the past, but the trade show industry is growing fast. This year, PwC estimates B2B trade shows to be a $15.7 billion market in the U.S. and in many industries exhibiting is practically mandatory.
However, it is not the only way to gain value from trade shows, attending as a guest can be very beneficial as well. Torbjörn Milläng, CEO and founder of GoToMarketUSA, has helped many European companies enter the U.S. market which often includes attending trade shows. He gives us his views on the importance of trade shows, and how to get the most out of them.
“Attending as a guest is cost-effective and underrated. It is a great start in a new market and you can gain a lot from it.”
Trade shows are representations of different industry segments and a fantastic way to learn about competitors, customers, trends, and relevant research in your field. They can be a source of many leads and important contacts as well as a great way to give your brand exposure and understanding of which direction the industry is going. However, a trade show could also consist of hours conversing with irrelevant people leading nowhere. That is why it is important to know what you are doing, and unfortunately, many companies do not.
“When our clients are attending trade shows, we make sure they get their money’s worth by following our lead.”
Torbjörn explains step by step how to be successful when attending trade shows as a guest:
1. Find the right fit
The first step is to find the right trade show for your business. Regional or national? Specialized or general? Small or big? It all depends on what your objectives are. There are several shows within each industry and even though the theme can be suitable, the attendees and exhibitors might not be. Before deciding, you should always talk to others in your industry, they can give you the most accurate and current information about who attends what. Combining that with website descriptions is a great way to help you with your decision. You can also call the association organizing the trade show to ask more questions.
2. Do your research
Many companies do not prepare enough, so you should start planning months or weeks in advance. First off you must understand what you want to achieve and set goals. Then properly research attendees, exhibitors, seminars, workshops, and speakers. Create an itinerary to make sure you attend the events that can help you achieve your goals. Include floor time in your plan and make a list of which companies to visit and who to talk to. That way you spend most of your time with valuable contacts.
3. Prepare your pitch
Before going to the trade show, prepare a short introduction to your business and what you are looking for. European companies usually fail to explain why they are of interest to the other person and do not include this early enough in the conversation. Prepare and practice your pitch and make sure to bring enough business cards.
4. Be open and go for it
Follow your itinerary but stay open for other opportunities as they come along. At the show, you will be surrounded by professionals and experts in your field and their findings and opinions are very valuable. “Instead of defending your product or business, try to gather as much information as possible” says Torbjörn. Networking is a very big part of the show and can lead to hundreds of contacts so be eager and do not waste time standing on the sidelines. Make sure to take notes to remember all the meetings later on. Stepping aside and writing a summary after each conversation is always a good idea.
5. Always follow up
After the trade show, you should sort the contacts and the information related to them. Prioritize the most important ones and make sure you follow up fast, within days or a week. You should connect to the conversation and address any loose ends. If that is not possible you should at least tell them that you will get back to them with answers. “This is very important, yet many companies let contacts disappear as soon as the event is over” says Torbjörn. Make sure to gain as much as possible by taking advantage of all your leads, tips and other information you gathered at the show. Using your findings to actually improve your business is how you get value and it should always be your focus.
“By following these steps I think you have a great start, but practice makes perfect.”
For Torbjörn who has several years of experience attending trade shows, helping over 40 companies enter the U.S. market, this all comes naturally. He has been able to learn how to analyze the floor and to do it quickly. That way the visit can be a lot more efficient. After attending a few trade shows you will have perfected your own routine.