Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The ABC's of Trade Shows and Conferences - V is for Vendors

Being a sponsor of a conference is a great way for a company to gain visibility to a targeted industry audience.  It is also a great way for individuals to attain access to clients, prospects, referral sources and competitors.  The groundwork for an ongoing relationship can be developed and cultivated at a business event, or it can be a giant waste of time and money.

If you are going to be a "vendor" at a trade show or other gathering you need to be very focused on how to maximize your investment of time and money.  Many events can be several days in length, and when you add travel days, time out of the office and the fatigue from the long hours, you cannot afford to waste any time.  Additionally the money adds up fast.  Beyond the sponsorship fees there is airfare, hotel, rental car, meals, and the costs of entertaining VIP's.  Plus, do not forget  time and money for the creation and shipping of the booth and collateral materials.

Many conference attendees have a bad attitude toward vendors even before they begin roaming the trade show floor.  Decades of old-school and pushy sales people have made many conference attendees wary of talking to the sponsors.  The weak one-sided conversations, hard-sell tactics, and the useless follow up SPAM that we have experienced from vendors has turned people off from even making eye contact with anyone who has a "sponsor" ribbon on their nametag.   The different color badges or special markings that are designed to let the vendors know who are the VIP's often have the reverse affect and alert the crowd as to who is there to sell to them. Vendors can be seen as outsiders, and often do very little to overcome this stereotype.

Some show organizers do not often help the situation by limiting access and keeping vendors out of some of the festivities.  On occasion vendors are not welcomed in keynote sessions or breakouts, although this is rare.    Usually sponsors have full access to all activities, but often they do not take advantage of participating.  If you are going to be at the conference, you must be active in every part.

Those who are there to "work the booth" often see that as their only commitment.  But standing next to a pile of brochures is not nearly as valuable as being engaged with the other people who are present.  Vendors who want to maximize a conference will make sure they attend everything and talk to lots of people.  It is the informal conversations that can lead to the best long-term relationships (an future opportunities).

Here are seven things to remember when you are a vendor / sponsor at a conference:

1.  Attend all keynotes, breaks, and meals.  Anytime there is an activity on the "main stage" or with the entire group you need to be in the audience, even if the speaker (or other activity) is not of interest to you directly.  Human beings are experiential creatures.  When you share an experience with others (as in listening to a speech or mingling at the poolside happy hour), you then have the right to chit-chat. When someone comes by your booth later in the show you can ask them what they thought of the presentation or other activity.  If you were not there, you did not share the experience,.... and thus you are not really part of the mini-society that exists at a conference.  We are all people: not vendors, attendees, speakers, etc....  You are only labeled if you give yourself a label.

2.  Pre-set meetings.  Long before you arrive at the show you should have scheduled times to meet your key clients and prospects.  Do not leave getting together up to fate.  A large conference often has so many people that you could easily never see some of the people.  Getting a time on the calendar with the most important people will ensure you have the face-time you desire.  Agree to meet for breakfast, coffee, or take them to dinner the night before the conference begins.  Hosting a VIP dinner (that does not conflict with the official schedule) can be a great way to ensure you have the right conversations.

3.  Do not talk about your product or service.  You are not a hungry wolf and those in attendance do not have pork-chops hanging around their necks.  Too often vendors pounce on prospective clients and create an atmosphere that makes the other person want to flee.  Instead, take an interest in people that goes beyond your sales quota.  Ask questions that will get them to open up about topics beyond when they will need to purchase what you sell.  A great question to ask is "Why do you attend this conference?".  This will give you an insight into why they are there, and the answer is probably not to be added to your mailing list.  If you care about people at a deeper level they are more likely to care about you!

4. Introduce people to others.  Being a connector makes you important.  Too often vendors want to isolate clients and prospects.  Monopolizing their time will not make shine.  Instead, help people meet others.  A main reason people attend industry events is to meet their peers.  As a vendor you will have the ability to connect attendees to others in complimentary companies and roles.  Always ask people if they are interested in meeting cool folks, but the answer is almost always "yes".

5.  Do not add people to your mailing list without permission.  This goes without saying.

6.  Personalize your follow up.  A "Blind-CC" email from a vendor to all conference attendees is about as lame as you can get.  Be focused in meeting a lot of people while you are at the event and have personal conversations.  Then put attention and effort into your follow up process.  A note or a call that specifically references your discussion will have a stronger impact than a canned email blast.

7.  Do not complain.  You might be surprised how often vendors share disappointments they have with the event with those in attendance.  If registration numbers were lower than expected or if the traffic on the trade show floor was sub-standard, it is not a concern to the average attendee.  When you whine about such things it makes you look self-focused and puts up a wall between your role and that of the other person.  To be part of this society you must position yourself as an equal, not the person who paid for access to sell to those in attendance.

Being a vendor at an event is a badge of honor.  Without sponsors most trade shows and conferences would not exist. Be proud of your company's participation, but also honor the purpose of the attendee in being in the room.  Help them have a better conference and they are more likely to take your call and buy your products and services when the time is right.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections. 


Michael Thimmesch said...

Nice blog post, Thom. Trade show exhibitors can get a lot more value out of conferences when they learn to network with people as a person, and to continue to network outside of their booth.


Michael Thimmesch

Brian Sparks said...

One more thing to remember: Don't ignore building relationships with other vendors (and not just the guy in the booth next to you). It's possible to find both suppliers and clients this way!