As I mentioned, I recently attended Exponaval 2012, and I want to share some tips for successfully participating in international trade shows. I’m not talking about the basic logistics – getting to the fair and setting up your booth – but rather about the strategic planning that can help you take your participation to the next level. The biggest theme here is to go in with a goal and a strategy – who you want to reach at the conference, and how you will get in touch with them.
Research the show:
- Get the participant list. This is possibly the most important thing you can do to make your participation a success. You might have to ask the organizers, or work your contacts, but it’s essential to find out who be there to set your goals for the show.
- Find out as much as you can about the physical layout of the venue – the better you understand the geography, the less time you’ll waste wandering around. You’ll also be able to identify the high-traffic areas and figure out where the big name companies will be. Which brings us to …
- Be smart about picking a booth. A large booth will be very costly – and maybe isn’t really necessary. If you get a huge booth and can’t fill up the space, that doesn’t look great. Location may be more important than booth size – a small booth on the “main drag” might get you more visitors than a huge booth in some hidden corner. Are other companies in your field participating? Maybe you want to be located near your peers.
- Use USG resources. Did you know that the U.S. Commerce Department offers all kinds of background information on different countries? If the expo is in another country, make a point to request a meeting at the U.S. Embassy beforehand – they can help you with all kinds of information. (I’ll have a future post on all the USG resources available to exporters – there are lots!)
Reach out ahead of time:
- Once you get ahold of a participant list, identify your “targets.” Who are the decision-makers you most want to connect with? Compare the participant list to your company’s contacts and see if your company already has any connections to the participants or their offices. Don’t be afraid to work your contacts to see if they can set up an introduction to your targets.
- Reach out BEFORE the conference to set up meetings with your target contacts. Even if it’s 5-minute coffee break, make a plan. It’s difficult to make real connections just wandering around and trying to strike up conversations. It’s also unlikely that you’ll just bump into the people you most want to meet. Be strategic and contact them ahead of time.
- Stay in the official hotel. It might cost more, but it’s worth it. The high-level event participants – those decision-makers you really need to reach – will be staying at the same hotel. Five minutes with them at the hotel bar, or even in the elevator, is more than worth the additional cost. (And if it’s really out of reach? Consider housing one or two members of your delegation at the official hotel, and the support staff at a low-budget place across town.)
- Don’t miss the chance to network with other vendors, too. Any products you especially want to check out? Any companies you’d like to talk with to discuss collaboration?
Plan your participation:
- Create a schedule. Check out the official agenda and see if there are any official events or seminars you don’t want to miss. Work around those events to set up pull-aside meetings and coffees with your target contacts.
- Make sure your booth is covered. Ideally, you should have a few staff on hand at all times. Have support staff there to handle the idle passers-by, who are probably just window shopping and aren’t seriously interested (or don’t have the authority) in purchasing. Your senior delegation should be focused on identifying and connecting with high-level target contacts.
- Set up times for contacts to visit your booth. A promise from an admiral that he’ll “stop by” your booth is nice, but securing a 15-minute appointment at 10am to show him your product is much more valuable.
As I said, this doesn’t cover the basic logistics of participating in international trade shows – making sure you have an attractive booth, lots of promotional materials, etc. In fact, it’s all too easy to get caught up in those logistics and forget about your real goals of the conference. It’s not just about showing up and staffing a booth, it’s about the chance to connect with potential clients, especially with high-level decision-makers. The tips above should be a good starting place to strategize your participation in your next show.
Do share … what is your best tip for getting the most out of international trade shows?