Trade Shows and Business Conferences (Part 4)

June 7, 2013

The trade show, for many businesses, particularly those in the business-to-business niche, represents a major investment and tremendous opportunity to retain existing customers and to development customers. It also represents an important competitive intelligence opportunity.

The first thing you want to do at a trade show is look around. Where are your competitors’ tables and displays located? How big are they? That should help you write ups tonight how much their spending.

Who was not present? It might be useful to ask around to find out why particular competitor is not present. Maybe they are having financial issues or maybe that they moved on no longer represent a direct competitor to you.

If you have a chance, and by that I mean make a chance, visit your competitor tours’ booths and tables. Do not attempt to hide who you are, but then again do not announce your presence either. Look around – in what section do they display? How big is the display? Are there any materials or samples that you can obtain? If so get them

Always ask yourself “What is it that I expect to see here, but no longer see?” You have time after the session to determine what the answer means.

When people come to your display area, if they mention anything about your competitor, such as comparisons of products, service, terms, etc., take the time to engage them in a conversation to understand what they have been told about your competitor. This is a golden opportunity for you. You have perhaps only a few seconds with people who have been approached as potential customers or even are existing customers of a competitor. Feel free to ask them about what they were told. The worst they can do is to tell you “no”.

Make time to walk around the hall. First, visit the booths and displays of your competitors. Second, take time to visit the booths of your suppliers, if they are present, and your own distributors or customers, if they are present. This is a very good opportunity to open a general conversation and see what they have been told, and what they have learned about your competitors.

Do not try to be a spy. By that I mean do not cover up your registration badge so that people cannot see for whom you work, or substitute a badge that looks like that of the different company for your own. Unethical behavior does not pay. You are unlikely to gain anything of real value that you could not otherwise get, and you basically have contaminated yourself. Bad idea.

If you have several people who are at the show, either have one person detailed to work the show from a competitive intelligence point of view, or assign people on a rotating basis the same task.

One suggestion: if a competitor comes into your exhibit area, welcome her/him. First that will throw her/him off base. Second, use it as an opportunity to find out what he or she is looking for. If you know what they’re looking for, you may learn something about what they plan.

 Before the end of the trade show, if at all possible, gather everyone together for an onsite debriefing. While it is busy and many things are going on, this is best done at the trade show or at least after the trade show is over, but before you return to your office or your plant. People’s minds are still focused on what they’ve been doing, they are still fresh from dealing with customers, competitors, suppliers and the like, and they can play off each other in terms of what they heard or did not hear, saw or did not see.

While a trade show is a golden opportunity to do business, is also a golden opportunity to do your own competitive intelligence.

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