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 Maybe they are having financial issues or maybe that they moved on no longer represent a direct competitor to you.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.

Trade Shows and Business Conferences (Part 2)

May 24, 2013

By business conference, I mean a meeting which is not a trade show, where the prime focus is one or a series of large halls with exhibits, booths and even tables. By business conference, I mean a meeting where the focus of the conference is meeting other attendees and attending speeches, workshops, seminars and the like.

For that reason, preparing to work such a meeting can sometimes be very different from preparing to work a trade show. But these meetings should be worked and can be done so successfully

The first thing you have to realize is that your conference badge tells people who you are. This is not a problem, but you do not have to make it easy for people to determine who you if you do not want them to do so. Enough said.

The next step is to find any sessions which are being run by or feature presenters from any of your competitors or other important targets, such as suppliers or customers. Make sure that you or someone else attends these meetings and gets all of the materials that are handed out. Be prepared to take pictures of any presentation materials that are particularly interesting if there are no handouts. This of course assumes that there is not a prohibition against using a camera.

At the end, make sure that you go to the front of the room and join in any group gathering around a speaker or presenter from one of your targets. Do not expect that this person will answer questions from you. Rather listen to what he or she says in response to the questions and comments that others raise. What these group is doing is building up, possibly inadvertently, the ego of the speaker by making him/her feel important. That can result in the speaker lowering his/her guard and perhaps speaking more frankly then they would like to do. Listen carefully and then leave.

If you sit down at a table, say for breakfast or lunch, and there are representatives of the competitor there, introduce yourself. By introducing yourself, you are putting yourself in charge. Since you spoke first, it is perfectly appropriate for you to ask questions. Minimize the questions. Rather put out open-ended statements and hopefully listen to others ask your competitor questions that help you. Never react to whatever your competitor says. If they make a joke about your firm, simply smile. Do not respond to it. Your job is to listen — not to talk.

More on business conferences next week.