Trade shows are sponsored by trade associations for specific industries, and there are thousands of associations running shows every year. Generally trade shows aren't open to the public and can only be attended by company representatives and members of the press. To find an appropriate association for the industry you're interested in, look through the Encyclopedia of Associations published by Gale Research. You may also want to check magazines and newsletters such as Tradeshow Week or go through the Tradeshow Week Data Book. These publications should be available at your local library.
To find out when the next trade will occur in your area, contact your local convention facility. The space for such shows must be reserved well in advance, and if there's one planned during the next year, the facility manager's office will be able to give you the dates. You can also check with your local Chamber of Commerce for information about trade shows in your area. And don't forget to search the web for shows outside your area.
Exhibiting at a trade show is an excellent way to find customers to help your business grow. According to a study conducted by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), 86 percent of show attendees were the decision-maker or influenced buying decisions, yet 85 percent had not been called on by a salesperson before the show.
Trade shows are also economical ways of getting sales. The CEIR reports that closing a sale that begins with contact at a trade show runs about half the cost of closing a sale that doesn't have the exhibition advantage: $550 and 1.4 sales calls compared to $997 and 3.6 sales calls.
Finally, trade shows are popular, and it's easy to find one that fits your industry and your company's needs. Tradeshow Week lists more than 1,700 annual trade shows in its directory, from the American Bankers Association Convention to the World Alzheimer Congress. You can search for exactly the show you want at Tradeshow Week's online directory.
You'll improve your trade show experience by planning ahead. Obtain a map of the exposition floor and make notes of the booths you want to visit. The most important things at any trade show are the exhibitors and the attendees. Of these two, the more important are the exhibitors. You want to pick a trade show that has lots of exhibitors to draw attendees. Equally important, you want them to be the right kind of exhibitors.
Exhibitors without attendees aren't of much worth. High-quality attendees are the lifeblood of any successful trade show. Keep in mind that sheer number of attendees is not the only issue. A show that attracts a relatively small number of attendees who happen to be exactly the type of people you are looking for might easily be more successful at helping you grow than a bigger show with a broader group of attendees.
As part of advance planning, you should decide on an objective for the show. For instance, you may be attending to generate sales leads. You may be interested in testing or introducing a new product. Conducting demonstrations, identifying new applications, obtaining customer feedback, even studying the competition-these can all be legitimate reasons for attending or exhibiting at a trade show. And don't forget the opportunity to recruit new employees, distributors or dealers for your products.
You should also do some training to make sure you get the most from your booth or your interactions with exhibitors. You may go so far as to write a script for people staffing your booth to present to visitors. Qualifying is an important part of speaking to people at trade shows. You can spend a lot of time talking to the wrong people. So make sure you know who you want to talk to, whether it's a potential customer, supplier, dealer or other contact, and make sure you spend as much time as possible interacting with the target people.
Once you're at the show, you'll have to make some important decisions about how you'll spend your limited time investigating what may appear to be a nearly infinite spectrum of prospects. In addition to floor plans, most shows provide booklets with descriptions of the exhibits, as well as a listing of the times, topics and featured speakers of any seminars or panel discussions, so that attendees can better plan their time.
Don't take anything you see at face value. Check references and contacting the Better Business Bureau in the state where a particular company's headquarters are located. If a company has had a history of customer complaints, for instance, you can either eliminate it from consideration or ask more pointed questions later. If you feel hesitant about asking questions, remember what's at stake: If you avoid asking a question now, you might be sorry later.
If you don't want to wait in line at a crowded booth, you can leave a business card. Most exhibitors encourage attendees to drop off their cards by leaving a box or bowl out for cards, and many even hold drawings, offering prizes ranging from food baskets to computer systems.
Because exhibitors pay a lot of money to participate in trade shows, they want to get the most for their money. That means they will take the time to contact you later. By waiting for them to contact you after the show, you'll be able to ask questions without feeling rushed or on the spot.