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Why do startups and small companies need to attend trade shows?

Many people who are running a one man show businesses or even a small business believe that exhibiting at a tradeshow is out of their league because of financial considerations, because the large companies have large marketing departments with large budgets, because a tradeshow booth is not affordable, because they just don't have the vision on how to design a booth, how to transport and assemble one, how to work a tradeshow, etc.

Except for the budgetary considerations of actually renting space on the tradeshow floor, everything else is untrue. In this article, I will show you why are tradeshows so important. I am writing this from my own experience, as someone who worked on designing trade show booths, actually set up trade show displays, worked the tradeshow floors as an exhibitor and as a visitor.

Here are some of the reasons why it is important to attend and exhibit at trade shows, even if you are just starting your business or running a small company:


1. Get competitive intelligence

As an entrepreneur running a small company, it is very hard to get competitive intelligence, that is knowledge on how do you compare to your competitors, how do they do things, what makes them more successful that you or less successful than you. Don't forget to put some focus on the less successful scenario also, because you also want to have a list of all the mistakes others make, so you can avoid them.

At a trade show, the easiest possible thing you can do is gather hands-on competitive intelligence. It really does not get more hands-on than that, as you have your competition at the tip of your finger. On the surface, they all seem to be extremely confident through their sales pitches and the flashiness of their marketing gimmicks, but they are in a tremendously vulnerable position, as they are giving everything they got and are also worried about *their* competition, which believe it or not... is you!

Take advantage of this incredible position. The best thing to do is to walk the trade show at the very beginning - that is, before everybody gets to know everybody among exhibitors - and ask questions, ask many, many questions.

Here are some of the things you can get from a simple walk around the exhibit hall:

- A four pound synopsis of your market that you can review at your leisure, from the comfort of your couch that most likely includes a sackful (literally) of literature on suppliers and distributors in your very targeted and unique field, the trade press.

- New market concepts.

- You can also have yourself put on mailing lists, participate in market surveys and earn complimentary subscriptions to a handful of journals.

- More coffee mugs, promotional mints, candy, pens, laminated business cards and free golf balls than you'll ever need.


2. Learn about what your competition thinks about your product or service

Again, this is something to be done at the very beginning of a trade show and works best in larger exhibiting halls.

Introduce yourself as someone else, interested in the product or service offered by you and your competitors. This is a perfect time for you to use your flirting techniques. Get creative, remember you have nothing to lose, you're in control and the ball is in your court.

Get a complete review of your competitor's product line. You can then ask what they think of your company's products and services. Since they don't know who you really are, they'll tell you what they really think. It's actually quite enlightening to hear what your competition really says about you to prospects, remember you are acting as one of their prospects.

This is competitive research as its grittiest and the trade show floor is the best place for it. Studies show that companies are more eager to open up and talk about their competition at a trade show than in any other environment (sure you could just call, but you will not get the same effect).

At this point, if you are still reading this, you are probably wondering why, in the name of everything rational, I am talking about spying on your competition instead of the obvious reasons why trade shows exist, which is promoting a product or a service? Well, analysts and trade show gurus say that investigating the competition is what these shows are really about.


3. Meet your buyers

Show your product or service to people who are hyper-qualified as buyers. Why? Well, because these are the people who have gone through the trouble of attending the show and are really interested in your type of business. You also get to meet current and potential customers and get real feedback and a feel for how is your product or service perceived, how it is really performing and what you can do to make it better, that is, more appealing and more useful for your customers.


4. Meet the press

Meet with people from your industry's trade press. They always attend those events and you will probably never get a better chance to speak one-on-one with the top editorial staff.

You also have a great opportunity to connect with distributors, with wholesalers, with brokers and others in your distribution channel.


5. Sell

You can also sell your product or service, right there, on the spot. Just make sure you have everything you need to do so in place.

Plan ahead and allow for the opportunity for serious business. Most people who come to your booth will be tire-kickers. They'll grab a handful of pistachios, check out your promotional pens (or USB memory drives loaded with your marketing multimedia presentations - hint, hint), cherry pick your printed materials and move on to the next booth. But every once in a while, you'll bag a live one. Know how and where you'll talk to this person at length. Will it be a spot in the rear of the booth, a nearby conference room, a table in the concession area, a later meeting at your company suite? Folks, trust me on this, a wishy-washy "we'll get back to you" attitude will lose the sale. You have to be prepared, if they see you are not ready to close the transaction right there, on the spot (even if in this day and age the trend continues to move away from on-the-spot order writing on trade show floors), they'll leave.


6. Generate leads

This is actually the meat of attending a trade show - creating a follow up mailing list. This is what could (and should) potentially bring return on the major investment you made by attending the trade show. Whether you just collect business cards, write names down on a piece of paper or use the more modern trade show techniques such as scanning people's tags, you must build your mailing list and actually follow up immediately after the show is over, while your marketing effort is still fresh in people's minds.

It really makes a good second impression if you follow up promptly, whether by just a call or sending additional literature and information. Your handling of requests for additional information will show potential clients you value their time and provide quality customer service.


About the Author: Andrei co-owns bsleek - http://www.bsleek.com a site that specializes in web hosting, design, promotional items, printing, CD presentations, tradeshow displays, corporate identity marketing and more. Andrei has amassed an extensive technical knowledge and experience through his career as the CIO for a major travel management company and through his past careers in military research, data acquisition and aerospace engineering.

Trade Show Displays: http://www.bsleek.com/tradeshow
Promotional Items: http://www.bsleek.com/promo
Email Marketing: http://www.bsleek.com/emailmarketing




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