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How To Exhibit At Trade Shows And How To Make The Most Of Your Dollars

by Amanda Puppo
Posted On: 4/22/2012

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trade show, trade show market, office coffee service, OCS sales, OCS sales training, Amanda Puppo, MarketReach Inc., salespeople, vending machine business, vending, NAMA OneShow

As operators get ready to attend the National Automatic Merchandising Association OneShow in Las Vegas, they might pause for a moment and ask themselves what use they are making of their clients' own regional and local shows to generate sales. Local expositions attended by business owners and managers offer attractive opportunities for a provider of workplace services to catch the eyes of potential clients and build recognition in its market area.

There are many things that you can do as an exhibitor at a trade show to make your booth, and your refreshment products and services, stand out from the crowd. Prior planning is one of the most important steps you can take to ensure that you have a great trade event. Here are a few tips for you to think about before your next show.

First, where do you decide to exhibit? While this economy has seen shrinkage in the number of trade shows, you'll always find a few each year that could be a good fit. If you're like most OCS and vending operators, a radius of 20 to 50 miles is usually the best prospect base to target, given your delivery model.

Having narrowed the geographic area, the next question you want to ask is whether the industry or professional associations your clients belong to have annual trade shows. I've seen my OCS clients attend conferences organized for their local dental, insurance, attorney and human resources professionals and, of course, B2B general business expositions.

While you can service all companies of a certain size, there's something to be said for that one-on-one opportunity to connect with prospects in a specific industry, even if the people you meet aren't the final decision-makers. People like doing business with vendors who "specialize" in working with companies like theirs. Use the reference names from the show in your follow-up to gain credibility -- and an extra 15 seconds with the decision maker!

Have some giveaways to attract conversation and business cards. You can't talk to everyone at the show, so find a giveaway that will capture attention. As an OCS operator, your giveaway is obvious! You can sometimes negotiate with the show organizer to get a bonus, such as access to the registration list, if you're giving away coffee and/or snacks; the organizers might see that donation as valuable to the show.

For a table raffle prize, consider partnering with a restaurant or hotel, for example, to give away a free night's stay or a meal (publicity for that company -- and it costs you nothing!) I have seen other OCS operators negotiate gift baskets as door prizes from their suppliers, as well.

Next, prepare your memory aids. You will be meeting a lot of people at the show. Be sure to write a note on the back of each business card after a conversation takes place, so you can recall the details more easily. Do you want to be a sales standout? Write "A" or "B" to identify the best prospects to yourself! Your top 10 will require little recollection of the conversations, after the show, because you will have taken copious notes in real time. Some may argue that you don't want to collect business cards for the sake of it; but if you annotate and file them properly, you can easily differentiate the "A" priority prospects from the rest.

Always keep your purpose in mind. As you have conversations with prospects, consider what information you want to gather. A trade show is a chance to gain information to follow up with an especially warm call, since you've done some fact-finding at the show. What questions will you ask the prospects, and how are you training your trade show colleagues to ask those questions and present your company's compelling advantages?

At my most recent trade show, I noticed that too many exhibitors did all the talking. Build rapport by making sure it's a two-way conversation. This will also allow you to better understand who your best prospects are.

Plan a telephone follow-up strategy. About 80% of trade show conversations are never pursued. Even if you only send an email, you've already distinguished yourself by being in the 20% category.

If more than one person from your company is attending the show, plan ahead of time how to divide the prospect calls when you return. Assign someone to put all the business-card information into a contact-management system right away, so calls, emails and other marketing can start immediately.

For those of you with smartphones, "there's an app for that." For less than $10, you can find an app that allows you to take a picture or scan a business card that can then be added to a list and exported into Microsoft Excel. Or purchase the scan technology from the trade show organizer.

Even if you don't have a regular newsletter, make sure you send out a thank-you email after the event. It should thank your visitors for stopping by your booth, announce the raffle winner, and present a couple of paragraphs or bullet points about the benefits of your service. Also consider adding links to your website  and, of course, YouTube and your social media. Plan this follow-up email before the show, so it's ready to go two days after the event closes.

Fellow exhibitors could be your best prospects. It's very important to consider a marketing plan for the other exhibitors at the show, both before and after the event. Exhibitors have already proven they have the dollars to take booth space, so there is a good possibility that they can do business with you! The best time to talk to other exhibitors is before visitors arrive, so set up early and then make your rounds.

Plan ahead and you will be able to make the most of your experience, and sales will roll in. Above all else, be sure to follow up post-show!

See you in Las Vegas! I'll be at the NAMA OneShow in booth No. 1244.

AMANDA PUPPO leads MarketReach Inc. of Lawrence­­ville, NJ, which provides business-to-business outbound telephone marketing for refreshment service operators. It offers lead generation and appointment setting, customer satisfaction surveys, database cleanup, customer reactivation and introductory call training. Puppo is a past recipient of the Small Business Administration' New Jersey Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and has a Staples store named in her honor. She may be contacted by calling (609) 448-6364 or emailing