The second of those three important questions is, “who are you MOST interested in talking to?” and the incorrect answer my new clients usually offer is “anyone and everyone – we want as many leads as we can get.”
Although I can certainly respect the pressure to squeeze every potential lead out of your trade show investment, but I know this answer is wrong because… especially in a business sense, an effective target audience description is never all encompassing.
Seriously, think about it this way:
1. Your time at a trade show is limited and you will not be able to engage in lengthy conversations with every single attendee. That means, when you continue speaking with someone after you learn that he is not a good fit for your company and its offerings, you are very likely to be missing out on the opportunity to enjoy a productive conversation with a better match instead.
You may have a genuine interest in networking with as many professionals as possible, but it is your responsibility to guide the conversations taking place in your booth so that all parties benefit. In understanding your target audience (according to your knowledge of your company, offerings, industry, and brief introduction to your visitors’ needs), you will be able to tell which attendees are a good fit and which ones aren’t. You can show that you respect the time of each professional who approaches by being up front and honest about how you can or cannot accommodate their wishes. Focus your efforts on the most likely buyers (or best contacts) and politely encourage the others to seek out the exhibitors who can help them reach their goals.
2. Your team will not enjoy their trade show follow up (arguably the most important step in the exhibiting process) if they have to spend the majority of their time contacting “leads” who have no interest in your company or offerings. Although rejection happens in sales, it is demoralizing to purposefully subject your staff (or yourself) to this repeatedly without cause.
Especially when interacting with prospects and clients, it is important to maintain a positive attitude. However, this can be very difficult for your team as they search through a mountain of leads to find just a few gems. If you have already had an opportunity to meet with the contacts listed (as you did when you encountered them in your booth), you have also already had an opportunity to assess the fit between your offerings and their needs and then to decide whether or not a call back would be beneficial. Share this information with your follow up team and empower them to contact your best leads first – this will boost the confidence of your representatives, please your new prospects who are looking forward to your call, and provide the best opportunity to produce the final results you truly want.
Why do I (and should you) care?
As an exhibitor, it is so important to identify those with whom you are most interested in speaking because your reach at a trade show is limited by time and enthusiasm. On the one hand, your allotted time impacts the number of conversations you can begin and, on the other, your team’s enthusiasm impacts the productivity of each conversation your team chooses to endure.
In order to properly allocate these resources and expand your reach, you must prioritize. If you are unaware of the people you are most interested in talking to, how will you decide which invitations to accept? How will you recognize your targets as they pass your booth? With whom will you strive to extend invitations to?
Your ability to maximize your company’s exhibiting return on investment will not come from a large volume of unqualified leads; instead, you will be most successful when you work towards quality interactions with your best contacts. This begins with correctly identifying the professionals you are most interested in talking to.
What is the right answer? “John Doe, the head of purchasing at Company ABC, and representatives from XYZ Magazine” (of course, you would list the professionals who can help you achieve your goals – whether they are specific individuals, key decision makers at target companies, influential members of the press, or others)
Take it a step further… Seek out these key contacts before you arrive in the convention city and schedule time to get together on-site. In securing your most important meetings well in advance, you avoid the possibility of missing one another while still maintaining some flexibility in your schedule so you can add in other encounters as you see fit.
Also, make a list of the professionals you would like to meet but with whom you were unable to pre-arrange appointments. Seek out these contacts during the event (in sessions, at receptions, on the show floor, etc) and take advantage of any opportunity to engage in an impromptu discussion that can progress your goals. Remember, these encounters don’t have to be completed in a formal setting (or even focus exclusively on business topics); sometimes a little rapport building can take you closer to reaching your goals than a series of perfectly professional meetings.