Much of our time is spent helping exhibitors plan effectively for trade shows. Steering them through selecting which show is right for their business and how to set SMART objectives are crucial elements of ensuring their trade show campaign generates maximum ROI.  But, on the flip side how much time do visitors put into preparing for attending a trade show?

Have you ever come away thinking you’ve wasted your time and got nothing from a day wandering around random stands? As we prepare for a busy couple of days on field visits to Food Matters Live with clients, we thought we’d share our tips for getting the most out of your next trade show visit (surprisingly, they’re not that different from when you’re exhibiting). 

Visiting a trade show can provide masses of inspiration, from picking up new ideas for your own trade show execution, to meeting new contacts and learning new things that will make you and your business better. But, just as exhibiting can be a huge drain on resources if it isn’t executed effectively, so too can visiting, creating disappointment for both exhibitor and visitor. If you’re going to take a whole day (maybe more) out to visit a trade show, is it so much to ask to take half an hour to plan how you can get the most out of it? 

Set Some Objectives: trade shows can be tempting to just ‘pop along to’ because you feel you should, either because it’s the big event for your industry or because the local business community are going to be there – but is that enough of a reason for you to take time out of a busy schedule?  What problem could visiting a trade show solve for your business – do you need to find a new supplier for a specific service or product? Are you wanting to pick up the latest insight or knowledge from keynote speakers? Having 1 or 2 key areas you’re wanting to explore on the day will help focus your mind and help you avoid being distracted by free pens and cupcakes! 


Do Your Research:  once you know which problems you’re hoping to solve or what you’re wanting to learn, working out which trade show you should be at and who you need to talk to is a lot easier. As we advise when researching which show to exhibit at, it’s better to spend a bit of time looking through the different options of shows you could attend, than wasting a whole day at an event where there are zero solutions to your problems. Think outside the box as sometimes the shows which aren’t immediately obvious can be the ones that offer you the best solutions. Beyond selecting the right show, it’s worth looking through the exhibitor list for companies that might be able to help you – what do you think of their profile in the show website? Are they engaging in the show’s social media channels?  Do you know what specific offers or deals they’re launching at the show? This might help you discount 1-2 providers before you even get to the show, making your visit even more efficient.  Finally, you may have heard us talk about the importance of Opening Lines as an exhibitor, but it can help visitors too in ensuring that you hear about the specifics of solving your problem rather than the standard sales spiel so have our questions ready! 

Make Contact Before The Show: if there are speakers on the seminar schedule you want to connect with, or exhibitors you want to find answers from, why not drop them a line before the show and offer to meet for a coffee or make an appointment on the stand. I’m fairly sure any exhibitor would love to hear from a visitor who is keen to meet up and will want to have all the information ready to answer your questions on the day.  If it’s important to your business that you speak to the right person, why leave it to chance that they’ll be available when you are. You might ask why you wouldn’t just make contact and agree to meet up outside of the show which is an option, but attending the show enables you to meet a number of suppliers and compare them before making any decision, as well as picking up other industry insight and knowledge. 

Be Fair To Exhibitors: as much as it is costing you time and money to visit a trade show, it’s costing an exhibitor significantly more cash to be at the show.  Their sole purpose for investing in a show is to meet contacts with whom there is the opportunity to build a profitable business relationship i.e. visitors they can sell to.  Research suggests that around 16-20% of all visitors will be in a position to buy from an exhibitor at a show – which is plenty for them to make their money back.  However, if you’re one of the 80% who aren’t ever going to buy from them, don’t feel you have to be polite and carry on talking. If you’re taking up their time engaged in a conversation that isn’t ever going to end in a sale, they might be missing out on a valuable conversation that could lead to cash. You’re both there to improve the prospects for your business – if there’s no opportunity to do that mutually then there’s no harm in quickly saying Thank You and Goodbye. 

Follow Up: ok, here’s the bit where you’re going to be saying ”That’s not my job” and you’d be correct. If you’ve had a great chat with an exhibitor whose product or service perfectly solves the problem you’re grappling with, then the least you can expect is for them to get in touch after the show.  Reality is, around 13% of leads are ever followed up after a show – for a whole host of reasons including lost leads, people moving jobs, leads not getting passed on, mis-spelt names in email addresses etc. Bottom line, if you really think their product could help your business, does it matter who makes the first move? 

Visiting trade shows can be hugely beneficial in helping you and your business perform better, but in the same way that exhibiting at a show can deliver minimal returns, so can visiting one without a little planning and preparation.  When you’re about to spend a day or more out of your busy schedule at a trade show, can you at least spare an hour planning how you get the most out of that time? 

Let us know about the shows you’re out and about at this week  and what you’ve picked up and we’ll be giving you our thoughts on Food Matters Live on the next episode of the Podcast, due out on Tuesday 27th November.

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