18 Costly Trade Show Visitor Mistakes
Attending a trade show can be an expensive proposition for even the most budget-conscious traveler. Who hasn’t been shocked by the rising prices of airfares, hotel accommodations and meals?
These cash outlays, however, are only the beginning of the story. How about all the time you spend navigating the aisles? Whatever time you spend at the salon is time away from your workplace. And that can represent an opportunity cost far greater than your total outlay.
Of course, trade shows offer huge business opportunities, for attendees who do things the right way. How?
Here, trade show consultants reveal 18 ways to enjoy a solid return on your investment of time and money by avoiding the most common – and costly – mistakes made by trade show visitors.
1. Neglecting advance planning. Most consultants cite the lack of sufficient advance planning, as trade show visitors are the #1 reason to spin the wheels. Pre-show preparation is of paramount importance for any trade show attendee. Gone are the days when you could just show up to a show and start shopping. Today’s trade show visitors use technology to make sure every minute counts.
2. Set goals that are too general. When deciding what to expect from the show, avoid general statements such as “see what’s new” or “see our suppliers”. By the end of the show, you’ll feel like you’ve failed to accomplish everything you could. Instead, ask yourself: what is the biggest problem in my business? Then bring it to the show with the idea of getting some answers. One question – or a series of similar questions – will keep you focused on what you really need to accomplish at the show.
3. Not developing a strategy to achieve goals. You may not achieve your goals because you haven’t developed a detailed strategy. Set a game plan so your steps are set before you arrive at the salon. The steps in the strategy should lead to the achievement of your stated goals. Part of a successful strategy is to distribute the tasks among the colleagues who will be attending the trade show. Do it early enough to avoid the duplication of effort that would otherwise occur when different people plan to achieve the same goals.
4. Not getting a floor plan and booth directory in advance. Most shows offer floor plans, which list booths in numerical order, and directories, which list exhibitors in alphabetical order. These are often available on the web. Download them and use them to plan your day.
5. Not prioritizing floor plan sections. Try to estimate how many booths you can visit in the time you have at the show. The average attendee spends about 13 minutes at each exhibit targeted for a visit, according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research. Add your time for walking, eating, resting and chance encounters with peers. Given that down time, imagine you can visit maybe three stalls per hour. These are booths run by exhibitors that you specifically want to see – not unfamiliar booths where you stop for a quick look while browsing the aisles. That works out to 18 cabins in a six hour period.
6. Taking too many appointments. Don’t get carried away when you make appointments. Trying to squeeze too much in a day can make you less effective on the floor. This is because you can easily fall behind and start rushing from appointment to appointment before you have all the information you need.
7. Wearing too much. Travel light. Carrying a briefcase and other unnecessary items can slow you down and tire you out, making you less efficient in cabins. If possible, bring only what you need to take notes, as well as your specific questions and your floor plan. And don’t bother with product literature from kiosks.
8. Wearing the wrong shoes. This mistake – wearing uncomfortable shoes – has been universally cited as a damaging mistake that can erode productivity.
9. Skipping an “early bird” visit. If you visit the show building early in the morning, before the official opening time, you will find many magazines and product literature waiting in bins. Gather it up, pack it in a box, and check it out before the show starts. So it’s out of the way. The salon can also ship it to your office for you. You haven’t missed a thing and you won’t weigh yourself down.
10. Not previewing the show. Allow time to “frame” the show before you begin the walk you have mapped out. Quickly scan the entire showroom, looking for unexpected exhibitors or products. Take notes on what seems interesting. Then sit down and adjust your floor plan and walking path to include them.
11. Follow the crowd. You show your independence from the crowd by planning a productive visit to the salon. Go a little further: follow the show in reverse. You’ll get the stand staff’s attention faster if you walk against the current. Most visitors start in front of the fair and invade the stands. If you start at the back, you’ll be speaking with staff members who aren’t already crowded with other shoppers. You will be able to cover a lot more pits from the start.
12. Skip dog booths. Smaller, newer booths can provide leads for new products that can make your visit even more successful. You will see a lot of interesting and quirky things from exhibitors who are new to the show. These cabins are ideal for generating creative ideas. Pop in and out quickly, taking notes on new products you can use.
13. Attending too many seminars. Be judicious when attending workshops. Ask two questions: “Is the material covered in the workshop so unique that I can’t get it elsewhere?” And: “Is the subject directly related to my work and the reason why I came to the show?”
14. Do not direct the conversation in the cabins. As the buyer, you are the one in control. Don’t be afraid to exercise that control by steering the conversation in the cubicles, directing it towards benefits that will help you earn more money.
15. Writing sloppy notes. Where do you take your notes? On the back of business cards? On the fringes of show directories? At the top of the product sheets? Trade show visitors can think of as many ways to get confused as there are white dots on paper. Avoid them all. If you come home with a bunch of sloppy notes on all kinds of paper, you’ll never organize them enough to accomplish the goals you’ve set for the show. Type your notes into your PDA, speak them into your voice recorder or jot them down in a small pocket notebook. Some attendees take pictures of products or displays. This may be useful later when planning your own uses for the product. However, call the show director first to ask if taking pictures is allowed.
16. Do not exploit “slow” hours. Every show has its hours when the aisles are as quiet as a country pond at midnight and the booth workers stand there, yawning and staring at each other like owls. This is the best time to make an appointment, especially with your priority companies that you absolutely must see.
17. Failing to monitor follow-up promises. Don’t let the exhibitor get away with breaking their promise to contact you with the requested information. Many exhibitors do not follow through as promised after the show closes. This means a lot of wasted time. You never get the information you need to make better purchasing decisions.
18. Not informing colleagues. Prepare a brief report for your colleagues. What trends have you spotted? Apps? New products and technologies? Your sharing will not only spread useful and enlightening information, but will also strengthen your learning process.