Business development · 10 May 2017

An entrepreneur’s guide to networking at trade shows

Networking at trade shows
Effective networking at trade shows can generate new sales leads and future business for your company

For the first in a new Business Advice series covering the essential aspects of networking for every successful entrepreneur, we take a look at how to approach trade shows and exhibitions as the owner of a small company.

Trade shows are a vital opportunity for small business owners to develop new contacts, get a brand noticed and keep up to date with their industry. From national business exhibitions to industry-focused events, Britain’s trade show industry appears as healthy as ever and remains an important networking tool.

To find out the most effective ways of generating business and networking at trade shows and exhibitions we asked a panel of small business owners and industry experts to provide their top tips for entrepreneurs.

Create a lasting first impression

Search engines and social media platforms have emerged as the dominant way businesses and customers connect, but there is still nothing that makes a lasting first impression like the passing of a business card to a new contact.

Business Advice asked Chad Jennings, chief product officer at business card designer MOO, to find out why the simple card still holds a unique power in the online world.

“Business cards have been around for over 300 years, they’re one of the world’s oldest networking technologies. But, they’re just as relevant in today’s digital age as they were back then,” he said.

As the owner of a small business, your company’s brand and own personality are entwined. The stronger your personal impression is on those you meet at trade shows and exhibitions, the better. Jennings explained the power of a business card in supporting the “face” of a company.

“While there are a range of digital networking sites and tools, there’s nothing quite as valuable as face-to-face interaction and making a really memorable first impression. Business cards, when beautifully designed, can also help to bring to life the story of a business and the individual.”

Organisers will often provide barcode scanners at events, enabling attendees to log the basic details of each contact digitally.

Exhibiting

Kelly Edwards, a marketing professional at exhibition supplier Marler Hayley, told Business Advice that networking at trade shows and exhibitions puts you “face-to-face” with potential customers – they can give you direct feedback and are likely to already have an interest in what your company offers.

“Unlike a high street, most people visiting an exhibition are looking for products and services. They want to be engaged and they are a captive audience. Nearly everybody in the room at an exhibition could be a potential customer if you align your customers against visitors to the right event,” Edwards explained.

A study into exhibition design uncovered the negative impact of a stand that fails to communicate who the brand is and what the business does.

The most common pitfalls were an overload of information, the use of photos instead of graphics and an absence of a call to action – over 80 per cent of exhibition displays were failing to provoke any kind of response from potential customers.

Ten essential tips for networking at trade shows

For Max Wiseberg, an appearance at Brighton’s Natural Trade Show brought his unique hay fever balm HayMax to Waitrose shelves. In fact, he even made a head-start by contacting the appropriate buyer beforehand.

We asked Wiseberg to leverage his experience and provide readers with his top pointers for networking at trade shows and exhibitions.

  1. Smile
  1. Stand up

Don’t sit down unless you are in a meeting with a visitor to your stand.

  1. Hide your phone

Only look at it when you are away from your stand. While you are on the stand you are 100 per cent available to people walking past.

  1. Don’t let people walk past

Look at the people walking past – make eye contact and smile. Engage with them. Get some giveaways printed (pens, post-its etc.) and give them to people walking past your stand. Print more than you think you will need – if you don’t give them away you can always send them out with other communications after the show, but you don’t want to run out at the show. When they take them you get a chance to engage with them.

  1. Be happy, enthusiastic and ready to answer any question about your product
  1. Have plenty of product available for demonstrating and sampling
  1. Have a show-only offer

Make it special. Make it very visible. Reward people for visiting your stand – they spent time and effort in getting there too so here’s your way of helping them justify attending the show.

  1. Network

There will be people at various events at the exhibition who won’t walk past your stand – go and find them.

If you can get help to cover the stand, take time to see who else is at the exhibition – there may be opportunities for you to exploit. And you can see what your competitors are up to.

  1. Follow-up all leads

Get their contact details and send a communication within a couple of days of the show, and then keep talking to them. It’s incredible how many leads created at shows are not followed up. You get busy when you’re back in the office and chase the hot leads, and the others get left. But, they might contain your next big client. Don’t waste leads.

  1. Track the show’s success

Depending on your sales lead time, review sales made because of the show so you can measure how worthwhile your attendance was. If it worked, go again. If it didn’t, don’t.

On the day

As Wiseberg pointed out, the importance of positive signals should not be underestimated at a live event. So what are the dos and don’ts of body language, and how can you work a room at a networking event?

Lillian Bjorseth, a Chicago-based networking expert, wrote a comprehensive guide to business etiquette that emphasised the importance of posture and the introductory handshake in making a good first impression as an entrepreneur.

According to Bjorseth, positive and confident posture – feet eight inches apart, one slightly in front of the other – commands respect but also invites people to talk to you. For the handshake, three firm shakes with constant eye-contact will ensure the first personal encounter with a future client or customer is both memorable and trustworthy.

The advice from our panel is clear – being fully-equipped on the business side, with a professional set-up and products ready to showcase, is crucial. However, make sure you don’t undermine your efforts by failing to make a personal impression or letting any promising leads trail off in the following days.

Use our guide to avoid making the most common networking faux pas

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Simon Caldwell is a reporter for Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and communications from the University of Liverpool, and previously worked as a content editor in the ecommerce industry.

Q&A

If you’ve found the article above useful, but have a more detailed and bespoke question, then please feel free to submit a query to our expert. We at Business Advice will get in contact with them on your behalf and arrange for a personalised response. These questions and answers will then be collated on the site for any other readers who have similar queries.

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