How to Work a Trade Show

Trade shows and exhibitions provide a tremendously valuable opportunity for any entrepreneur to learn about the competition and to sell products. Getting hands-on competitive intelligence is usually difficult, but it's easy as pie at a trade show. A walk around the exhibit hall will earn you a sackful of literature on suppliers, distributors, the trade press, new market concepts, and a two-pound synopsis of the market that you can review at your leisure when you get home. You can also have yourself put on mailing lists, participate in market surveys, and earn complimentary subscriptions to a handful of journals, not to mention be given more coffee mugs, laminated business cards, and free golf balls than you'll ever need.

It's Time to Meet the Competition. After creatively introducing yourself as "John Smith with XYZ Corp," you can get a complete review of the competition's product line. You can then ask what they think of your company's products since they don't know who you really are, and they'll tell you what they really think. It's enlightening to hear what your competition says about you to prospects. This is competitive research at its grittiest.

Exhibiting and Walking Around at a major trade show lets you accomplish several important tasks at once. You can

1. Show off your product to people who are hyper-qualified as buyers (they've gone to the trouble of showing up). 
2. Meet your current customers and get a feel for how your product's really performing. 
3. Spy on your competition and either gloat over your superiority or gnash your teeth at their achievements. Some people say that investigating the competition is what these shows are really about. 
4. Connect with distributors, wholesalers, brokers, and others in your product distribution channels. 
5. Build a mailing list for follow-up contact. This is why you're really there. 
6. Schmooze with major prospects at your company's booth or hotel hospitality suite. 
7. Make small or major presentations to attendees under the auspices of the show's organizers. This boosts your credibility and enhances the seriousness of your product. 
8. Meet with the movers and shakers in your industry's trade press. You'll never have a better opportunity to chat with the top editorial staff.
9. Sell some product!

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