The annual migration to Orlando for Global Pet Expo will be happening in a couple of weeks, and I'm getting pretty excited about that. It's a fantastic place to catch up with colleagues, check out new products, and make important connections.
It can also be pretty overwhelming at times, because there is a LOT going on at Global - it's a very stimulation-rich environment.
While it’s not humanly possible to do ALL of the activities at trade shows (however much you may want to), there are ways to maximize your time, effort, and resources while you’re there. These are my top tips for getting the most out of a whirlwind trade show trip.
Why are you really going?
This is a key question, and you should be ruthlessly honest when answering it. If you think you should go because all your friends are going, or you have a deep fear of missing out (FOMO), that’s probably not the best use of your time and money. Take 30 minutes to distill your reason for going into one sentence (hint: that sentence should include the word revenue).
- “I want to find new vendors for xyz products for my retail shop to increase revenue.”
- “I want to meet xyz to discuss a partnership which will increase my revenue.
- “I want to learn new marketing and sales tactics that can help me increase my revenue.”
The most productive reasons to go to a trade show will be the action items that are already on your radar, not reasons that you came up with just for an excuse to go to a trade show. And, revenue.
How will you achieve those goals?
Once you’ve articulated your revenue-based reason(s) for going, pull up the activities schedules and vendor lists on the trade show website, and assign values to each of the things that you’re interested in. If learning about paid social media is at the top of your list, assign a high value to that presentation. If you’re thinking about adding exotics accessories to your offerings but won’t be rolling those out until you have more staff, assign an intermediate value to the reptile enrichment vendors. If you’re fascinated by dog grooming but you have an online shop and only have foster cats at home, assign a lower value to that poodle cut demo. (Although, truth be told, I freakin’ love to watch grooming demos.)
Using a 1-5 scale (with 1 being the lowest value, and 5 being the highest value), your list might look like this:
Reason: I want to explore new marketing techniques and products that can help expand my customer base and increase revenue by xx% in the next 12-18 months.
- 5 - Workshop: Using paid social media to increase customer engagement and conversion
- 3 - Booth 123: Eco-friendly reptile enrichment products
- 1 - Demo: How to do lion cuts on poodles and bichon frises
I recommend doing a decision matrix (remember this one?) to really clarify the activities you should be focusing on during the show. A matrix helps to quantify things, especially if you’re having a hard time prioritizing what you need to do (workshops) vs what you want to do (poodle grooming).
(click here to download a customizable decision matrix template)
What does your time/energy budget really look like?
Be honest about how much time you have to accomplish vital activities, and be realistic about how much energy you have in this kind of setting. If you are energized by the people, the content, the opportunities, and the buzz of it all, go for it! Leave your hotel room at 7am and fall into bed with your clothes on at midnight. (Not that I’ve ever done that, ahem.) If you can only manage a few hours at a time making small talk with strangers, or you’re recovering from a sprained ankle and can’t be on your feet all day long, it’s even more important to budget your time and energy wisely. Which leads me to this:
Have a [floor] plan
This is a great activity for making the plane ride more productive (One of my favorite remote working locations happens to be at 30K feet.) Print out the floor plan, highlight the booth numbers for the vendors you need to see and the locations/times of your must-attend presentations and demos, and plot out the most energy-efficient routes to cover all of those things. Print out a new floor plan for each day of the trade show, to accommodate additions and changes. For me, there is nothing worse than wandering around in circles looking for things because I was too distracted to plan my route in advance.
But...I always make time for (and LOVE) serendipitous finds and spur-of-the-moment introductions. You’ll know these things when they happen, and you should let them happen because sometimes, those little moments can change your life. The beauty of having a plan in place is that you’ll already know where you can make adjustments to accommodate a new product demo or client introduction. Even if all you can do is exchange business cards and handshakes while you’re running to a lecture, at least then you’ll be able to put a face to the name when you do your post-trip follow up.
And, last but not least:
Do your post-trip follow up
This is another great sitting-on-the-airplane activity. Jot down your notes and impressions for every business card and product that you collected during the show (put them on the back of the business cards, in a notebook, or in a spreadsheet). Then make a list of everyone you met and the follow up activities you need to do.
This list can/should include:
- Company name, contact person, booth number
- Type of product, and if you got a sample
- Name of person giving presentation, if you got a copy of the presentation, or if you need to request or download a copy
- Coupon codes
- Connect with company and/or contact on LinkedIn, follow on other social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.)
- Post pictures on social media, tagging people/products/companies and including the hashtag for the trade show
- Send follow up emails / thank you notes
- Assign products to your staff to try and report back (if you like the product, you can mention it in social media or blog posts)
- If you write a blog or social media post mentioning a product, send the link with a short note to the company contact or product rep
I’ve learned to take pictures of all of the business cards as I get them, so that I can forward them back to the office every evening for entry into our database. That way we can get a jump on data entry and start tracking the follow up activities immediately. Those pictures are also the back-up plan in case the cards get lost (not that this has EVER happened to me.) Stealth tip: if you take someone’s picture, try to include their name tag in the shot. It's a great way to keep the names associated with the faces and the businesses.
What are your top tips for getting the most out of your trade show trips? Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know!