Are trade shows dead? No! Should your startup plan to attend your first tradeshow? Yes! While the COVID-19 pandemic has absolutely put them to a halt in the last several months and may continue to through the next season, trade shows are not dead. They’re alive and well.
In the era of technology, it can be easy to think that the only way to reach customers, whether you’re a startup company or an established business, is via the internet. That simply is not true. While trade shows are not necessarily the ideal platform for business to consumer companies, they still remain highly regarded for business-to-business companies. This is for different reasons than simply selling your product though.
There are few other places in the real world where you can speak with multiple experts in your field, all showcasing creative solutions and products, within the course of a couple of hours. These experts can offer knowledge and tips, and may be able to answer questions regarding your field. And, frankly, you’ll find no better water cooler chit chat than at a trade show.
Additionally, trade shows remain a fantastic resource for making potential connections with people that can benefit your business and vice versa. Many startups have even landed investors without meaning to at their first tradeshow because investors and experts in your field frequent them to see the latest ideas on the market.
Even if you’re not able to spend the most money, or have the largest booth at a trade show, there are ways to stand out from the crowd. While they are relatively budget-friendly, they do take time and require you to be thoughtful about how you’re approaching the event.
First, trade show swag goes a long way, if it’s memorable. It is just another pen, it’s going to be forgotten. However, if your promotional products are creative or different, they’re memorable to the people picking up your swag bag. Be considerate with what you’re supplying; if you’re providing software as a service to reduce paper reliance in a certain industry, your trade show goodies probably shouldn’t be paper notebooks. Instead, opt for a thumb drive. Similarly, if you boost being a green or eco-friendly business, skip the plastic and non-reusable items. Opt for selections like earth friendly promos.
If your booth offers fun prizes, contests, and is interactive, people will gravitate to you. Try to be the life of the party. If you’re the new kid on the block, you have an advantage. Nobody has pre-conceived ideas of what you’ll bring to the trade show. Instead of immediately trying to sell your products or solutions, get to actually know people and make friends there. Yes, it seems a little counterintuitive to spend thousands of dollars to make friends, but remind yourself that the friends you’re making are people that can offer connections and expert advice down the road. Your competitors have likely been attending these same trade shows for years, and see it as just another part of their job. Use your nervous energy to your advantage by being excited to be there. It will come through when you’re interacting with people there.
If possible, request the attendee list prior to going to your first tradeshow. If that is not available, you may be able to purchase the previous years agenda. It’s unlikely that the attendees or program will change much, if at all. Use this to your advantage. Check out previous years’ photos if they are available on social media to see what other more established companies bring to the table, literally. If their booths are all blue, bring a red poster. If they each offer contests, make sure yours is simply more interactive.
If you have customer service folks back in the office or working remotely, provide them a list of the people you spoke with during the day, and let them know if any of those people are expected to reach out. That way, you can establish good customer relationships when your customer service or sales rep says, “Oh yeah, my boss mentioned he met you at the trade show!” It feels good to be remembered, as can help funnel potential customers into the sales funnel.
The reason you attend a trade show is to sell your product or service... in the long run. However, to make the most of it as a startup company or a small business, you don’t have to be the most expensive booth to make the most out of the event. Stand out by being personable, making concrete connections with experts in your field, and by being thoughtful about the trade show swag you’re providing.