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7 Strategies to Maximize a Tradeshow Experience

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You went to your industry’s top tradeshow. You hit every hall and visited every company on your list. You had a great experience – but, now what?

With any tradeshow, the biggest challenge isn’t covering the entire exhibit area, attending every educational seminar, or getting through it all blister-free. The biggest challenge is what to do after; to continue the momentum of the show, build on the connections and learnings gained, and extend the show’s value to your day-to-day.

Here are seven tips to get the most from your time investment this tradeshow season.

1. Categorize Cards
Business cards – whether 10 or 100, it’s impossible to leave a tradeshow without a stack. These are among the most valuable possessions brought back from tradeshows, which is why organizing them into categories is a must.

For a person in sales, one category could be for “hot” sales leads – those who seemed really interested or requested info – and another designated as “cold” sales leads – connections that aren’t likely to turn into immediate sales but could convert in time.

Those responsible for purchasing could create a category of companies with the products of most interest, another could be those of mild interest, and a third category could be companies from which a purchase will likely never be made but the contact is a valuable industry connection.

On that note, designate one separate pile for all “general” connections – those who are in a peer position, industry influencers, or others that could be valuable relationships down the road.

After all the cards are categorized, get the data into one, well-organized place, whether using an app that scans directly into a phone, or entering into a simple spreadsheet.

2. Updated Plan of Attack
Hopefully, you created a plan prior to attending the show – one that laid out goals, booths to visit, and the number of contacts you wanted to make. Go back to this, note what was accomplished and what wasn’t. If you didn’t create a pre-show plan, don’t worry – it can still be done now.

Next, note what wasn’t on that plan but is relevant now. For example, most manufacturers unveil new products at tradeshow. Some may not even be available yet, so set a reminder to check back on them when they’re released in the market. 

Finally, a tradeshow experience doesn’t always end on the final day. For every booth, demo, and new product you saw, there are at least a dozen you didn’t. Seek out post-show coverage, including videos, articles, and product releases, from reputable trade pubs and show-affiliated sources. If there were companies you wanted to see but didn’t make it to, this is a chance to see them now.

Use this info to create a plan for achieving post-show goals, whether those be personal goals or those designated by management.

3. Immediate Interaction
One of the first steps to achieving post-show goals is to follow up on the connections made. Starting with the highest-priority group from the business card categories, send a quick email to everyone you met.

As much as you want to believe every person will remember you, it may not be the case. Include an anecdote from the conversation, or even a quick re-introduction of yourself and company. Keep it general and friendly for this first interaction versus sending a sales pitch or asking for something.

While every connection is different in terms of how long to wait until following up, the general rule of thumb is as early as a week for especially hot contacts, or up to a month or more for cold or more general contacts. Set reminders now for appropriate follow-up calls to make over the next few weeks.

4. Social Connection
These days, connections go beyond an email or phone call – it’s all about getting social. Again, referencing the contact list, do Twitter and LinkedIn searches, and connect with everyone on those platforms.

In the next week or so, make the effort to engage with each connection, whether a simple Like on someone’s LinkedIn update or retweeting something he or she shared.

5. Give Back
Attending a tradeshow offers more than just personal benefit to the attendee; there’s value for an entire organization in one person’s experience. RDO Equipment Co. has a policy of “bringing the show back to the stores.” Everyone who attends makes the effort to share what he or she learned with team members who weren’t there. A few ideas:

Organize the literature collected from different companies.
-Set aside pieces relevant to specific machines, and share with team members who’d be interested.
-Create a separate pile of those that are unique or very well done, and share with the marketing team.

Think about the booths visited.
-Which ones were memorable and why?
-Did any companies do something that made their exhibits particularly effective?
-Share those thoughts with team members.
-Think about how to implement at the next tradeshow in which your company is exhibiting.

Collect and organize info from the seminars attended.
-Seek out additional handouts, slides, or other materials available from presenters.
-Type up all notes – include the seminar and presenter name.
-Once the info organized, place it in a company-accessible folder on a shared network.
-Notify appropriate team members so they’re able to benefit from the learnings and key takeaways.

Get even more social.
-Look at what competitors shared throughout the week.
-Look at what top manufacturers were sharing throughout the week.
-Note the tactics that seemed to work really well
-Share with team members for future social media ideas.

6. Organize Expenses
From the morning Starbucks to taking a customer out to dinner, most tradeshow attendees incur trip-related expenses. While probably the least exciting part of post-show follow-up, it’s necessary to organize and record expenses.

Don’t wait until month-end to sort receipts and fill out report, do it right away while the week is still fresh and top-of-mind.

7. Toss the SWAG
This last tip isn’t as directly related to looking ahead at post-show goals but it’s worth sharing nonetheless. A week or so after the show, you may notice a pile of promo items sitting on or under your desk. The longer you wait to address it, the easier it gets to ignore it – so clean it up now.

Go through all the hats, keychains, flashlights, and everything in your bags. Put away or bring home the items to keep, then give the rest to coworkers or friends, or donate it.

Much of the value of attending any tradeshow comes in the weeks and months after the show is over. Post-show planning, strategy, and execution against goals is the best way to maximize the time spent and get the most out of your experience. 


About the Author
Dennis Howard is Vice President of Fleet and Remarketing at RDO Equipment Co., and based in Chandler, AZ. Connect with him on Twitter @RDODennisH.

To learn more about the equipment and solutions RDO Equipment Co. highlighted at various tradeshows this year, contact your local RDO Equipment Co. store