Some time ago I blogged about the dreaded next day newsletter. Following a recent exhibition, we have been exposed to something equally annoying. This article is about exhibiting at exhibitions, what exhibitors do well, and what they do badly.
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Exhibitors’ Faux Pas
At a recent exhibition we were looking forward to meeting people interested in what we could do for them, and starting the process of building a relationship with them. We arrived early, set up our stand, and found it was really buzzing. Every exhibitor did well to be ready for the start and most had got there early, which is vital. We had a constant stream of visitors to our stand, perhaps because they were interested in the various benefits, promotions, gifts, special offers we had on display. We were approached by other exhibitors too, which is understandable when it is quiet, yet not when it is busy. Most were OK as I explained that there was time allocated at the end of the day, when exhibitors could actually meet and chat. It had been specifically arranged so that we could discuss and relax once our respective stands had been taken down.
What was really surprising was the insistence of others that they wanted to talk to us, when we wanted to be talking to the visitors to our stand – after all, we weren’t only at this event to engage with fellow exhibitors, even though we love doing that. We were at the event to stimulate conversations with the people who wanted to meet us face to face. I did have fantastic conversations with fellow exhibitors at the end of the exhibition, indeed our biggest opportunity of the day was handed to us on a plate, at the end of day drinks.
Don’t get me wrong, my team and I did wander around the exhibition, making sure we understood what the other exhibitors did, and how we could build mutually beneficial relationships with them. However, we made sure that we weren’t talking to them, when they had visitors to talk to. There is ample time to make the most of a day exhibiting, if you get there early and stay late on the day, because it is a complete day, or have made time to follow up.
“Work With Us” and your customers will love….what exactly?
Over the following few days it’s fair to say we were inundated with emails from fellow exhibitors. These emails basically repeated the messages that were on their marketing materials and on their stands. It was really difficult to determine the mutual benefit of working with some. Their correspondence told us the function of what they did, but didn’t give us any clues about what our clients would gain from working with them.
I also received a fair few requests to connect on LinkedIn, using the standard message that LinkedIn provide. “I want to be your friend” is fair enough in some cases. But for the life of me, I cannot understand why people who have met you in the flesh, and want to work with you, cannot be bothered to prepare their own message articulating a mutual benefit and then personalise it. If they do not have a memorable name, it is very unlikely you will recognise them amongst all of the other invitations you receive from people who would like to connect with you on LinkedIn. Why make it so difficult?
We can’t work with everyone
It’s great to meet nice people – I meet nice people every day. I meet nice people everywhere I go. In fact, I can’t help but meet nice people. I couldn’t work with everybody I met – it’s a physical impossibility. It’s probably also a blunder, not to check the validity of the marketing messages of people who want to work with you. So we do carry out assessments of people and the work that they do. We’re not always able to do that task physically ourselves, but we use things like LinkedIn to help us.
So our suggestions for networking at exhibitions is as follows. Do say hello to fellow exhibitors, but don’t waste their time by trying to talk to them when they are talking to others. Secondly, when you do talk to fellow exhibitors, make sure you tell them why they should be working with you. I lost count of the amount of times people approached our stand and said “we can work together to mutual benefit.” My reply to each of them was along the same line – fantastic, you’re a nice person, you’re proactive enough to be here and I’d love to work with you, but what do you see the benefit being? Not everyone was able to interest me in their answer.
Thirdly, if you are going to follow up – follow up effectively with everyone you engage; delegates, exhibitors and all. Imagine if everyone at the exhibition had sent me the same stock message (most of them did!), yet one sent me an email that alluded to our conversion and told me what was in it for my clients. I would have made the effort to reply to them all if I wasn’t so busy following up all of our leads. So I replied to those that did and made a note in the diary to continue those conversations.
Wrap up: Exhibitions are a great place to engage in a conversation yet it’s a fast paced environment. Make sure you have allocated the time to follow up individually with those you meet, or at least ask them before sending them an update.
Top Tip: Make your stand inviting. If you’re giving away free stuff, make sure it’s congruent with your brand. At an exhibition earlier this year, one company had a pick and mix stand, which I loved, yet I cannot remember their name.