Phillip M. Perry
The ARA 79th Annual Convention & Expo will provide many opportunities for meeting new vendors, learning from seminars and hobnobbing with colleagues. Automotive recyclers and suppliers will meet face-to-face to share news about new equipment and services and get a handle on the current business environment.
“We started bringing all of our top-level managers and department heads to the ARA conventions a few years ago,” says Troy Webber, President of Chesterfield Auto Parts, Richmond, VA. His company often sends six to 10 people. “There is just too much to absorb for one person,” he says, remembering the pitfalls of trying to do it all himself. “I found if I was spending time talking to one vendor, I was missing out at another vendor on the other side of the room. If I attended one seminar, I was missing out on another.”
With the right planning, recyclers can find equipment and systems that make their businesses run better.
Case in point: A&A Auto & Truck Parts, Topeka, KS, where Curt Lewis says his company was able to connect at previous shows with vendors that have brought the high efficiency of modern technology to such critical business activities as product inventory management and pricing. “We will be keeping our eyes and ears open, talking to as many people as we can, and going to as many of the seminars we think will apply to something in our business that we want to expand upon.”
Despite their attractions, though, trade shows can toss a monkey wrench into any organization’s busy operations. How do you spare the time and personnel required to send yourself and staff members to a show? How can you maximize the return you get on all the time and money spent?
The answer lies in preparation, at-show time management, and post-show follow-through. That means keeping the dialog going with vendors, passing along lessons learned with coworkers, and sharing the hottest industry trends with customers.
Doing all that in a way that boosts profits is a constantly evolving skill: Like expert golfers working on their follow-through, successful trade show attendees are always improving the quality of their swing.
Here are some tips for doing just that:
Tip #1: Prepare to Win
Each attendee must plan in advance to take the right steps after returning. That means answering this question: How will I maximize the contacts I make with show exhibitors and other individuals I meet?
“Trade shows provide the chance to communicate with the entire industry under one roof,” says Peter LoCascio, Salem, Oregon-based trade show consultant. “Each attendee should assume accountability for the time spent away from the workplace and for travel and hotel expenses. There needs to be a personal commitment to spending the money well by following through on new contacts.”
Every attendee needs to exercise the best techniques for maximizing their time. Maybe that means collecting business cards, having their badges scanned to receive product literature, scanning QRC codes in booths, or taking smart phone photos of new and interesting products.
“Six to eight weeks in advance of the show, bring your people together to make your expectations known,” says Heiman. “Tell them how you expect them to dress and to conduct themselves. What kind of notes should they take and what reports will they be making? Suggest that they consider recording sessions and taking photos of the visuals that speakers put on the screen, and that they pick up any interesting handouts that would help their team learn.” Let them know that at the ARA Convention, the Powerpoints are made available to interested attendees from any presentation.
Bonus tip: Have experienced attendees mentor new attendees on the best techniques for getting the most from a trade show.
Tip #2: Set specific Goals
General goals are important. But translate them into specific actions. Define your game plan in detail and be able to answer the key question: What do you intend to achieve?
“Develop specific answers in advance to critical questions,” says Nancy Drapeau, Vice President of Research, Center for Exhibition Industry Research. “How many booths will you visit, and which ones? Are there specific educational seminars you will attend? And how about networking events? How will you track your activities?”
Plan your time in concrete terms. “Get an advance copy of the exhibitor list from the show sponsors,” says LoCascio. For your convenience, a downloadable list of current ARA exhibitors can be found at www.a-r-a.org/convention. “List the products and services you are looking for and draw up a plan to visit the booths of the relevant exhibitors. Avoid walking the aisles aimlessly.”
Reaching specific goals will require effective networking skills. “If people don’t know how to network, they will not know how to obtain valuable information,” says Heiman. “Teach your staff how to start productive conversations with strangers and how to keep people talking. Make sure they can answer the question, ‘What do you do?’”
Networking goals can also be specific. You might require your staff to find 10 new people with whom they can develop continuing relationships. They can do this by attending the networking, and by splitting up to sit with different people at lunch, dinner and events. “The idea is to learn about the industry trends that will be affecting your company and your customers,” says Heiman.
Bonus tip: If you are going to the show as a group, get more done by splitting up and pursuing individual goals. Don’t walk the show in a pack.
Tip #3: Debrief Coworkers
Successful trade show attendees share what they learn with their colleagues. “When we go to dinner every night during the show we each summarize what we learned from the floor and the seminars,” says Webber of Chesterfield Auto Parts. “We always come away with some type of realization that there is a topic we should look into more.”
Webber puts particular importance on news about machinery. “What’s new in equipment is always one of our main reasons for attending,” says Webber. “The show is the best place to see alternatives to what we’re doing. We have our own policies and procedures, but it’s always interesting to find out what other options there are.”
Once back at the facility, have attendees share what they have learned with their coworkers. What were their impressions of the show? What did they learn from exhibitors about new products? From seminar speakers and colleagues about critical trends in the industry?
“Set a date and time for a follow-up meeting before you go to the show, to make sure the job gets done,” says Meridith Elliott Powell, sales and leadership strategist based in Asheville, NC. “Decide in advance how the meeting will be structured and how you will debrief. It’s important to tell not only what happened, but also to share your leads, if that applies. Whom did you talk to? What did you discuss? What will the next steps be? ”
When talking about a vendors’ offerings, says Powell, it’s important to go beyond a list of new goods and services, by explainng how purchases will integrate into your current structure. What will it take to earn back your investment?
Encourage attendees to present their experience in a way that engages their colleagues – beyond just reading notes. Attending a tradeshow should be viewed as an honor, and there should be some excitement from the team returning to share their knowledge. “Consider having each attendee pick two or three vital insights discovered at the show, then do a deep dive into each one,” says Heiman.
Bonus tip: Schedule the follow-up meeting within 48 hours of the time people return from the show, while memories are still fresh.
Tip #4: Review Performance
Good trade show follow-through includes reviewing how well the attendees utilized their time and improvements for the next time. “There should be a post-show discussion on participation, including what worked and what didn’t,” says Orvel Ray Wilson, a speaker and coach on trade shows. “What was effective and what wasn’t.”
Consider what you were looking to achieve and assess whether you were successful. “If something worked, point it out and plan to repeat it in the future,” says Drapeau. “If something did not work, discuss the reason. Was the problem with the show or with your team’s performance?”
Questions to consider: How could attendees have improved their use of time? Should the business send more or fewer people to the next show?
Bonus tip: Have each attendee prepare a short report on three ways the business can improve its return on investment in attending the next show.
Tip #5: Follow Up with Vendors
Once you’ve briefed your colleagues on the show, follow-up with the important vendors. Trying to reach out to everyone will seem overwhelming since you have your regular duties to attend to at the same time. So, start with a few who have the most potential. Provide feedback or ask questions to engage your vendors of interest. Send them an email or write a handwritten note, and include your business card to jog theire memory of your discussions.
Social media can also personalize your feedback. “Are some vendors active on LinkedIn? If so, connect with them,” says Heiman. “And don’t just connect. Interact by ‘liking’ or sharing posts they have made that would be interesting to people who follow you.”
In some cases, says Heiman, it is appropriate to schedule a phone call: Maybe the person has special knowledge and you want to know if he or she will present virtually to your company.
Bonus tip: Never rely on vendors to follow through. “We have found that exhibitors fail to follow-up with 80 percent of their leads,” says Wilson. “Always take the initiative.”
Tip #6: Share with Customers
Maybe coworkers and vendors are the most obvious people for follow-up. But don’t overlook customers who could not attend the show and who will appreciate your thoughtfulness and expertise if you inform them of what you learned.
“Communicating your show experience with customers can be one of your best marketing tools,” says Powell. “You want to stay visible to your customers, and you want them to see that you are staying knowledgeable about the industry. Consider sharing the top three things you took away from the show, and explain how they will benefit your customers.”
Bonus tip: Updating your customers in person is always preferable, but consider including some select information in your social media posts and your newsletter. Or cover a topic in a webinar or video you email to your customers.
The Big Picture
As discussed, smart trade show follow-through begins before you leave for the show and continues long after you have returned to your workplace and debriefed your coworkers. Getting the biggest bang from the buck invested in attending a show depends on how you sweep up after the dust has settled and the glitter has faded.
Done right, the time and effort involved in attending a show can pay off in happier customers and a fatter bottom line. A lot of that comes through serendipity with unplanned meetings of people on the floor. “I feel like the most valuable information we come away with from these conventions, every time, is from the networking we were able to do,” says Webber of Chesterfield Auto Parts. “Other recyclers are able to give us valuable information in candid discussions, often in breaks during the show.”
Bonus tip: On page 55 is a preliminary list of exhibitors for the 79th Annual ARA Convention & Expo. Review them with your team and start planning your experience. Register for the show at www.a-r-a.org/convention.
Trade Show Readiness Quiz
Will you get the most profitable return you can from your investment attending a trade show? Give yourself 10 points for each “Yes” answer to these questions. Then total your points to see how prepared you are for your next show.
1. Have you decided on a general goal for attending the show and have communicated it to your staff?
2. Have you set specific goals for each attendee in terms of number of booths to visit and specific vendors to see?
3. Have you assigned specific seminars to each attendee?
4. Have you trained each attendee on how to collect information at the show?
5. Have you trained each attendee on effective networking techniques?
6. Have you assigned attendees to specific networking events?
7. Have you drawn up a list of the most important colleagues to see and have you contacted them in advance if appropriate?
8. Have you drawn up a list of customers you will contact with news about the show?
9. Have you set a date and time for a staff follow-up meeting to share what was learned at the show?
10. Have you set a date and time for a separate post-show discussion about staff performance?
What’s your score? Over 80: Hooray! You are ready for your show. Between 60 and 80: Time to fine tune your planning skills. Below 60: It’s a good idea to re-gear by instituting ideas from the accompanying story.
Award-winning journalist Phillip M. Perry has published widely in the fields of business management, workplace psychology and employment law. A 20-year veteran, Perry is syndicated in scores of magazines nationwide.