One of my clients was sending many employees to a major industry trade show twice a year. As is often the case with trade shows, there was no clear direction except to mingle and try to make contacts. After each show, the employees would return to the office with stacks of business cards they’d collected from people they didn’t remember. They would try to follow up on these “leads”, but the sheer volume of cards coupled with their daily work load precluded them from making much progress. So nothing much happened until the next trade show when they’d add to their business card collection.
After a few of these cycles, the client asked for my help. I interviewed a few of the trade show attendees and it was obvious they were frustrated with the process and also felt like failures at and after the events. And no wonder! There were a couple of problems: 1) my client’s representatives had no clear plan and 2) the trade show attendees whose cards were being collected were attending the trade show to put deals together, not to find service providers like my client. So my client’s prospects had no interest in either meeting or listening to my client’s representatives at the show - especially when they were trying to cram a mini-presentation into the first conversation.
After assessing the situation, we scheduled a group facilitation session. The first order of business was to make a plan and break it down into bite-sized pieces. My client’s key employees who were attending the trade show did not have enough hours in the day to follow up on a stack of qualified, ready-to-do-business buyers, much less unqualified, slow-to-make-a-change potential prospects. So the first thing they needed to do was to target their efforts and approach only a few prospects at each show based on specific criteria. Second, since their prospects were not at the show to meet them, they worked on being interested, not interesting. Next, they reset their expectations based on the understanding that none of these prospects is going to give them business after a couple of conversations; in fact, it’s very difficult to unseat any competitor in their business. So they planned for it to take a while. Finally, they put together individual plans for before, during and after each show that were manageable in scope and would ensure the prospects would take their call after the event.
Trade shows and networking events often bring out the worst in the attendees. The pressure to perform and “get leads” can cause even social butterflies to forget their manners. Before practicing your “elevator pitch”, consider your audience and their purpose for attending the show. Nurturing a few meaningful relationships is always preferable to gathering up a stack of business cards.