My sister and I recently took a trip to Southern California to see my oldest son for a long weekend. We had a blast. It was a quick escape where everything fell into place, resulting in time and money exceptionally well spent.
What helped us have such a great travel experience? We made the effort to plan our activities and fall-back options before we even booked our flight. We planned to play and then played out the plan.
When was the last time you carefully planned a trip to a trade show? Unfortunately, one of the areas where marine businesses often cut spending in conservative times is marketing and trade-show travel. This can prove to be shortsighted for a number of reasons.
When approached the right way, trade shows can be the juice to help keep your boating business fresh and competitive. Hard to believe? It's true, but there's a catch: Whether attending as an exhibitor or simply soaking up information, getting the most from your time, travel and trade-show investment takes more than showing up.
Once you've made the decision to attend a trade show, how do you maximize your return on the event? For the strategic, successful manager, I recommend you begin your trade show participation by looking at five Ps: plan, people, products, prospects and programs.
Your trade-show plan doesn't have to be complex, but it does have to be created. Don't step onto the show floor carrying only an empty bag for collecting freebies. Instead, carry a plan for collecting knowledge and answers to the above questions.
Divide and conquer for maximum coverage or, at times, stick together as you coach others on what to look for. Arrange a thorough debriefing with your team after returning home to include sharing and executing post-show tasks. A quick tip: Everyone should have business cards and a scratch pad handy to network and jot down notes, ideas and insights throughout the show. Don't count on random recall - take notes.
While virtual relationships are the rage, nothing replaces the energy of face-to-face interactions. Manage the other people component - those you want to connect with at the show - by finding out well before the event who will be attending. Check the exhibitor list, network with industry buddies and touch base with your trade association. In advance of the show, set up coffee, drinks or dinner plans with suppliers, manufacturers, journalists, analysts, industry superstars, trade association members, friends and colleagues.
Conversation, insights and input gained from these interactions can be wonderfully enlightening. I had breakfast with a colleague at a conference where we mutually developed a sales approach that ultimately produced several hundred thousand dollars in opportunities. Had we done this over the phone, the likelihood of such strong results would have been much smaller. There are many benefits to managing the people factor at trade shows; I know you'll come up with several others.
Think of the trade show as your product shopping mall, competitive gold mine and strategic idea factory all in one. Are there products that could make you more resilient in a slow market or drag you down? Continually keep dealership and merchandise updating in mind as you view products at the show.
Be inquisitive on specific sales approaches, too. Listen to the buzz around the show and find out the best way to prospect different products to different customer demographics by getting input from suppliers, partners and other non-competing dealerships.
What programs should you implement to make your business better? New promotions? Changes to your product line? Analyzing your customer base? Giving the dealership a facelift? Updating your Internet presence? Implementing a customer appreciation project or frequent buyer program? Whatever it may be, programs put into play after the show should be geared toward improving your business and sales.
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A well-planned trade show can definitely turn into a trade show well-played. Just as my son, sister and I had a terrific time together and happily played out every aspect of our weekend plan, you can do the same with your plan for attending a trade show.
Approach your next show with these five Ps and you'll find another P will soon surface - performance.
Manage trade show attendance with improved revenue and performance in mind. You'll end up with a plan well-played, and you'll enjoy the benefits it brings.
This article originally appeared in the June 2010 issue.