This article discusses preparedness for a conference or trade show from a company and individual perspective. This information is applicable across markets and industries and is not specific to coatings. A company can invest a very large portion of their annual budget to attend and/or exhibit at a trade show or conference, so it is very important to maximize the return on the investment. It is much more than people getting away from the office, or what some may consider as a “reward” for their efforts.
Company Perspective – Trade Show: Sales and Marketing
First and foremost, the company has to honestly reflect on what they want to accomplish at a trade show or conference and the market position of products they may wish to represent if the conference affords the opportunity to have a tabletop or booth or some other display of goods and services. Are they Informing potential customers of new products, attributes or other applications? Have the products or services been available for some time and is their goal to persuade customers to receive them from their company as opposed to a competitor? Or are the products well-established in the industry, and the goal is to therefore to remind the market of their value as well as who the company is and at what they excel.
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Marketing is defined as "the total of activities involved in the transfer of goods from the producer or seller to the consumer or buyer, including advertising, shipping, storing, and selling." In short, marketing is all activities conducted to prepare for sales.
And sales are all activities required to close the deal. Therefore, at a trade show or conference, therefore, from a commercial standpoint, the objective is to market the company’s products, which include goods and services, to eventually lead to present and/or future sales. But a company is remiss if they only use the opportunity to present strictly sales . These industry gatherings serve many purposes besides marketing. They provide an excellent chance to assess your competitors and the strategies they employ to market and position their products.
Competitive intelligence should also be a major reason for all members attending an industry gathering. Are any of their products positioned ancillary to other offerings? Are they allied with another key supplier? What tools do they use to display their products’ utilization? If a paper or poster is presented, what is the message? Is the information new, or re-packaged from previous material? Years ago, trade shows and conferences were used as the launch point for new products. Companies can’t afford to wait a year to introduce a new good or service, and social media has become a huge factor in influencing introduction and positioning.
Company Perspective – Trade Show: Technical
Similar to the commercial approach, a company’s technical personnel need to think more commercially and focus on competitive intelligence as well. This accomplishes two things – first, many technical people are not used to thinking in commercial terms. It is a way for them to better understand the market and have an “outside-in” perspective. It is not as frequent as 25 years ago, but there are still
companies who develop products and then look for markets, rather than understanding what the market needs and then develops to meet the needs.
Individual perspective – Commercial and Technical – Trade Show
As a commercial leader, your primary focus at a show or conference where you have some sort of display is to ensure coordination, making sure the company post is adequately staffed, attendees have their assignments and you interact with customers. If you are fortunate enough that the company and conference is large enough, you may have access to a marketing/communications (MARCOMM) expert who can share the duties to follow up on staffing and assignments so you can focus on other activities. This might be an opportunity for you to provide a survey to visitors to assess your visibility, product placement and general “voice of the customer” with respect to how you are viewed in relationship to your competitors.
A conference also provides an individual an opportunity to network both for their company as well as for themselves. Unless your intent and desire is to stay at one company your entire career, meeting people from other companies is a great way to preliminarily assess potential future jobs, and to become better known in the industry as a leader or/and subject matter expert.
Individual perspective – Commercial and Technical – Conference
Technical conferences afford the opportunity to focus on learning, networking and soft marketing. There may be multiple tracks given simultaneously, and coordination is necessary to ensure that people are at the talks the company wants to hear is critical. Many conferences provide proceedings, but some companies’ strategies are to provide the information and submit too late to have their presentation included in the proceedings. Therefore, attendance is important.
In addition, students often present posters at conferences and those are rarely included in the Proceedings. Sometimes there is far better and novel technical content in the posters than what is presented in a technical program. These same students are often available to be interviewed as they may be candidates to graduate and are looking for employment. This allows for cost savings, avoiding bringing in a potential candidate to a company, and is usually far more comfortable for the student.
The following is a check-list and suggested activities for the attendance to and participation in a trade show or conference. Specific to your company or individual goals, this can of course be modified.
Attendees have been decided, a theme and technical marketing goal have been established and the attendees meet to discuss the specifics. This is where a MarComm representative can really help drive home key points.
Decide on a hotel. This seems trivial, but you may want to stay at the host hotel(s) if there is shuttle service to the site of the convention. Do you want a suite to hold meetings?
Discuss arrival date, time and flights. If a large contingent of people is traveling, it is better to travel on several flights rather than have everyone on one. Plan rental cars, etc.
Schedule individuals’ time to attend papers, posters as well as be in the booth/table top to receive visitors and answer questions, hold customer meetings, etc. Consider historical traffic at the show to plan staffing. One person should own the schedule to ensure there aren’t any conflicts.
Assign attendees with roles – At a large gathering, assign people to competitors’ displays to gather competitive intelligence. Assign people to also visit companies with ancillary or synergistic interests to yours and establish or develop relationships.
Most times there will be a floor map of companies. I usually color code my map by my priorities for visit to avoid getting caught with in insufficient time to visit all. This is coordinated of course with the overall plan.
Customer meetings – Who will attend and where? What needs to be prepared?
Set-up of the display – Many require trade labor to assist with set-up. Where will marketing reminders such as flash drives be kept? Who is responsible for them?
If you have special giveaways for key customers decide who those are and how they will be given to them.
Attendees have arrived and are on-site.
If registration is open the night before, avoid the crowd and register then. Pick up the literature such as booth locations, lanyard, etc. Look through what is provided and double check the locations of displays and companies you want to visit.
Meet as a team if possible to go over anything last minute. This could be a schedule change because of a customer request to meet, etc.
Periodically evaluate what is working or not and make adjustments – If an aspect of your display is not effective or cumbersome due to the floor configuration, innovate and adjust.
Post Conference – You have returned to the office from the event.
Hold a meeting to talk
Share positives and deltas and what actions should be taken to improve for the future. Record key learnings. Share any important competitive intelligence at that time that may be time-critical.
Assign a date and priority (A, B, C) for:
1. Write-up on competitive intelligence
2. Customer meetings and contacts
3. Who will follow-up with which contact and internal transfer of opportunities to businesses not in attendance at the event.
Follow-up on reports
After everything is written up, distribute to anyone needing the information and archive the information for access to others in the future.
Set a time period to check back on progress in contacts and follow-up
This may seem like common-sense or an over-detailed article. However, preparation is the key to a successful trade show or conference and having a well-understood plan and strategy will ensure that the goals are met and people have a positive outcome from their attendance.
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