One of the ways we meet new clients is by exhibiting at trade shows and conferences. I’ve learned over time that there is much more than buying booth space, putting a few flyers out, and talking to whoever comes around. There is an entire strategy involved, from how to attract interested people, how to engage them to discuss their needs, and how to schedule a follow-up. But there is so much more to attending a show than just meeting prospective clients! There is a lot of intel to gather.
I learned this from a very savvy marketing person with whom I used to attend meetings. She taught me to always look to see who was sitting with each other. The folks who sat together could be building a teaming relationship. I always went just to hear the talks and hopefully identify future business opportunities. This was an entirely different level of observation. And I learned it.
I applied this to attending shows as a vendor. Now I always observe and talk to other vendors. I might as well learn from their lessons learned and avoid making those same mistakes. And they are usually very open with me since I rarely encounter competitors.
I get intel on which conferences and shows might be good for us, the ones at which we are likely to engage with decision-makers and the ones that are good for connecting with users and clients. As we develop relationships with fellow vendors, these usually lead to introductions to other vendors, as well.
I pay attention to their signage, what grabs the attention of participants, which displays draw people in, how their tables are arranged, and how their conversations go with potential clients. I also pay attention to their giveaways.
We have found brightly colored pens to be a big draw. And now that we are going to educator forums, the teachers are not shy about grabbing handfuls of whatever we have on our table. So, we add logos to our pens, but personalization is expensive, and the giveaways are meant to draw in as many people as possible. So we put out different stuff, squeeze balls, squishy animals, and items themed to the conference (rubber ducks in astronaut gear for one), to encourage people to take just one of each. Often we hear that a new arrival at our table came because one of their colleagues had shared one of our cool giveaways. Whatever brings them in, that’s what we provide. And we continue to try new things.
Rule of conferences: Always have a bowl of dark chocolate. The good stuff!
So, as I cruise the other vendors’ tables while participants are at keynote addresses or listening to talks, I always look at their ‘lures.’ And I saw one item at the last conference I attended that stopped me in my tracks. It was a Twenty-Year Planner. Twenty years! I don’t know what I’m doing next year, much less in twenty!
My first thought was that this was a very optimistic planner. And by optimistic, I meant that I would be surprised if I held onto it for that long! It had been printed in 2020, so that meant I only had 17.5 more years to keep track of it.
Curious, I opened it up to the middle. The structure was very simple. The right side had the year’s calendar for that year, with the major holidays listed on the left.
My thought that the printers of this 20-year planner were being optimistic was confirmed. We were only two and a half years into it, and already the holidays had changed. And the planner was missing Juneteenth!
I flipped to the front of the book. The printer had allowed one page of special dates. One page. I have an entire book for birthdays and anniversaries, and they gave me space for 22 dates, names, and events. This planner was becoming less useful to me.
I flipped to the back of the book where there was one page for frequently called numbers (I keep those on my phone and in the cloud), and four pages for names and numbers (again, only 4 pages, I have hundreds of contacts with whom I keep in touch). And anyway, who writes that information down anymore? That goes right into the phone, where it belongs! I figured I could use that space for passwords as long as I kept it locked up. Or maybe the information that my executor should have, like names of people to call to spread the word, my insurance agent, CPA, and attorney. As we learned from COVID, you just never know when the Grim Reaper will show up for you.
There was also a page of fast facts related to the city in which the organization that was distributing this planner was located. It included average temperatures for the four seasons, Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. Again, optimistic. Global warming is happening. I wonder how far off those numbers will be by 2040.
I got to thinking. Will we even have ”business” numbers or ”fax” numbers in 20 years? I haven’t had a fax number for any of my businesses for the past 10 years. DocuSign, scanning, and email have replaced the need for a fax machine. I don’t miss curly paper.
Will we even have mailing addresses, or will everything be electronic? Will we have office space or will we be meeting virtually using virtual reality headsets in spectacular spaces designed by graphics gurus?
After mulling over the planner, the keynote address ended, and the exhibit space filled up. So I took one and had some fun with it.
I used the book to engage folks by asking them what their first thought was upon seeing the title. Here are some of the responses:
“Lots of goals”
“That’s a long way away”
“Looks a little thin for 20 years”
“OMG! 20 years! I’m 69 years old!”
And then I got an answer that surprised me:
“I have four of them”
Four of them? I had to ask what for…
Turns out that these 20-year planners are frequently used in the hospitality industry for event planning.
Yet one more thing I’ve learned from exhibiting at a conference.