Selling to new exhibitors

Pinpoint prospects. Looking for new customers? Consider these sources:

Referrals. Nothing beats word of mouth, so tap your existing exhibitors and attendees for referrals. Sweeten the deal with an incentive like a discount on next year’s booth or on registration.

Grass root sources. For regional shows, contact state or local economic development councils and ask about business incubator programs in the area. Get in touch and network with consultants who may likely know of start-up businesses in your industry. Think about the resources a business in your industry would need to get started, and look at those access points for leads.

Competitive shows. Walk the show floor and investigate participants, make mental notes of key sponsors, and take home the show directory listing all exhibitors.

Similar events. Don’t overlook shows that compete indirectly with yours. Other industry events will likely attract the same audience you seek, and you never know where you’ll find cross-over customers or markets. I

ndustry publications. Always check advertisers in industry publications. If these businesses have allocated advertising dollars, chances are they’ll have money for exhibiting too. Don’t overlook regional or local newsletters from industry associations. Look for announcements about new members.

Make contact. Creating dialog with prospects takes finesse — you don’t want to come across as too pushy or out of touch with their needs, but persistence is key.

First, do your homework. Go online and get as much background on prospects as possible (the companies’ products/services, target audiences, key decision makers, etc.). This will help you determine whether they’re a fit for your show and formalize your pitch.

If you’re making a cold call, make sure you know which key decision maker to contact. Be persistent: It may take dozens of phone calls, e-mails or faxes before you get the prospect’s full attention.

And don’t forget to utilize contacts if they already have a relationship with a prospective exhibitor. Asking them to make an introduction will likely help you get your foot in the door much faster. Once you’ve made contact, your goal should be building a relationship.

Mind your manners. Be aware of your prospects’ time and priorities, especially if you’re approaching prospects at a show. They’ve spent a lot of money to exhibit their products and services, so don’t monopolize booth time trying to solicit their business. Instead, politely introduce yourself, get a contact name and follow up after the show.

Trust builds strong relationships. Be a listener — learn as much about their customers and their markets as possible. Show that you’re more than just a salesperson — you’re a partner who wants to help them grow their businesses. Offer to introduce them to your contacts if you think they’d have mutually beneficial relationships.

Offer a trial run. Invite them to walk your show floor and take a look at the quality of attendees — and exhibitors. Peer pressure is a strong motivator: They just may decide to participate to keep pace with their top competitors.

Manage the sale. While some people delegate cold calls to junior-level staffers, it’s best for senior-level salespeople to initiate contact — especially if prospects are executives. You’ll want seasoned salespeople making the first impression with these key decision makers. Plus, a more seasoned staffer will be more adept at selling the value of your show. Once you’ve made contact and established a relationship, a junior-level salesperson can handle the daily customer-service tasks involved with maintaining the relationship.

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