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Trade shows offer opportunities to build relationships

How do you build hundreds of new client and customer relationships and show off your services or products in one setting? Take part in a trade show. How do you stay fresh in customers’ and clients’ minds after it’s over? Follow up.

Dr. Jeff Blodgett, associate professor of marketing at the University of Mississippi, said trade shows are a great time for relationship building.

“So much business is done on personal trust and relationships,”

Blodgett said. “Trade shows are a good time to solidify existing relationships, get to know buyers on a personal basis.They’re a good time to just be able to put your best foot forward.”

Blodgett said he is always suspicious when book representatives enter his office. At trade shows, however, he does not feel threatened or defensive.

Many companies take part in trade shows when they are rolling out a new product. Other companies just want to show clients and customers what they do and what they have.

After greeting new or existing clients or customers at a trade show, Blodgett said it is important for companies to get the benefits of what they offer across to customers and clients. Companies can do this by running a video showing the testimonials of satisfied clients or run one that shows the variety of places where their product ends up. Companies can also choose to have a simple display.

Conversation important part of trade shows

Aside from the presentation itself there are other ways companies can be successful at a trade show. By picking the right conversation topics, companies can build long-lasting relationships with clients and customers.

So what should a company’s sales representatives talk with clients or customers about at their trade show booth?

“That varies a little bit depending upon whether the products you sell are more standardized products or more customized and whether the products are raw materials or an end product,” Blodgett said.

The conversation a sales representative holds with clients or customers will also vary depending on the situation.

“With an existing customer you can talk more details,” explained Blodgett. “With new customers you’re at a different stage of communication — a different stage of the buying process. You can’t use the same approach with every (customer/client).”

Being able to identify existing and new customers is one way some companies can do better than others, Blodgett said. But while the right conversation is important, it is equally important for sales representatives to determine whether customers and clients are merely window-shopping or serious about finding out more about a company.

After finding out whether a customer is just passing by or serious about finding out more about what a company has to offer, sales representatives can find out how much time to spend in conversation with them. Newer customers or clients may require more conversation time, while existing customers may not require as much.

Motivating the team

Throughout the course of the day, company representatives can grow tired at a trade show. That is why it is important to keep the team behind the booth motivated. Blodgett suggested the company try holding some type of contest for employees. For example, the sales representative who gets the most new customer names gets a free steak dinner.

Even without the incentive, salespeople at a trade show should naturally be motivated, Blodgett said.

“If I had a salesperson at a trade show among that many clients and they weren’t intrinsically motivated, I wouldn’t want them around,” he said. “People realize that this is a big time for them to go to the markets and make or break them. If a salesperson isn’t fired up about it then they’re probably not a very good salesperson.”

But no matter how motivated a company’s sales team is, if they don’t look motivated, no one will want to drop by the booth. The sales team must stand up behind their booth, and carpet or some kind of padding can make standing on a concrete floor more bearable for team members.

Giveaways can lead to conversation

At trade shows, customers and clients can find tons of trinkets at different booths, so it’s important for companies to find an item to give away that is going to stay on a customer’s desk.

“If you qualify a customer, then give them the nice item that has your logo on it,” he suggested.

Following up with clients by sending them a more expensive item that will not go directly to the trash is another way for a company to keep their name on the forefront of clients’ and customers’ minds.

Karen Robbins, marketing coordinator for Hinds Community College, said being at the Mississippi Business EXPO and special events broadens

HCC’s opportunities to expand their customer base.

Robbins uses several strategies to get customers to stop and find out more about what HCC has to offer. Offering candy and other items is one way HCC creates opportunities for conversation with potential customers.

Michael Coker, president of CopyTek-tronics, said he is always sure to have at least one prize that customers and clients can register for. That brings traffic to his booth. Also, Coker and his staff set up as many appointments as possible with customers during the show so that more customers can see the booth.

While Coker and CopyTek-tronics sales representatives take the opportunity of the trade show as a place to tell customers more about their company, brochures are generally not handed out except to very interested people.

“They’re just thrown away,” Coker said.

Coker said he feels he has gotten a good return off his investment in trade shows.

“All of our shows have been very successful for us,” he said.

Robbins said that EXPO gives HCC an opportunity to receive feedback on how they have made a difference and how they can better serve the business community in the area.

“Our mission here is to assist our region’s business and industry and educators by becoming more productive, competitive, quality conscious and profitable through customized training, technical support service, meeting rooms and guest rooms,” Robbins said.

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com.

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