11 Tips for Building Materials Firms to Get the Most Out of Trade Shows

Trade shows and conferences are often part of a building materials company’s marketing and sales plans. There are several positive things about trade shows: the opportunity to connect with people, to see what competitors are doing, and to gain insights into industry trends.

But there are also drawbacks. Even if you’re “just” attending, there are often attendance fees and travel costs, plus the value of the time you’ll be unavailable for other business. For exhibitors, there can be added costs of exhibit space, people to staff your booth, uniforms for booth staff, and booth swag. Both attendees and exhibitors can also face post-trade show exhaustion.

In this post, we’ll show you how building materials firms can get the most out of trade shows.

1. Know why you’re going

Before you attend the conference or trade show, know what your goal is. It could be to meet colleagues, learn something, make new connections, or maintain a presence in the industry. If you know before you go, you’ll get more out of the show and won’t waste time and money on things that don’t support your goal(s).

2. Check your “appearance” 4 weeks before the show

It’s crucial to check out what someone will find if they look up you or your company after meeting you at the show. A month before the show, review your website, business cards, and social media profiles (especially LinkedIn) to ensure they are up to date and have accurate information. Also check your show materials, both physical and virtual. If you wait until the week before the trade show to do this, it may take longer to make corrections. You don’t want to be waiting on revisions the day of the show.

3. Bring business cards, a pen, and a notepad

Don’t rely on the venue’s Wi-Fi or conference-provided contact methods, like scanners or a conference app. Using old-fashioned paper and pen will ensure that you’re able to capture a prospect’s contact information and other notes.

4. Don’t work while at the show

Don’t schedule other appointments and meetings while you’re at the show. It doesn’t pay to try to run everything at the office from the trade show floor. You’ve invested a lot to be there, so be there.

5. Hand out sales materials digitally first

Paper materials and swag products can easily be lost or thrown away. To avoid this, collect a prospect’s contact info and email and send your sales materials digitally. This saves the cost of printing and gives you a way to stay in contact after the show. Digital collateral is great because it can take advantage of newer technology to provide an experience unlike any other. For example, video, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) tools can allow you to create an experience of flying through a building space containing your materials, allowing prospects to see them in the “real world.”

6. Don’t invest a lot in swag

People rarely make a purchasing decision based on who has the best swag. They’ll take it home, give it to their kids or coworkers, or throw it away. If you’re lucky, they’ll think of you in six months when they

find your stress ball in the back seat of their car. Pick swag that isn’t expensive and won’t irk you if people take it just because they like free stuff.

7. Know what attendee contact information the conference will share with you

Some conferences provide scanners or apps that allow you to collect attendee contact information. Make sure you understand how the scanners and apps work, what data they’ll collect, and how long you’ll have access to the information after the show or conference.

8. Know your follow-up process

Before the show begins, decide how you will follow-up with prospects after the show. Will you email them, call them, or simply add them to your lead funnel? Also, decide when you will follow-up. Don’t do it the day after the conference or trade show, because everyone is busy catching up with emails and work from when they were away.

9. Gather information from your competitors

Walk the trade show in civilian (nonbranded) clothes to see what information you can gather from your competitors. Listen to how they interact with attendees and how they talk about their products. This may give you information you need to compare your product with a competitor’s, as well as give you ideas to improve your presentation. Listen respectfully from a distance away, and don’t waste their time pretending you’re a potential customer.

10. Listen for the latest industry news

You can discover industry news both formally and informally. Attending roundtables, keynotes, discussions, and panels will give you information in a formal way. Pay particular attention to Q&A sessions, as this is often where the most valuable information comes out. Informally, listen to discussions when in line for coffee or meals to find out what everyone is talking about. What concerns do they have? Is everyone in agreement on a topic? What are people afraid of? What do they think will change in the coming year?

11. Connect with members of the press

If you have a major story about your company or products that the press will be interested in, contact them before the conference or show and offer them the story. If you don’t have a major story, network with members of the press for future story ideas. It’s not a good idea to alienate a potential press contact by pushing them to run a “story” that’s really just a free ad.

To be successful at trade shows or conferences requires a substantial investment of both time and money. If you’re going to commit to using trade shows in your marketing, make sure you’re able to do the work that makes them deliver results for you.

Patience Jones