In today’s competitive global business landscape, forming strategic partnerships has become a necessity for sustainable growth and success. Trade shows have long been recognized as powerful platforms for businesses to showcase their products, services, and innovations to a targeted audience. In addition, trade shows offer a unique opportunity for companies to connect with potential partners and expand their networks.
By strategically matching and connecting companies at trade shows based on their offerings, objectives, and target markets, these events become more than just marketing showcases; they become catalysts for fostering synergistic collaborations.
Participating in trade shows is an effective strategy for growing your business. Approximately 72% of exhibitors attend trade shows to gain new leads.
Trade shows can contribute to business growth in a variety of ways:
Data indicates that converting a trade show lead is 38% less expensive than relying on sales calls alone. According to CEIR research, it costs $2,188 to close a sale with an exhibition lead but only $3,102 to close a sale without one.
Having been both an exhibitor and an attendee at trade shows, I’ve seen firsthand how matching and connecting companies at trade shows can lead to success. This work isn’t only about finding immediate partners; it’s also a way to nurture long-term relationships. Trade shows provide an initial meeting point for companies to explore potential collaborations, but the real value lies in what happens after the event. To make the most of your trade show attendance, it’s going to take work before, during and after the event.
Before visiting a trade show, I spend a lot of time going through the full roster of exhibitors in order to create a list of companies I want to connect with at the show.
I’ve learned not to rely on the classification of the trade show organizer because it’s often too general. For example, within the “kitchen accessories” category I can find companies that manufacture “appliances” as well as companies that manufacture “residential cabinet storage and organizational products.” Clearly, these companies don’t do the same thing but are still listed within the same category.
Instead, I review company websites to get a sense of their product lines, markets, and existing partnerships. This time that I invest before the show to analyze each company helps me to form a clear picture of each company and understand who might be a good point of contact at the event.
While information about exhibitors may be available with the right research strategy, there’s not yet an effective solution for this same kind of pre-event preparation with the attendee roster. Unless an attendee is an existing connection, I don’t have a way to fully understand each attendee’s goals, interests, and objectives at that point in time. As a result, the connection process at trade shows is still mostly antiquated, relying on in-person visits and contact management through business cards or electronic sign up lists.
In Europe, visitors at a booth will leave their business cards, which exhibitors will staple on a sheet of paper on which they’ll summarize the conversation. That report will be filed in a folder dedicated to each specific trade show. The notes are handwritten and sometimes unclear. If the visitor doesn’t have a business card, often there’s data missing.
In the US, the most sophisticated exhibitors will scan visitor information and record notes on an electronic device. Following the trade show, event organizers will provide a spreadsheet containing this data. In this case, the data is the information that the attendees submitted at registration and is not always complete or correct.
Trade show organizers may offer a variety of basic matching and connecting services, from pre-event networking platforms and apps to business matching or networking services and programs. However, there are two main reasons why these services fall short.
First, the services above are predominately tailored to target a single objective, whereas I attend with more than one in mind. In addition, I want to see what’s new and to evaluate what competitors are doing. I get this information from walking the show, talking to my peers, and being in the midst of the action.
Second, if I go to a trade show as an exhibitor, my focus is on speaking with existing and potential customers to generate new business. I need to maximize my time and my return, and that simply doesn’t leave time to connect meaningfully with suppliers and service providers.
Every time I fill in a trade show registration form, I observe a missed opportunity: trade show organizers have the potential to collect more granular information and create a more robust matching profile for each exhibitor and attendee. For example, I’ve rarely seen questions about what my objectives are, what markets I’m interested in, or what business connections I’m hoping to forge (if I am looking for an independent sales rep, a distributor or a new supplier, etc.).
This is the kind of information that exhibitors and attendees need in the time before, during, and after a trade show in order to maximize relationship-building efforts based on shared interests and business objectives. Many trade shows take place every year, and being able to continue engaging exhibitors and attendees during the year would be a powerful service that trade show organizers could provide to their customers on a regular basis.
Data that is more complete will lead to better understanding of customer needs, ability to gain insight on new trends and support identifying new contacts for improved business results.