Trade shows can be great for connecting with new leads, nurturing existing relationships, and even closing sales. But too often, I see businesses mishandling the opportunity.

Case in point: A few months ago, I received a call from someone who said, “Hi. I have your card. I think you gave it to me at the St. Louis Business Expo. I sell…” And then she proceeded to pitch me on her products and services. I remembered her from the trade show. She visited my booth, told me what she does, and then asked for my card. She didn’t ask me one thing about my business, my goals, or my needs. In other words, she did nothing to establish a relationship with me. Instead, she collected my contact information and called a few weeks later to pitch me. I wasn’t interested. She was wasting her time.

She was practicing the age-old, failed trade show tradition of collect and call. 

Had she spent just two minutes at the trade show asking me about my business, she probably would have learned enough to know that I was not her ideal prospect. She could have focused her time for follow-up calls on people more likely to respond.

When you attend a trade show do not simply collect and call. So many businesses collect as many business cards as they can and then assume every card represents a prospect. Then they spend time calling on the “prospects” who never really were prospects.

When you meet someone at a trade show, take the opportunity to nurture a relationship. That begins with listening, not telling. Ask the person you’re meeting about their business and their needs. Your product or service may not be a match, but you may have other ways to help the person. Identify those who are good prospects and focus on them. Maintain relationships with those who aren’t good prospects. You may be able to help them in other ways and they may be able to help you with referrals.

This is just the first in a series of posts about trade shows that we plan to publish. Next week, I’m attending a large show. I plan to keep track of how the businesses there operate. I’m going to measure how many vendors:

  • Engage me in a “listening” conversation when I visit their booths. In other words, how many ask about me before telling me about them.
  • Requested my card without listening to me first.
  • Request my card after listening to me.
  • Don’t request my card at all.
  • Ask my permission to add me to their email list.
  • Send me a personalized, follow-up email within one week of the show.
  • Add me to their email lists and send emails within one month of the show.

We’ll keep you posted.

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