How to form longterm relationships at trade shows

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Aime Cox
Founder of Studio Cotton
Aime is utterly obsessed with sharing heaps of small business and website advice that’s easy to action
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This article and all others on the Studio Cotton blog are written by humans. Please enjoy our opinions, expertise, advice, experiences, and typos.

I’m currently sat on a pink bench in the middle of Top Drawer AW17, an awesome exhibition with the best of homeware, fashion, gifts, food and more. I say ‘more’ because there’s literally a lobe of this trade show that I haven’t managed to find (and it’s also my favourite – the garden section!).

I bloomin’ love these exhibitions. As well as a good ol’ shmooze with existing and potential clients, I can do a year’s worth of shopping and source a little business blogging inspiration too. And I am inspired, to help exhibitors get over their commitment issues.

No plans for non-sales

If you’ve spent hundreds or thousands on a stand at a trade show, you’ve done it because you want to make hundreds or thousands in sales. Well, that’s really hard.

I’ve seen so many people approach stands, clearly interested or intrigued by brands and products – and only leaving with a catalogue, business card, or worse – nothing. This puts an incredible onus on your potential customer to actively search you out after the event.

That’s all kinds of wrong!

This all-or-nothing, customer-driven approach to trading is inefficient and nonsensical. Small businesses are investing a butt-load on being here, and yet failing to have a plan b when you can’t close a sale, thene and there.

Look for the lowest level of commitment

A confirmed sale is the big commitment. They like it, and they gonna put a ring on it. A lot of other buyers are just meeting you for the first time – sure, they think you’re handsome and like your swag – but they’re just not there yet.

Think of this exhibition as a first date. Right now, you just want to aim for a casual drink next weekend – and anything on top of that is a bonus.

Focus on how you can get just a smidgen of data from your prospective partner. Create a mailing list that is tailored just for them, and make it just so darn easy to join. Use a tablet with a single-field sign-up form on your website. Collect business cards in a clearly labelled jar. Go old school, and have a very tidy list on a clipboard.

Boom! You already have a super awesome list of second date prospects.

Make them feel special

If you want to seduce your new customer, you gotta earn it. Incentivise sign ups with an extension on exclusive event offers, have a prize draw or offer a complimentary sample pack in the post.

Be prepared to negotiate on a one-on-one basis so that your date believes they’re getting a truly personal experience.

Make notes. If you’ve hit it off with a supplier, don’t follow with the business equivalent of a “u up?” text. Identify your super hot sign-ups and send them a truly personal response, if you struggle to remember specific details of your conversation then take a look and compliment their website or social channels.

Make sure every point of contact you have with them is valuable, and just aim for the next date – that next level of commitment – no more, no less.

He’s just not that into you

God I love that film. If you’re a fan of mediocre chick flicks, you need to to watch it, now.

You can tell pretty quickly when it’s not going to work out. You might have met a dream buyer from your favourite boutique, you’re sending all the right signals and getting “meh” is response. It’s ok, they’re just not that into you – plenty of others will be.

If you’re convinced they should be your beau, you can work on your pitch and try again, but don’t afraid to let this one go. It’s not meant to be.

Even worse, don’t try and get the wrong people to commit. Sure, if a person shows interest that might not be your type – don’t blow them off. But don’t invest time and resource into a relationship that is unlikely to make either of you happy.

Keep in touch, but don’t be pushy

If your partner ghosts you, don’t keep trying to win them back. You can look desperate, or worse – act desperate – and at best you’ll have an ambivalent customer with low a profit margin. Focus instead on those more likely to convert – the ones that haven’t blown you off or broken your heart.

Have a point in mind at which you’ll abandon the relationship – e.g. 3 emails after a show with no reply. If you’ve planned your communications properly and have only asked for small levels of commitment, then they’re not good enough for you honey.

Plan for the future

So you’ve done it, you’re ready to settle down. The journey doesn’t end here. A healthy marriage takes patience, commitment and effort – or so I’m told, I’ve only bee married like 11 months – keep making your commercial spouse feel special, adored and valued.

Check in and ask how they’re doing, ask how you can make their life just a little easier, and send them a little treat every now and then to show you care.

PS. It’s Christmas soon, a card wouldn’t go a miss. Hint hint.

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