Trade shows: the singles bars of industrial marketing

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I attend a few trade shows in a typical year. What’s nice about fluid power trade shows is that you usually run into the same people time after time. Some have become friends, not just acquaintances, so conversation drifts to topics other than fluid power. One such conversation revealed how trade shows can imitate life.

Some friends and I who gathered after a show were talking about relationships. One guy in the group mentioned that a single lady he works with was frustrated because she found most single men to be fickle. She criticized them as being superficial, because they are attracted to pretty women with good figures. She rebuked suggestions that she might attract more male suitors if she would make a greater attempt at making herself more attractive. In her view, men should not steer clear of her because she lacks Heidi Klum looks but be attracted to her because she is a kind, intelligent, caring person — which she is.

Furthermore, she said she would not go out of her way to make herself more appealing, because doing so would only attract superficial men. Instead, she wants to attract men who are kind, intelligent, and caring, like her. Although I understand her logic, I think a better approach would be to realize that making herself more appealing would attract all men, not just superficial ones. It would then be her responsibility to distinguish the superficial suitors from the serious ones.

I think similar attitudes exist with trade show exhibitors. Some have flashy displays that have nothing to do with the products or services they are exhibiting — but they grab the attention of anyone passing by. They may even give away hundreds of little trinkets to passersby. But they look at this as a cost of doing business and will later weed out the quality leads from those of only superficial interest. The problem is, when they’re talking to a non-prospect, a hot prospect may pass by after noticing heavy booth traffic.

Most exhibitors — at least in fluid power — take the opposite approach and simply display their wares near the front of the booth and have application pictures and literature in the back. If someone passing by is interested, he or she will stop and chat. In this manner, exhibitors save their time and the attendee’s by not attracting those with no interest. They avoid heavy booth traffic that might cause interested attendees to pass by. However, they probably miss a few hot prospects because some people may walk past the booth without even noticing it.

Sometimes you’ll find an exhibitor with a combination of these: a real attention-getting display that uses the exhibitor’s products as an integral element of the display. Anyone passing by will notice the display, but if the product is not of interest, they will continue on. In this manner, the exhibitor grabs virtually everyone’s attention, but also make good use of their time by attracting mainly real prospects.

Trade shows, then, provide a means for people to meet. It’s up to the individuals to decide if a meeting could grow into a meaningful relationship.

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Alan Hitchcox

Alan joined Hydraulics & Pneumatics in 1987 with experience as a technical magazine editor and in industrial sales. He graduated with a BS in engineering technology from Franklin University and...
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