Trade shows are a great way to connect with colleagues and forge new manufacturing industry relationships. And here’s a little secret. . . I’ve found that walking the show floor is more valuable than sitting in a booth waiting for people to approach you.
If you can coordinate a team to manage a booth while you walk the trade show floor, that’s probably the ideal scenario. But no matter what, your priority should always be making as many personal connections as possible.
Here’s why you should focus on building relationships—and how to do it the right way.
Make Connection Your Top Priority at Trade Shows
Trade shows get you face-to-face with companies and industry leaders who are otherwise difficult to reach. Maybe you’ve tried calling, but they never pick up, or you’ve emailed but received no response. Chances are, you’ll have much better luck getting people to engage with you in person!
When people attend trade shows, they expect and want to make connections with others in the industry. They’ve set aside time for that very purpose, so you’ll have a much easier time initiating a conversation at the event than calling or showing up at their office unannounced.
And without anyone gatekeeping communication, you get direct access to decision-makers—the people who can take action on your message, whether you provide precision machining services or do machined parts sourcing.
Don’t forget about your competition
While networking your way around the show floor, don’t forget to connect with your competitors! You can learn much more about the state of the manufacturing industry by talking to your peers face-to-face than by reading their social media updates or newsletters.
Walk right up and introduce yourself to your biggest competitors, whether they’re part buyers, job shop leaders, or independent experts in a niche manufacturing field. Get to know them, listen to how they interact with the visitors to their booth, and pay close attention to how they pitch their precision machining services and other offerings.
The more you can learn about the industry as a whole, the better equipped you’ll be to establish your place in it.
Plan Your Trade Show Strategy
Optimize your trade show experience by planning ahead. These strategies can help you make more connections—and have more fun!
1. Branch out beyond your niche
When considering which manufacturing trade shows to attend, don’t be afraid to branch out. For example, just because you run a sheet metal shop doesn’t mean you can’t go to a precision machining show. If your audience will be there, you should be, too.
2. Request an attendee list
Many shows will provide you with a list of attendees upon request, so don’t hesitate to at least ask the question. Even if you can’t access a list, you can still make a “wish list” of contacts you hope to meet.
Look for them at the show, or ask folks at industry-adjacent companies if they’ve seen anyone from that organization yet. They may be able to share a business card with you or point you in the right direction.
3. Announce your attendance
We’ve talked about you meeting other people, but have you thought that other people might want to meet you? Announce which shows you’ll be attending and start connecting with other attendees in advance.
Post on social media, include the details in your newsletter, add a line to your email signature, or write a blog announcement. Be sure to include information about how to reach you if anyone wants to connect!
4. Plan your follow-up
Timing is everything when it comes to follow-up. Reach out too early, and your message will get buried; wait too long, and no one will remember who you are.
I recommend taking notes and drafting emails throughout the trade show so you’ve captured the key details and can simply press “send” when you get home from the show.
It’s always better to send a personalized message than a generic one, so keep track of who you meet and what you learn about them as you network throughout the day.
5. Give people a reason to care
If you’re running a show booth, put in the extra effort to really engage your visitors. People want more than a candy dish and a stack of business cards on a blank table.
Prepare games or giveaways; display a slideshow; distribute fun, branded swag; and have an associate standing outside the booth to help draw people in.
6. Improve your elevator pitch
Elevator pitches are expected at trade shows, so stand out by going beyond the sales spiel. Talking at people doesn’t build relationships; talking with people is the key.
Instead of obsessing over what you’ll say, craft a list of questions you can ask to get to know the people you meet. “What are your biggest pain points?” “What problems are you trying to solve?”
Remember: selling doesn’t happen when you talk the whole time. It happens when they talk the whole time.
7. Take care of yourself
Trade shows can be tiring. To avoid burning out early, be realistic about your needs and limitations.
Wear shoes and clothes that are professional but comfortable (consider branded items!)
Keep snacks on hand and stay hydrated
Prioritize getting a good night’s sleep at the end of each day
Plan for any time you need to spend drafting emails or checking in with your office
Ready or not. . .
I’m still finalizing my 2023 calendar, but I already know I’ll be attending all of the year’s NTMA events (I highly recommend these events if you provide precision machining services!) as well as AeroDef in November. I hope you’ll take the time to say hello and tell me about yourself and your business!
And if you have any questions in the meantime, I’m always eager to connect. Happy trade show planning!