Trade Show Survival Tactics For Product Managers

Don’t Just Stand Around At Your Next Trade Show, Do Some Learning!
Don’t Just Stand Around At Your Next Trade Show, Do Some Learning!

I can only speak for myself, but I actually enjoy going to industry trade shows. It’s time out of the office, I get to hang out with other people who work in my industry who can feel my pain (whatever it happens to be this year), and I get to see a bunch of friends that seem to rotate between companies every couple of years. That being said, the reason that I get to go to a trade show is because I’m expected to do things there that will help my product be more successful. That is the part that requires some preparation on my part…

Bring Your Utility Belt

A trade show is a constant swirl of people – almost too many to keep track of. You’ll be bumping into people all the time and so you need to be ready to make the most of every encounter.

At the very least, you’re going to need to be able to quickly tell people that you meet about your product. Since you’ll just have a brief amount of time to do this, you need to have one of those 30-second “elevator speeches” ready and waiting.

I can speak from experience when I tell you that you can meet somebody one minute and then forget their name the next. That’s why having a huge stack of business cards is a requirement. Your goal is not to hold on to these, instead give them out like they were water.

Look Out For Changes

When it comes to trade shows, nothing is set in stone. This means that how you thought you were going to spend your time may not turn out to be how it goes.

The schedule of presentations and demonstrations that you wanted to attend & see at the show are the first thing that can change. Upon arriving at the show, take a moment to pick up a revised version of the show’s agenda. A quick scan should let you know if you’ve got some re-planning to do.

Meetings that you may have set up with clients or vendors can also change. It’s not unusual for people’s travel plans to change due to work or family issues. If you’ve had someone cancel on you, the start of the show is the time to realize it so that you can work to fill the gap.

Rub Shoulders With Customers

When a product manager goes to a trade show, it’s all too easy to think like a product manger while you are there. Instead, what you want to be doing is spending your time thinking like one of your customers. Where would they spend their time?

If you take a look at the presentations that will be given during the show, often times there will some that are targeted towards vendors (that’s you) and some that are targeted towards customers. As enticing as the vendor material might be, you really should be spending your time going to the presentations that will give you a chance to mix and mingle with potential customers. This will give you the biggest bang for your buck.

Talk To The Old Hands

Every show has a particular personality. If you can find someone who has been to the show in the past, they can be a great source of information on what to do while you are there – and what not to waste your time on.

What you are really going to want to learn is what your customers and vendors will be doing while they are there. Get information on the best hotels to stay at, when people actually show up, and what social events are worth your time.

Take A Team Approach

One product manager can only accomplish so much at a trade show. Instead of trying to do it all yourself, work with the other folks from your company who will be going.

The key to making the most of a group is to come up with a plan before going. Dividing up responsibilities based on areas of interest or specific groups of vendors or customers is often the best bet.

In order to make the most of doing this, you’ll need to make sure that the group has a huddle once you get back to the office in order to compare notes.

What All Of This Means For You

A trade show can be a very efficient way for a product manager to get a lot of marketing activities accomplished in a short amount of time. The key to making the most of your time is to come prepared.

Having a quick & clear story about your product along with lots of business cards is a great way to start. Staying on top of changes in the show’s schedule and people’s schedules is necessary in order to make the most of your time.

Spending time talking to people who have gone to the show in the past can point you in the right direction. Make the most of your time and you can get more out of the show then just a bunch of brochures…

What do you think is the best way to spend time with customers when you are at a trade show?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Think back over all of that university training that you (or your parents) paid for. Wow – that’s a lot of learning. One quick question for you: in all of that classroom / online time, did anyone ever take the time to tell you how to “do” a tradeshow correctly? Hmm, looks like there is a gap in your education – let’s see if we can fill you in…