A top seller once told me an excellent story about networking at tradeshows. He arrived at an event, aimed at hospital workers, and spotted yoga on the list of extracurricular activities. So, each morning at 7 a.m., he did mountain pose with fellow attendees. Now, bear in mind this was a burly, ex-Army tank man. The idea of this fellow doing yoga instead of landing clients before the booths opened was surprising to me.
His reply? “Colleen, I’m on the road to make sales to feed my family. If I’m going to spend all this time away from my wife and kids, I owe it to them to spend every single minute maximizing my relationship-building time. If that means going to yoga, I’m going to yoga. Otherwise, I’m doing a disservice to my family.”
In other words, this top seller seized opportunities around him to network. And you know what? Those yoga classes were a real door opener. During the tradeshow, people would immediately recognize him from the morning session and stop by his booth. This ultimately led to new relationships and sales.
Given that salespeople ̶ particularly those in B2B solution sales ‒ are traveling to tradeshows and conferences more than ever, there’s now increased opportunity to network. However, it’s easy to focus on what’s right in front of you ̶ traveling to an event, working the booth, and going to workshops ‒ and miss out on chances to build relationships.
Here are some tips to help you optimize your networking for that next event:
Be wise with your travel time
Whenever I fly to a tradeshow or conference, I use that in-air time to complete any assigned reading for classes and look through the catalogue to pinpoint workshops I’d like to attend. I also check e-mails and knock out other business from the office. That way, I’m prepared when I arrive and have extra time to meet people.
If you’re driving a few hours to an event, tackle these things before you hit the road. Or, if the tradeshow/conference is close by, consider a car or taxi service so you can take the time to go over materials. An added bonus? You won’t show up frazzled from heavy traffic or getting lost. Appearing stressed is a major turn-off to others when networking.
Make yourself visible
As I mentioned in my article, Filling Up the Sales Funnel: 12 Tips for Earning Consistent Revenues ̶ and Commissions ‒ All Year Round, you should volunteer to speak at events you attend. The same goes for every tradeshow where you exhibit. This bumps up your creditability and directs more attendees to your booth. If you aren’t exhibiting, it still helps to submit a proposal for a workshop or showcase. If you secure a spot, let your customers know you’ll be there and when they can see you. Also invite prospects to the event and schedule for them to meet folks at your booth. When other attendees see the flow of traffic around you, it’ll peak their curiosity and draw them right over.
Fill your schedule
Going back to Mr. Yoga, make sure to maximize your networking by going to not only every workshop or class possible, but to the extracurricular activities before, during or after the event. Even if tennis or paintball aren’t things you particularly enjoy or know how to do, join up anyway and maximize every hour you have to build relationships with your fellow participants.
The same goes for mealtimes. Make sure someone, if not everyone, from your group goes to the breakfasts and luncheons instead of just standing at the booth. Meals offer great opportunities to strike up conversations with others in a more casual environment.
Talk to strangers
It’s crucial to hang out with people you don’t know to increase your chances of building new relationships. Avoid the classic mistake of sticking with the people you came with. Remember, your colleagues aren’t the ones who are buying from you!
Delay the trip home
Even at the end of a tradeshow/conference, you can further optimize your networking by scheduling to fly out the next morning. I find this gives me more time to attend any closing activities without being rushed to catch a flight home. This is also great for wrap-up meetings with new contacts and for joining a smaller group of people who are also interested in some final networking.
By the way, when I suggest flying out in the morning, I truly mean fly out in the morning! No matter what time of year you’re traveling, you’re less likely to have flight delays, cancellations and other travel hassles if you avoid rush hour at the end of the day.
Business, then pleasure
When you’re on your way home, it’s the same rule of thumb as before. Use those flight hours to catch up on e-mails and take care of other business-related matters. That way, you can truly unwind when you get home and give your undivided attention to your family and friends. Aside from being crucial to everyone’s life, this personal time will also recharge your batteries so you’ll be ready for sales action come morning.