Trade shows are an essential part of the Employee Benefits industry. They function as meeting places where brokers, carriers, and other players in the space can interact. As I am freshly returned from Source Media’s “Benefits Forum & Expo”, I thought it might be useful to dive into what goes on at these shows and how to get the most value out of the experience.
In my 16 years with Judy Diamond, I’ve attended about a half dozen shows per year, on average, giving me roughly 100 shows under my belt. For someone in my position, there are two distinct and very separate show elements; the exhibit hall and the content sessions.
The exhibit hall is a big open ballroom where various vendors (usually anywhere from 40 to 150, depending on the size of the show) buy booth space and set up shop, putting up booths with fancy graphics, giveaways, and literature about their offerings. The goal of the exhibitor, generally, is to interact with the attendees (though some exhibitors are just as eager to interact with other exhibitors).
The content sessions are held in smaller rooms and are often hyper-focused on a single topic. Some examples from the Benefits Forum and Expo include “What the future of value-based care means for employers”, “HRAs: a new wave of opportunity”, or “Understanding mergers and acquisitions in retirement plans”. The sessions are most often populated by a panel of industry experts and moderated by someone from one of the Sponsoring/exhibiting companies.
With the basics out of the way, let’s dive into how to get the most bang for your buck out of a show.
Most shows will provide the exhibitors and sponsors with a list of attendees before the show. Such a list usually contains name, title, and company but no contact info like a phone number or email address. Shows also make their list of exhibitors public, so you know who is going to be there. Step one for every show is looking over those lists and identifying the people and companies you want to connect with. You have to go into these shows with a plan… you can’t just show up and hope that you’ll get those meetings you want. Reaching out ahead of time on LinkedIn or even through company directories/websites can mean the difference between a productive show and a waste of time.
Making the most out of the Exhibit Hall
When I go to one of these shows representing Judy Diamond, I am most often there as an exhibitor in a booth. While it’s true that the attendees at the show are good prospects for JDA tools and data, our best source of potential clients are the other exhibitors. Here are some do’s and don’ts I’ve picked up along the way.
- DO be respectful of the exhibitor’s time. If they are engaged in a conversation with a potential client, keep your distance. In that same vein
- DO step away when an attendee comes up to their booth, and let them conduct their business
- DON’T drop your card into their bowl to try to win a prize if you are not a potential client.
- DON’T rely on your memory. When you get someone’s card, flip it over and jot down a note or two on the conversation, especially if it’s a good lead or you have a follow-up action.
If you’re interested (as I often am) in the content sessions, it also helps to map out where you want to be and when. The full agenda of a show is usually available many weeks before the event itself, and there are usually multiple sessions available at every timeslot. Figuring out what you want to see will help ensure that you arrive early enough to get a seat. I can tell you that there is nothing more annoying than having to stand along the back wall for an hour because you got to the Keynote session 2 minutes after it started.
Trade shows can have a tremendous impact on your business, and when you execute a show well it can be one of the strongest marketing investments you’ll make. But if you take one thing from this post, let it be that simply showing up is not enough. You can’t just hide behind your table all day and hope that good leads simply walk up to you. Do the homework, set up the meetings, attend the sessions, and you will leave that show with a fat pipeline and a better understanding of your market.