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Making the Most of Trade Shows
Volume 38, Number 1 - January/February 2014

Why do you go to trade shows? Although many reasons exist for trade show attendance, I like to think of them as stage settings for salespeople to interact with customers and prospects alike. You could almost liken a trade show to “participatory theater,” at least on the exhibit floor.

Unfortunately, trade shows are a declining business, at least in the information professional world. Just look around the exhibit hall at the last trade show you attended. Reduced travel funds for salespeople and li brarians have shrunk the attendance levels for both. Associations that sponsor these shows have run out of original ideas to attract new vendors. Moreover, given the shrink ing attendance, fewer sales occur. One result: Shows where vendors have participated for many years are being cut out of the corporate budget. As important vendors pull out of exhibit areas, information professionals are also challenged by management about the cost of travel to conferences.

There is no question that times are changing in relation to trade shows, and we all need to better understand how to make these meetings viable for everyone. But wait; let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water!

Trade shows are a fundamental part of the sales cycle and customer relationship development. For the sales rep, these shows can mean very long days of meeting with hundreds of customers or potential customers. For the information professional, the show can represent an easy, one-stop shopping opportunity to meet with all types of reps, compare products and services, and see the latest and greatest product or product development.


Trade shows provide an equal opportunity for the vendor and the customer to efficiently connect. According to the Center for Exhibit Industry Research (CEIR;, more than 85% of the trade show audience is made up of final decision makers or those who influence purchases. Translated, this means that salespeople have an opportunity to present themselves to decision makers and influencers all day long. These decision makers and influencers are coming in to see not only the salesperson but also senior executives, marketing people, and customer care representatives, as well. Trade show attendance by information professionals can be a buying and learning experience at the same time.

Other statistics from CEIR indicate that 91% of attendees believe trade shows are the No. 1 source of information to help them make purchasing decisions. At trade shows, attendees are able to directly compare many products in a category at one location. In other words, they can see all the products they want to buy from multiple vendors on the same day. This is reason enough for buyers to go to trade shows.

According to CEIR:

  • On average 81% to 83% of visitors have some kind of buying power.
  • The average visitor spends 9.2 hours at the exhibit hall at a 2–3 day trade show.
  • 86% of the visitors coming to the booth will be new contacts.
  • 77% of visitors will remember your company for up to 10 weeks.

Of course, there are some attendees at trade shows who go only for the vendor events, local sightseeing, and meals with friends and relatives. As a result, some of those who ostensibly go to trade shows for professional development never step foot in the exhibit hall or attend a professional session. Unfortunately for those folks, they are missing opportunities to learn. The good news is that the majority of librarians who attend these shows spend considerable time in the exhibit hall.


Notwithstanding, the true opportunity for both the salesperson and the information professional is to use this time to be visible, be present, and connect. Sure, the attendees will network with their colleagues away from the hall, and of course they will do some sightseeing and maybe even play some golf or take in the cultural sights the host city has to offer. Sometimes the exhibit hall will seem like the loneliest spot on the planet. But the people who show up to an exhibit hall are the ones who want to see a salesperson and learn more about the products.

It comes down to focus. If information professionals focus on what products they want to see, which companies they can visit, and who the sales reps are they want to see, then their days at the show will be worth it.

I have a friend who used to sell real estate. One of his jobs involved the selling of new condominiums that were located somewhat off the beaten path. Although beautiful units, not very many people showed up to see them because of the location. He reasoned that anyone who would make the effort to find the place and actually show up was a better than average prospect.

He immediately knew that he had motivated buyers when a couple would show up on a rainy Sunday afternoon to look at the units that were being sold. Those people were serious buyers. Most of the people who show up to trade shows are serious and motivated buyers too.


There are several types of people who will walk through an exhibit booth or want to meet with sales staff—serious buyers, who are collecting information to better understand their choices, and the casual participant who just wants to be “in the know” and has no intention of buying.

Serious buyers come prepared with lists of questions. They have done their initial homework on what they want to purchase or know what problems they are trying to solve. These are buyers whom the salesperson has called before the show to set up a specific time and date to meet at the booth. Often the rep will arrange for a high-level executive of the company to be part of the meeting. This is the best example of how salespeople and librarians should get together at trade shows.

The information professional already knows which vendors to see and plans the day accordingly. A trade show is the best place for serious buyers to see demonstrations of the products they want to buy or investigate before making a bigger commitment to the sales process. It’s the best place to compare similar products from other vendors. In one afternoon, a serious buyer at a trade show can see three or more competitive products and make a decision on which to buy. The serious buyers know why they are there.


Of course, there are other trade show attendees who are not as well-organized as the above described group. These are people who just want to go the many booths and pick up free pens, sticky notes, chocolate, or anything that is of no cost—the “tchotchkes.” While there is always room for the browsers, it is important for the salespeople to be on the lookout for these “nonbuyers.”

Although a majority of the “giveaways” at booths are picked up by nonbuyers, there’s a bright side from the perspective of the exhibitor. All these people will bring those pens and sticky notes back to their libraries. A pen on a desk or a sticky note at the reference desk with the company’s name is good advertising. It contributes to the company’s name brand recognition.

The bottom line is that the majority of prospects/customers come to the trade show to look, review, and make “buying” decisions or buying recommendations. How can the librarian and the salesperson make the most of these opportunities to connect? By learning the lessons on the art of trade show preparation and selling.

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Michael Gruenberg is president, Gruenberg Consulting, LLC. He previously had a distinguished sales career spanning more than 30 years with a variety of companies including ProQuest, CSA, OneSource, Oxford Analytica, and Disclosure.


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