Small business events

Earlier in the year I went to a small business show at London, ExCel – one of those shows where small to medium companies exhibit products and services and try to convert other small businesses into customers. In other words, everyone was a salesman or saleswoman, everyone had a pack of business cards to share copiously – a lot of them hoping their business cards will do their work for them. The sad truth is that most of them just get ignored or get you added on some automated emailing list on a subject you don’t care about.

But I digress…

So this was a salesman’s turf and the best place to compare various selling techniques and the competencies of different sales people. And I can tell you they were different.

You  had the employee salesman who didn’t quite want to be there. This type was easy to recognize: making himself look busy with some technical details, would not bother to approach customers, but when approached, he would spend time answering your questions. Very reactive and more in a support role. I doubt these guys ever sell anything unless the customer insists on buying.

You had the employee salesman who was there to collect business cards for leads – passively. Someone would follow up later – if the company is organized enough to follow up.

You had the marketer looking for anyone someone  to fill her assigned survey. You would get a thank you, have a nice day, at the end. The surveys would end up in a CRM system of some sort, relying again on sales to follow up. Of course, you can win an iPad if you fill the survey.

You had the small business owner, looking overwhelmed, trying to do everything on his own – sell, market, ask you to fill survey, ask for business cards, describe the product or service. He would scrape notes on various bits of paper or on business cards – promise to call everyone.

You had the roaming customer, looking a bit lost, trying to get to the next scheduled event, but not quite sure how to get there. At the same time, checking out every exhibitor’s stand, in the hope to find the next business opportunity.

A various mix of people but one common theme. A lot of them were sellers, none buyers. I say “a lot of them” and not “all of them”, because quite a few were there simply to browse, or just looking for information, or for elusive opportunities to network.

So here’s a list of things you have to do before you go to a small business event, to ensure you get the most out of it:

1. Take it seriously – sounds like a no brainer, but a lot of people think about it as they think about window shopping – you just go and see what happens

2. Have clear objectives – these objectives should be actionable and achievable, based on the profile of the small business event. The more specific about the objectives, the better. For example: “find 10 architects that are looking for the type of software I produce” is better than “collect as many business cards as possible”.

3. If you’re after leads think quality before quantity – the idea of collecting as many business cards/leads and follow up later is very appealing. So you might be tempted to just exchange business cards with strangers. But if that’s all you do, you can stay at home and  explore an online business directory. Focus instead on quality – find people that need your solution (product or service).

4. Have a clear plan on how you’re going to achieve your objectives – this is a set of actions that you’re going to take. It’s just spelling out your objectives and making sure they’re actionable by actually planning the actions. If you can’t think of any actions for a certain objective, you can drop the objective – it’s not actionable. Don’t kid yourself, if you can’t think of actions beforehand, you won’t be able to think of anything when you’re there.

5. Plan your attendances of various shows – if you intend to attend conferences or seminars, plan exactly what/when and how everything fits into your day. Don’t rely on figure it out there.

6. And finally – enjoy it! – don’t be a drone, enjoy it. Be yourself, be natural, enjoy it all. Communication is so much easier when you’re natural and enjoying it. The alternative: sound like a broken sales record, and trust me, no customer likes to hear that.