Trade Show Minimums…In the Intelligence Community Agencies

Wednesday, February 01, 2012
Dan Callahan

Is your firm participating in any trade shows this calendar year?  The chances are probably high that you are.  Allow me to recommend a few tips; I have been practicing these for years in the IC table top shows, and they work; i.e., they drive results.  No team would execute them perfectly, but it’s not rational to spend the cash for this trade show marketing and give a half effort once your team arrives at the venue.


Let me know if you agree with any of these or have any illustrative stories!  I used these recently and met a senior executive at a major IC agency, and it seemed that I and only one other guy knew who he (the executive) was!


·         Know in advance, as many of the client executives (by name) as you can, and at a minimum, the ones that pertain to your area (technology, human capital, logistics, etc.).  Know who you want to meet before you arrive.

·         Set goals for the exhibit or conference (“I will discover the name and phone number of my primary target” or “I will leave with four solid leads” or “I will get commitment for at least one follow up meeting in the agency”), etc.

·         Prepare 30-60 second, a two minute and a five minute (verbal) overview of your product or differentiated service.  Begin with the short one, go to the medium and hope at least a few prospects want the long version.

·         Make friends of the other exhibitors!  They may be able to help you (quid pro quo); e.g., “I will trade you two phone numbers in the OCIO for a two e-mail addresses in the information assurance shop…”;

·         Be out-going during the show; I call it “tactfully aggressive”; don’t be afraid to reach out to passers-by.

·         Carry 3X5 cards with several pens; and plenty of business cards.

·         Offer chocolates at your table or individually wrapped mints (in my experience, these are the favorites).

·         I hold the following opinion loosely but minimize the electronics for IC tradeshows.  They are not as impactful as the technical guys think.  And they distract from an eye-to-eye conversation more often than not.  If your collateral is not up to par, improve it, with lots of color and bullets about the technology.  But if you feel the need to prove your technology does what is claimed, you may have a credibility problem or an inferiority complex.  I don’t get religious about this point, but I sure do see vendors lugging tons of gear into table tops for what amounts to a five-ten second screen shot!  A half-decent brochure ought to communicate the same message. 

·         When you have opened up a conversation with a prospect, stop yourself and ask them a question about what they do, where they do it, how they do it, etc..  Nothing is worse than an  unrequested vendor monologue!  Your desire is to have a conversation not a “show-up and throw-up” session.

·         BONUS: if you really need to see someone, ask if anyone (i.e., the agency personnel walking around in front of you) knows him or her; “Do happen to know the Director of Software Development, John Q. Doe?  I have been trying to talk with him … can you give him this business card and tell him that I’m looking for him?  I would be so grateful if you did!”

·         ONLY IF YOU’RE SERIOUS:  Is there a lobby phone?  If so, use it (!) … during the event—or better, during the first half of the event!  Beckon the desired traffic to your table!

I use these tactics every time I exhibit and never fail to have a positive experience.  Let us know how it goes.

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Share Your Thoughts:

All good guidance! I'd only add: the event is to meet customers, not hold a staff meeting, so focus on facing outwards with a welcoming smile instead of facing fellow employees deep in conversation.

Tom -- we're all guilty of this... but you are right on target...
Great tip!
~ Dan Callahan