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There’s no place like home

Recently, I was out for a bike ride in my neighborhood and noticed a lovely Cream City brick home on a corner I pass through at least a few times a week. I’ve owned my house for over 15 years, and this one is clearly much older than that. How did I never see it before?

We all have these moments of discovering something that’s been right in front of us. Sometimes it’s a fixture in an otherwise familiar environment; other times it’s an overlooked opportunity.

For companies that do business locally, regionally, or even nationally, it’s common to believe that you already know where your customers are and what is important to them. You might also believe that since your team is actively networking with professional groups, you’re staying on top of that information.

Not so fast. If you’re stuck in one of these mindsets, you’re overlooking at least three valuable purposes of attending, participating in and sponsoring local business events.

Purpose #1: Building your own cluster

In southeastern Wisconsin, industry clusters have been built around water, food and beverage manufacturing and advanced manufacturing. Further north, growing clusters have been built around defense and aeronautics; there are others around the state. Most of these examples may be formalized, with names and organizational structures, but you don’t need a catchy acronym to identify important local, strategic partners whose goods, for example, might shorten your supply chain or enable you to shorten theirs.

New companies spring up every day, and most established businesses change their offers, price points and even locations without much fanfare. Local B2B events, whether industry-focused or broader (like a local trade show), offer rich opportunities to look outside your normal sphere of influence.

Purpose #2: Meeting your next great service provider or customer

Does a year ever go by where you don’t wish you could replace one of your vendors? At the least, you probably question whether you’ve got exactly what you need, at the optimal price point. A trade show is the perfect place to check out prospective new vendors, keep up to date on current service offers in the market and, if you’re one of those service providers, meet people who could become your customers.

It’s low-obligation, mobile (you can just walk away from a booth that doesn’t interest you) and convenient, with many vendors gathered together within walking distance, each offering a live person to connect with.

Purpose #3: Getting a lot without spending a lot

It’s common to spend at least $10,000 to exhibit at a national industry trade show, and that’s often for a tiny space tucked away by the waste bins in the back of the hall. Local events offer more for less, with lower costs for booth space, AV and travel. You’ve dropped a small fortune on your marketing and exhibit materials, why not stretch the value for just a little more? Local events also offer the opportunity for higher sponsorship exposure at more reasonable price points.

Once you’ve made the decision, you’re ready to maximize your results. These four tips will help you prepare for success as an exhibitor at your next live event.

  1. Set goals. Decide now what a successful show means for your company. Creating set goals will help you to outline appropriate support strategies leading up to the show, during the event and for follow-up efforts that will keep the sales process moving forward. A fishbowl full of business cards that languishes on someone’s desk is not lead generation. Know in advance how you plan to follow up.
  2. Be proactive. Don’t rely on people wandering in to find you. If you’re exhibiting, proactively invite your customers and prospects beforehand to visit your booth. If you’re attending, review the exhibitor list in advance and make a note of those you definitely want to visit. Your show guide should have a map that will help you plan a course through the expo floor.
  3. Be accountable. Gather your team together to develop a plan, then determine who will execute each part, and how. Identify project leaders to hold team members accountable.
  4. Invite your contacts. Build a promotion schedule with specific dates and frequencies for announcements, phone calls and emails. Attendance is free for events such as BizExpo, so send a link to the conference registration page. If there is a charge to attend an event you’re sponsoring, use your comps or even pay admission for your closest contacts.

Local business events offer value beyond great sales opportunities. Many local shows like the bi-annual Wisconsin Manufacturing & Technology Show, the annual BizTimes’ BizExpo and the Wisconsin International Trade Conference offer valuable educational programming, engaging speakers, awards presentations and more. By sending your team and your best contacts, you’re also providing a real professional development opportunity.

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