On the Road in Cheesesteak City
By Lois K. Geller
Last week, I got lucky. I went to Philadelphia, my hometown, where I haven't been in ages (except for quick trips for meetings). My son, Paul, drove me because I'd broken my foot a week earlier racing for a cab.
I'd been invited to deliver the keynote speech at the Philadelphia Direct Marketing Association (PDMA) Conference. I give many speeches, and I've discovered that I get a pretty good impression of a group months before the actual event. I had a great feeling about the PDMA, because the organizers were terrific. So I wasn't surprised—as Paul supported me through a very slow tour of the exhibit hall—that I met many interesting people.
Later, as we drove home to New York, Paul and I talked about some of the things Target Marketing readers might want to consider regarding trade shows, such as the upcoming Direct Marketing Association's annual conference in Orlando. Here are some ideas:
1. Make your own luck. Contact the people you want to meet ahead of time, either to set up a meeting or to invite them to your booth or party. And make it something creative. Send them an invitation with their picture on it, or maybe an interesting postcard from your city. I'm not talking about the incredibly boring mailings many exhibitors send out to lure you to their booths (e.g., "Come see the latest, client-focused, integrated, solution-related, competitively priced, collaborative geegaw at Booth 9876."). Try different formats, offers and creative approaches to see what people respond to, and remember to give them a reason to respond.
2. Determine how you want to spend your time. You need a plan. You want to attend specific sessions, and go to the exhibit hall and meet with particular companies. You want to have lunch with so and so, a drink with this fellow, a coffee break with that lady and dinner with these folks. Make a plan and stick to it.
3. Don't hang out with people you see all the time. Go out and meet new people. Introduce yourself. Polish your "elevator speech"—a short, compelling, one-minute encapsulation of what you do and why a listener should care (see Target Marketing's May issue for more on this)—and use it to arouse curiosity. Be upbeat.
One thing I always notice is that many companies spend a good deal of money on booths so their employees can lounge around talking to each other. When I (the potentially lucrative prospect) walk up to them, I feel like an intruder. Try to include different people in your show-floor entourage, and introduce them to each other. This way you'll meet many new people.
4. The game of who gathers the most business cards doesn't work. After you talk to people, ask for their cards, and then jot down some things you discussed that you will want to follow up on after the show. Quality is important, not quantity.
5. If you want to talk to the speaker, get the contact information at the show. I've been challenged with this many times. I go to the next session, and assume I can get the speaker's e-mail address afterwards.Then I forget, or I can't get it. Now, when I want to meet someone, I stay planted below the podium until I get the information.
6. Follow-up is key to a successful show. There have been many times I've taken a person's card, and when I got home I couldn't find it. Now I have one pocket in my purse where I put all the cards so I can follow up by calling or writing a note when I return to the office. I always write a separate, personal note to the people I met.
I'm flabbergasted that I still receive so many impersonal form letters from exhibitors that are a waste of paper and postage.
7. Build a no-hassle relationship with the people you meet. We send out a Mason & Geller newsletter called Inside Stuff. It's informal in the context of our business, and it's full of tips and information. Every time an issue is mailed, we receive calls and e-mails thanking us. Some folks ask for advice, which is the beginning of a conversation. When I can, I clip interesting and relevant articles and send them to people I know will be interested. Things like that are solid relationship builders.
8. Sound like a human being in your follow-up communications. Stay away from the buzz words and gobbledygook that would make your own baloney detector buzz off the hook.
Very few of the people you meet at shows will give you any business immediately. But they'll remember you when the time comes, especially if you keep in touch. Sometimes you'll get a referral. Sometimes nothing. It doesn't matter, because in the long run, if you do it right, the business will come in. Once, it took me 10 years to generate business from a woman who eventually became a long-term client.
It breaks my heart when I see generally nice people trying to rush me into a sale. I can feel the impatience, feel that they think I'm wasting their time. They're not doing well in the friendship branding department, developing their own brand personality, beginning a relationship, nurturing it and being helpful before asking for anything.
All things being equal, everyone prefers to do business with people they like. It just takes a bit of creativity.
I was so taken with some of the people at the PDMA that I forgot to get Paul to stop at Jim's on Fourth Street for a glorious, nothing-like-it-anywhere-else Philadelphia cheesesteak!
Lois K. Geller is president of Mason & Geller Direct Marketing, a full-service direct response agency in NYC. She is the author of "RESPONSE! The Complete Guide to Profitable Direct Marketing." She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org