They've bought in. Your law firm, architectural practice, or other professional service provider has decided to commit its resources to a tradeshow.

Congratulations. Industry tradeshows, conferences, conventions, and other B2B encounters like them don't deserve the bad rap that many get.

These are the red-headed stepchildren of business development. That's particularly true among professionals, who are liable to feel that they're above it all.

B2B events are, however, incredibly efficient. Your clients and prospects gather there... in growing numbers. Plus, events like these blend face-to-face selling and broadcast-style marketing, giving you a shot at the best of both worlds.

Provided you're smart. And, provided you can overcome the professionals' legendary reluctance to be, well, social.

What do you do, then, to get the most out of these opportunities? How do your overcome the professional's introversion? Or, at least mitigate its effect?

'You Want Me to Do What?!'

I'm going to let you in on a secret. Cashing in on your clients' industry tradeshow or conference does not presume the impossible or unlikely.

There are many, many sanitized ways to benefit from tradeshows. Ways that don't require an attorney or architect to staff a booth, smile, and hand out tchotchkes for two-and-half days.

So, when (not if) you get pushback, relax.

Buying the Mic

For starters, there are sponsorships. These let you spend some dough to get out your name... from 30,000 feet. The more you spend, the brighter the neon.

Or, the louder the microphone. If you're a conference's premier sponsor, that means your name will be printed on the registration material, announced from the main stage, and broadcast in other ways that will make an impact on your market.

Milking the Mailings

Sponsorships can leverage an asocial mailing or two. Imagine, for example, sending "Dear Client, We hope to see you at the Big Conference next month, where our firm will have an exhibit, sponsor the Thursday morning coffee break, speak at the Wednesday afternoon break-out session..." etc.

If you're a speaker, do some prospecting. Have your marketing department create a page on your Web site with your notes, a bibliography, a link to your bio, and the like.

This way, your company's speakers at the conference can offer their email address to anyone who wants the link to this special page. When there are hits to this page, track them. It works.

There's also a plus-side to the no-shows. Get a list of the pre-registrants who didn't attend. Then mail them a note ("Sorry we missed you at the blah-blah."). Offer to follow-up with a set of your notes, if they ask.

In other words, milk this. Don't just show up. Tell the world (or, at least, the list of pre-registrants) that you plan to show up, that you're there and that you were there.

Everything's Negotiable

Let's say you're the general counsel to the conference organizer. Or, you're the chair of the conference planning committee. Or, you have some other Most Favored Nation status.

See if you can get your company's Welcoming Letter inserted into the conference packet. Or, offer to pay a premium. It won't cost them anything.

Exhibit Setup for Dummies

Tradeshow exhibits have gotten super easy... to design, to produce, to store, to move, and so on. So easy that anyone can set up a table-top display and tear it down.

Most exhibit organizers, by the way, will set up your stuff and tear it down... for a price. And, there's usually a staffer from your company who can handle this assignment.

Your artwork can be output to match whatever print campaign you have up at the time. Plus, there are standalone, three-foot wide banner stands that can add a customized look and message apart from your generic, firm-wide table-top.

So, there's no excuse why you can't look as good as—or better than—your fellow exhibitors... including your competitors.

The nicest part about setup is that you really don't need to schlep stacks of newsletters or other firm literature. Less is more in the tradeshow world.

Bring a fistful of business cards, some (optional) tchotchkes and ONE display copy of a firm brochure or newsletter. Don't hand out any literature. If someone's interested in having a copy, ask why. Get to know them, get their card, and offer to mail them whatever they want.


The Inevitable

Sooner or later, it has to happen. The sacrificial lambs or "volunteers" who are going to staff the firm's booth or work the crowd at the reception will ask you for help. Or, they might just give you that deer-in-the-headlights look.

"What do I say?" they implore.

Tell them to do any of the following:

  • Ask another attendee, "Which break-out sessions did you attend?"

  • Listen to what this person says and then ask, "Why these?" or, "Learn anything?"

  • Say, "Did you know that someone from our firm is scheduled to talk about a related topic tomorrow morning? Come on by. Our company is even springing for breakfast."

That'll get the ball rolling. It'll also allow the persons from your firm to stay close to their comfort zone. Next time, they can stretch a little.

Be Prepared

Most professionals—especially attorneys—have a touch of perfectionism. Use that to your advantage.

Put together a "study guide" for them. Offer some background. Tell them what's going on and why. Detail why the firm believes this is a good investment.

Give them the sample ice-breakers listed above. Offer a bibliography. Make sure they know you're there to support them.

Having something like this in writing will let them prepare for the test they believe they're about to get. And, they associate being well-prepared with getting an "A."

Life After the Gig

A lot of the post-conference tasks are automated. Most conferences, for example, rent scanners that record the names and addresses of the people who stop at your booth and offer you their conference badge. These machines can also capture and download follow-up needs, such as signing up a subscriber to your newsletter or mailing a firm brochure or getting a call about a specific business issue.

There are also scanners designed to collect info from the business cards that come back with you. Or, just hand them over to an assistant.

The point is, do something with these.

Put some legs under this. Leverage the paper you delivered at the conference and stick in the next appropriate newsletter (maximum 250 words, please). Tag it with "This is an excerpt from a paper delivered recently at the Annual Big Conference. Email so-and-so for a copy of the full article."

Remember that easy-to-set-up booth? Hire a photographer to take a picture of you and a prospect at the booth during the conference, talking with each other. Run it in the newsletter I just described, near the article in question, with a nice, juicy caption.

Isn't knitting fun?

Why We Do This

Add all of this up. The booth, the mailings, the table-top display, the sponsorship, the swag, the newsletter, and so on.

When you do, you'll see that everything you're doing amounts to making the intangible more tangible.

Doing these things and others like them demonstrates to your prospects and clients and their industry that you care. Not that you merely intend to care. But that you care enough about them and their interests to show up.

When you demonstrate that you care, you begin to earn enough trust to become an advisor. And when you're trusted enough to hear their problems, you're taking steps toward your next engagement.

Then what? Then do it all over again for the next tradeshow opportunity that makes sense. Because once is never enough.

* * *

Have you leveraged the most out of industry gatherings for your firm, company, or marketing client? Have you done it without being totally at the mercy of attorneys, architects, or other introverts?

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Doug Stern ( is a freelance business writer and marketing strategist based in Louisville, KY. Contact him at 502-599-6624 or