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Networking at a Trade Show

December 17, 2019

Trade shows and conferences are great places to network. However, the biggest challenge most networkers have with them is a failure to have a plan. Their default plan is to walk around and talk to some of the vendors. The problem with that approach is that it wastes lots of time.

What is the mantra about the value of your time? Right! “It’s valuable, don’t waste it.”



Remember, networking is an investment. Because it is time you aren’t immediately compensated for, it makes it even more important to get results. It’s not a willy-nilly exercise. Once again, advance research is where to start. Who will be there? What companies do you want to connect with? Who are the people you need to meet? What information sessions are going to be offered? Which topics, speakers or companies fit your target? 

Size Matters

The size of the trade show or conference matters. A huge event such as those held at the Javits Center in New York City, and other large venues means that you are faced with a sea of up to 1000  vendors to “swim” through. Simply walking the floor is impossible in one day, never mind stopping to chat. For those types of events, you must have a plan or you will come home with a bag full of business cards, useless marketing collateral and no real connections or prospects.

No Selling!

Now you know who you need to meet, and before you hit the isles, here is the most important rule. You may recognize it. When you approach a booth, NEVER TRY TO SELL TO THE EXHIBITOR! Respect them, their investment, and mission. They are there to make sales contacts. Taking advantage of their time to promote your agenda is not how it works. In fact, it won’t work— ever.

Another good reason to avoid that behavior is, most often, the people in the booth are not the people who are authorized to buy from you. Typically, they are salespeople. Their company is paying for the booth and for their time to staff the booth so they can obtain sales leads. Your conversational goal is to discover who in their organization is the right person for you to speak with. If the people in the booth happen to include the principal of the company or the person you should be speaking with, you will begin by not monopolizing their time with your spiel. You can ask for permission to contact them after the show.

Big conferences often have cocktail parties and dinner events. Remember, it’s club soda all the way for you. Many people don’t want to hear that. However, this is work. It’s not time to relax. Things can go in the wrong direction very quickly when alcohol is involved. Be smart, stick with the basic networking event rules.

And most importantly, don’t forget your business cards!

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Relationships are the backbone of business success. Rob Thomas has proven that who you don’t know is costing you.

In his book, Who Do You Need to Meet, Rob Thomas unlocks the secrets of his Rob Thomas Method™ (RTM™) of networking to provide readers with an easy, logical, systematic and actionable process for efficient, successful networking.

Some of the ingredients in the RTM™ secret sauce include:

  • The #1 Rule in cultivating business relationships
  • How to identify your Top 10 business connections
  • Why your message matters
  • Questions to ask and what their answers tell you
  • How to qualify the potential of a new connection
  • How to re-evaluate your existing connections