10 Ways to Reach Top Decision-Makers at Trade Shows

Treating senior executives differently during events can improve interaction and relationships with these key buyers.

Trade shows are a great way to get your brand out there, meet new prospects and customers, and have a presence at a long-established event. But what about that top decision maker that you'd like to reach -- the CEO or the senior vice president or the business unit manager?

Here are 10 strategies for reaching the select group of high-level decision makers that are essential to building your business:

1. Be Proactive

Use preshow mailers and preshow invitations to pave the way toward getting Mr. or Ms. Big to come to your booth at the show. Don't leave it to chance that they might show up or might have heard of your company. Send them something that will motivate them to visit your booth.

2. Two-Part Give-Away

Imagine getting a remote control, but no TV. Or a pair of high-end head sets, but no iPod. Even a golf bag without the clubs. An attached note promises the rest of the gift at the show. Sound silly? Well, direct mail companies are reporting up to 75 percent response rates from this type of promotion. The gift has to be premium, but this type of marketing is highly targeted.

3. Educate Your Audience

Use in-booth demonstrations, video presentations, or live presentations. And if your budget can handle it, hire relevant celebrities or spokespeople to appear in your booth. Having an expert in your field tout your product in front of a live audience is a great motivator, regardless of whether they're famous or a key member of your team. You might even consider having your CEO or COO present a high-level talk on the impact your new product or service can have on your clients' business.

4. Create an Inviting, Comfortable Space

A place to sit down and relax can actually be rare at a trade show. Having booth space that is comfortable, with food and drink available (if trade show organizers allow it), could be a welcome respite from a busy day at the show-and a good time and space for you to connect with the Bigs.

5. Sneak Peek

Often, companies focus on trade shows as a place to launch new products and services. Suppose you gave high-level decision makers a preview of a product launch that may be a few weeks or months away? This could be anything from a closed, invitation only demonstration for a select group to a one-on-one presentation.

6. Hold an In-Booth Party

Take advantage of show approved in-booth events such as cocktail hour or breakfast breaks. Send invitations prior to the show but also bring some eye-catching printed invites along to put in the hands of high-level decision makers when you see them at the show.

7. Know Your VIPs

Create a list of VIPs and make sure that your booth greeters are in charge of that list at all times. This ensures that when a decision-maker stops by, they are engaged promptly and concisely. You only have one chance to impress someone at this level.

8. Let the Benefits Do the Talking

Business decision-makers always look for benefits. Tell them how your product can save them money or increase market share. Doing your homework with companies also goes a long way. Send an invitation that says something like,"Mr. Smith: I believe that I can help you increase your line speeds by more than 25 percent. I would do this by..." Give them some information, but always leave things open to discuss further at the show.

9. Offer Special Event Promotions

Force decision-makers to decide. Using incentives like 25 percent off equipment purchased at the show in an exclusive invitation sent directly to your target prior to the show, can be a strong impetuous to buy. A promotional offer, especially one that has an element of "exclusivity" to it can help create a personal connection that may be valuable down the road.

10. Connect Online

Many decision-makers are on LinkedIn and other social networking sites. Connecting with them there is a great way of getting past the stream of email they get every day. Also, you can connect with them through groups instead of direct contact (which can be a taboo if you don't actually know them). Join groups associated with the trade show or with your industry and then look through the list of other members. Usually groups in LinkedIn allow you to message other members.

Overall, targeting individuals to come to your booth requires planning, execution, and commitment. But building long-term relationships with these folks will be better for your business today and tomorrow, and giving Mr. Big or Ms. Big special treatment at trade shows will show them that they're important to you.

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About the Author: Jeffrey Blackwell is president of The Rogers Company