Reasons to Attend Trade Shows: Building Customer Relationships
This article, on utilizing Trade Show to Build Customer Relationships, is Part III of a three part series developed to help companies improve their results from attending trade shows.
A Trade Show Imperative: Socialize with Clients to Strengthen Customer Relationships
Customer relationships are an important way to assure long term preservation of an account. Of course, you know there is no better way to do that than through socializing with existing customers. How you choose to go about it comes down to personal choice, opportunity, commitment and the marketing budget.
Make no mistake, however; socializing with existing customers to strengthen relationships should be a marketing imperative for all exhibitors at trade shows, expos and conventions. A trade show provides the perfect opportunity for personal interaction, the value of which cannot be over-estimated. Just as you invest time and money into developing the best trade show display design, you should invest time and money into developing the best personal relationships with your key clients.
The Value of Personal Interaction
In this digital age, everything seems to be all about social media. Nearly all companies now use Facebook, Twitter and email, for example, to foster relationships and engender a sense of esprit de corps with their customers.
Yes, technology plays a pivotal role in business, and no one wants to part you from your devices, systems and all things Internet. Heaven, forbid: No! But technology cannot match the benefits of face-to-face engagement. It cannot replicate the human element.
Consider the ways in which personal interaction enhances marketing efforts and strengthens customer relationships:
- You can engage in that gold standard act of greeting or finalization of an agreement: the handshake!
- Personal interaction allows for eye contact, which is crucial for establishing trust.
- All parties are able to read each other’s body language to gauge situations. For example: is the customer interested? Is he convinced, or does he need further persuasion?
- A greater range of emotions can be conveyed, making exchanges more meaningful.
- Your customers will feel more valued, more appreciated — and more special.
According to a research abstract at Research Gate, a variety of studies have shown that personal interaction is crucial for developing the seller-buyer relationship within the business-to-business/B2B field.
Create Time to Develop Friendships
It is a time-honored tradition whereby marketers spend time with their customers outside of the confines of the office so as to build relationships that strengthen business ties. Why not keep the tradition alive? Below, are three ideas for socializing with prospects and customers, and for developing friendships:
1) Trade Show Hospitality Suites
After you have generated the leads and impressed attendees with your custom trade show booth exhibit that increased brand awareness, now will be the time to “think outside the booth.” Beyond the booth is where you will really nurture and strengthen the “ties that buy.” Use your time in a hospitality suite to truly learn about your customers as real people. Certainly there will be some industry or shop talk, but minimize business talk, and have conversation that builds bonds.
Many companies host their customers in hospitality rooms once the exhibit venues are closed for the day. Here, in a hospitality suite, you and your colleagues can spend time with customers, interacting in a stress-free, relaxed manner to strengthen bonds.
The pressure will be off, and the convivial atmosphere will allow you to forge friendships and to learn more about your customers. Perhaps you will pick up tidbits of information that you can use throughout the year to further cement business relationships.
For instance, you might find out that your best customer has a favorite sports team, and you could use that knowledge to send him or her tickets to a sports game. It is just one idea, there are many others!
In addition, socializing in the hospitality suite provides the chance to pick up on any gripes that may be shrouded in sarcasm or jest, thus allowing you to make a mental note to address the issue later on, or to change a particular approach. It is all part of strengthening business relationships.
2) Events Outside of Show Hours
Some conventions and expos are held at resorts that offer sporting activities and cultural events. Do let your customers know of the planned activities before hand. Better yet, send out invitations in advance of the trade shows. Ideas can include:
- Golf: this opportunity or suggestion is generally well-received and appreciated.
- Tennis: this is probably best reserved for those of a certain fitness level.
- Concerts and shows: this is a good idea for large groups. If in Las Vegas, shows are always popular.
- The theater: a play, the ballet or an opera will appeal to the more culturally-inclined, and is sure to impress.
- Visiting sites of regional or national interest.
3) Traditional Customer Entertainment
A meal out is almost a must. Why not plan to wine and dine your customers at an upscale or exclusive restaurant. Alternatively, you could treat them to a meal at a unique or popular ethnic restaurant that offers unusual fares guaranteed to tantalize the taste buds. Plan ahead and make it a culinary experience they will remember . . . and remember who made it happen.
How about a casual dinner at a fun pub? Now, there is an idea: it is not terribly original, but it is always a hit.
To conclude, social psychologists expound on the value of human, cultural and social capital. Well, social capital aside, there is a great deal of business capital — literally and figuratively — in business relationships that are well-honed.
The level of your personal interactions with existing customers at trade show events, expos and conventions will determine the strength of your business relationships. It also has implications for longer-term business developments.
Ultimately, personal interaction can certainly lead to a profitable ROI — and that is worth shaking your customers’ hands on.