There is a counter behavior to all those hours spent at the computer: people are seeking more personal contact at networking sessions, events, and tradeshows, all in an effort to “connect” with others. My personal preference has always been trade shows. Not to exhibit of course. That is a task worse than presenting to BODs. But rather to attend and walk the exhibit floor. I can think of no better use of time. All in one place, at the same time, with all the usual suspects, you can experience the ecosystem of a particular market. Here is how I approach these things:
- I look for what’s NOT there. Some much of the market is there exhibiting their latest wares, it is a wonderful entrepreneurial exercise to think about what is missing or what is trying to be solved but not quite hitting the mark.
- Spend time with the little booth people. You know those little booths in the corners and along the walls? That is where both the real interesting new stuff is happening or the colossal miscalculations in market understanding are made.
- Free mail lists are abundant at these things. Where else could you find the President’s business card and never have to really meet him? I collect EVERY business card that is laid out on the tables and booths; these become contributions to my email lists and direct outbound activities.
- Compare marketing messages from booth to booth of those companies that exist in the same competitive space. It is shocking the redundancy of competitor’s messaging strategy. Not only do they often use the same words to describe themselves and their “differentiation”, they often use the same approach to deliver their message. I wonder if it is because the same agency that targets the space recycles the ideas. Or if the companies really don’t objectively evaluate their brand exposure against the competitors?
- Get people to talk about their products and sales approach. People like to talk at trade shows. That is why they are there. If you have the patience to listen, they will reveal all you need to know in competitive analysis, sales pitch, key value proposition messages, price and volume price breaks and delivery times (at the very least).
- Connect the dots so to speak. Create complimentary solutions from several exhibitors that answer a need. Look for the clusters of possible partnerships. Evaluate different combinations to see which deliver the greater value. What Einstein did for thought experiments you can do for partnership clusters. Well, he might be a little better at it.
- Attend all the free parties.