Become a strategic business partner
“Don’t tell prospects how they will benefit from your solution. Help them discover why, and let them tell you.” — David Sandler, from the book You Can’t Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike at a Seminar.Like a tour guide in a foreign country, your job at a trade show is to determine what your customers want to discover, what interests or needs they have and how to interpret your language. It’s about answering their questions, and providing not only the pre-planned stops, but the unexpected gems that leave the “tour” memorable. Acting in this role requires more than showcasing your product or your booth. It places you in the position of becoming a strategic business partner, guiding your customers to the right solution that provides them and you with the greatest value.

Step 1: Listen and ask questions
Take a different approach. Don’t pitch. Instead, listen. Consider a consultative role in learning about that potential customer’s business and its needs. Ask insightful questions to identify the root of the issues the customer is struggling with, or help clarify an opportunity that the customer is considering. Before you hand out pens or Post-it Note®, take notes of your own.

Step 2: Think creatively
Try and connect the dots from what you are hearing the customer say with a potential solution. If you have a pre-packaged product, you are going to need to think beyond the wrapper, or work to meet another need that you have identified, such as shorter delivery cycles, just-in-time inventory or small shipping units.

Step 3: Work collaboratively
Customers often respond positively to being a part of the solution. While you have their attention, bring your ideas to the table, literally. Encourage customers to sit with you and flesh out how best to meet their needs. Develop a course of action that leaves both parties feeling as if a relationship has begun and next steps identified.

Step 4: Close the loop
Before the customer exits, recap the plan to ensure you are both on the same page and confirm the established next meeting. If you have action steps from your collaboration, provide the customer with a clear timeline of when those will be completed and when you intend to follow up.

Step 5: Follow up
Your follow-up as a strategic business partner is the “proof in the pudding” or the “rubber hitting the road.” No matter which cliché you prefer, your consultative approach doesn’t end on the trade show floor. It continues by developing a long-term, solution-based relationship with your customers. Start off on the right foot by sending a token of your thanks, such as chocolate almonds or a Premium Treat Box.

Looking beyond the sale to a long-term partnership—one that is collaborative and strategic—may be just the new approach for your next trade show.

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