Tradeshows as a Market Research Tool

Guest Blog: Trade Shows as a Market Research Tool

Our busy work schedules sometimes don’t allow us the luxury to do a focus group or send out surveys as frequently as we would like. However, a trade show does give you a great opportunity to listen to clients or potential clients, and find out what they don’t like about your product, what they would like, and who they are.

In fact, in an exhibiting scenario clients may be much more open to talking to you if you are asking them questions rather than trying to sell them something they may or may not be ready to buy. Everyone likes to be an expert, and they are the expert on who they are and what they want. In addition to getting great data, this will enable you to start building a relationship with the client in a way that would not be possible if you spent the entire time just telling them about your product or chatting about the weather.

marketing-researchMarket research examples

I saw a great example of this at a small show in a children’s creativity conference. An exhibitor had a giant mural that each of them was able to contribute to by putting a few small squares of their product onto it and a number of crafts for the kids. After they completed their craft they were asked a few questions about the product they used on their way out of the booth. Everyone was eager to participate and excited to provide feedback regarding the product. Taking a moment to survey the kids did not appear to add significant cost to the experience and provided the manufacturer valuable data. I saw the product in question later that year at my local retailer.

A sales representative with my company told me that one of his clients routinely tests out concepts within her trade show exhibit. It is much easier to have a couple of prototypes or concepts and get direct reactions while you are at the show that to try to set up separate appointments and fly all over the country to get feedback. This may not be ideal for some products but it can be a good way to get feedback about a potential market, a new promotional campaign or the performance of your service teams.

Quality, Not Quantity

One mistake I have made in the past when attempting to use trade shows as a research opportunity, is to get too caught up in how many people I am talking to, rather than the quality of the conversations. It is hard not to get bitten by the competition monster and want to move on to the next prospective client when you are engaged with a particularly long-winded attendee. Resist the urge to move on! The few times I do take the time to linger within a conversation with a current or prospective client, are those when I get the best insights. It is in that lengthier conversation, when you are really taking the time to empathize with the client, when they will tell you (as a confidant) that they have always struggled with a particular feature in your product that they so wish someone in the industry could solve…

Too shy to interview clients on the show floor?

So let’s be honest. I used to be scared to talk to strangers. And outside the safety of a trade show or business event, I still am a little shy. How I have managed to get myself into a position that requires me to approach complete strangers on a regular basis is perplexing. However, as I have gotten better at approaching strangers (it is not as scary as I thought) I have learned to use the opportunity to discover more about our clients and new products or promotional opportunities for my company.

When we get to know our clients as people; rather than a set of demographic characteristics, we can learn to tailor our sales messages, find new promotional or product opportunities and make booth staffing the show fun. And for those of us who are not naturally crowd lovers it is a great opportunity to ask questions and take the attention away from ourselves.

Now you may think this is not valuable to you if you don’t work in new product development. However, this could be a great opportunity for you to learn about your clients’ needs and develop a new promotion, devise a new presentation format or decide what type of social media strategy you should use. You can also propose that your product development people staff your next trade show. If nothing else this tactic will help take your mind off how much your feet hurt.

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  • Sofia is the Customer Engagement and Industry Relations Manager for Skyline Exhibits. An experienced marketing professional with branding, innovation and product commercialization expertise, she heads up Skyline’s marketing efforts in customer engagement, exhibitor education, industry relations and market research. Skyline Exhibits of Central Ohio is the local resource for educational marketing materials.
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