Networking know-how yields trade show success

Words of advice: Connect before the event, and listen once you’re there.

Gerard Stam, senior sales director at BCD Travel

Thousands of people gather at international trade shows. How do you make the most of the opportunity without becoming overwhelmed? Whom do you speak to and how do you approach them? BCD Travel’s Gerard Stam, a senior sales director, believes in good preparation.

What do you do to prepare for making connections at trade shows?

I don’t really feel comfortable addressing complete strangers. So, I decide in advance whom I would like to meet. By the time I get to a trade show, I have already made contact with those people.

How do you network effectively once you’re at the event?

In conversations, I always try to refer to a previous meeting or contact moment. I ask open-ended questions and listen carefully to what a client actually needs. What does he or she want to learn at the trade show? What problems are they trying to solve? If the subject of business travel comes up with attendees I don’t already know, I talk about developments in the travel sector and what’s happening with BCD. It’s a great way to gauge how people feel about traveling for work. Occasionally, these conversations result in sales leads.

What’s your sales strategy at a trade show?

I see myself as a consultant rather than a salesman. I ask about the obstacles a client faces. Then I think about how BCD can resolve these issues and offer a few possible solutions.

With so much business contact via the internet, are trips to trade shows still necessary?

It’s easy to send an email or exchange information via LinkedIn. But, in my experience, it’s important to meet a client in person a few times before doing business with them. They have to be able to trust you. That’s why I travel so often to trade shows and to one-on-one meetings at client offices. Personal contact will always form the basis of my business relationships.

Gerard Stam’s tips for trade show networking:

  • Consider whom you would like to meet and make contact in advance.
  • Begin conversations by referencing previous moments of contact.
  • Ask open-ended questions and take a consultative approach.
  • Build trust; don’t try to sell your product or service straight away.

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