This past week I had the pleasure of traveling to Gatlinburg, TN with Black Metal Apparel to help run their booth at the Iges Trade Show.
Needless to say, I met a lot of people.
Learning how to network for a company and personally at the same time was exciting! From networking events to the actual show, to plane rides the networking was never-ending. Given that this was my first trade show, I hadn’t realized the magnitude of networking potential they held.
Before trade shows paused for the pandemic, about 5% to 20% of new customers came from them according to Marketing Expertus, 2020. Furthermore, over half of business travelers said that 5% to 20% of their company’s new customers came from participating in trade shows and networking. More stats on trade shows can be found here.
With the pandemic on the decline, trade shows have been up and running in 2021. I attended the Iges trade show, which had two locations for vendors to present in, all within the thread of souvenirs. After the show that ran from 9-5 Wednesday through Saturday, Iges hosted networking events and mixers for exhibitors and buyers to get to know one another.
Attending these events and taking clients out for drinks after was pivotal in gaining new connections. Someone you meet and connect with will make a point to stop by your booth the next day because of that connection.
On the opening night of the trade show, Iges started networking events off strong with a hoedown. Given that the event was taking place in Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, TN they brought in a country band and had a ticketed bar running.
I attended the event with Steffany, another Black Metal Apparel staff member. The goal of the night was to find existing clients that we hadn’t met and introduce ourselves along with mingling to meet new buyers and exhibitors.
At first, I struggled.
I’m a naturally friendly person and I love people and social events, but when I put pressure on myself it came across as awkward and ingenuine. So, I decided to have fun and just mingle. They had a dance floor going at the event so I used this as my way to meet people. I taught girls how to dance to some country swing, and just had a good time with everyone. I took down names and got contacts for several new connections, all of which found our booth the next day to say hello and review our custom shirt designs.
ZAAG Zoo Mixer
The second mixer took place at Rainforest Adventures Discovery Zoo which was sponsored by a lot of the vendors (including Black Metal Apparel). This mixer was loud and crowded. I lost Steffany very quickly and was on my own to make connections. Again, I discovered that walking into a room with no expectations allowed me to network naturally. I met people at the different animal enclosures and picked up a ton of business cards. These include cards from buyers, exhibitors looking for new reps, and sales reps who offered me advice given that I was new to the Iges Trade Show.
By the end of the event, Steffany and I had made a lot of friends. I even got to hold a snake that weighed over 100lbs, which was a definite conversation starter at the booth the next day.
The most important connections I made weren’t buyers at this event. Instead, they were owners of companies looking for more reps to sell their line.
At trade shows and selling for a company as a freelance contractor, you can work with as many companies as you want. As long as the companies don’t carry the same merchandise. For example, I’m the Michigan sales rep for Black Metal Apparel which sells custom screenprint t-shirts. I could work for any other company as long as they don’t sell apparel.
Networking At The Tradeshow
Networking is important at the tradeshow itself. From standing in line at the coffee cart to talking with buyers and other exhibitors, it’s all about getting your name out there.
Steffany and I quickly made friends at our neighboring booth. They were two very friendly gentlemen selling dog-themed items. They found out I was new to sales and after the initial shock of being “A little young for a sales rep”, they gave me invaluable advice. They advised me to befriend as many exhibitors as buyers, and if they don’t sell competing merchandise, they can send buyers your direction if they like you.
The best connection I made at the tradeshow was Richard. Richard is the top sales rep for Black Metal Apparel, but he wasn’t at the show to sell for us. He was there for a different brand. He sat down with me and walked me through how to sell shirts and how to pick up new lines. He sells for over six companies and has connections all across the country. At the end of the show, Richard gave me his card and told me, “Prove you can sell, open fifty new connections for BMA and I’ll recommend you as a sales rep for my other companies. They need someone in Michigan.”
That statement was a huge motivator: Prove your worth.
The Importance Of Networking
The most effective way to make a new connection is with a smile and a handshake. Our professional world saw many improvements in remote business in the past year, I had forgotten the importance of face-to-face introductions.
Seeing the clientele of Black Metal Apparel meet Steffany who handles all the orders for the first time after years of phone calls was endearing. Every client’s first statement was, “It’s so nice to finally put a face to the name. It’s nice to officially meet you.” The fact that every person credited an in-person introduction as actually meeting someone stuck out to me, so I did some research.
As of 2021 Great Business Schools reports that 85% of professionals prefer in-person meetings so they build a stronger, more meaningful relationship. 77% of professionals prefer in person so they can read body language; a tool I personally thrive off using in sales and customer relations.
You Never Stop Networking
Networking is everywhere. Whether you’re in a business setting or out on the town, you never know who you’ll meet and how they can change your life.
On one of my flights, I happened to sit next to the vice president of a large company. We talked through the entire hour-long flight. He gave me career advice, we talked about podcasts and continued education, and this gave me an opportunity to ask burning questions I had about the hiring process. He was so kind as to give me insight into how the career landscape is changing to fit our current society.
It was great talking with him, and he gave me a business card and I made sure to find him on LinkedIn. His company may not fit my career trajectory, but his endless advice and kindness could open unforeseen doors in the future.
The biggest lesson I learned this week in networking was to be myself, be friendly, and take or hand out business cards to everyone new.
Wanna learn more about networking? Here are some resources I enjoyed!
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