Selecting a Trade Show Partner

The time comes in every exhibit manager or marketing manager’s life when they must choose an exhibit partner.

So just how do you do that? You could:

  1. Do a web search using key words to find somebody nearby.
  2. Consult Exhibitor Magazine in the ads in the back pages.
  3. Get a referral from an associate at another company.
  4. Hire the CEO’s brother-in-law who might be in the business.
  5. Use the people you met at the last show who called on you in your booth.

Well, these are all fine alternatives, but what if you followed a process and selected someone based upon merit and selection criteria?  You know, how you might select a business partner or hire an employee? While times have changed, how people view exhibits as a part of the marketing mix of a company doesn’t seem to have changed all that much.

But by being process-oriented and driven by facts and details, you can choose a viable, well-matched partner for your trade show program.  Recently, for the second time in three years, Esterline Technologies, a long-time client based in Seattle, Washington, asked me to help them find a trade show partner.  Three years ago it for an international partner to support their Farnborough and Paris Air Show efforts.  This time around it was to help find someone to corral and manage their domestic efforts.

We followed a similar process to the earlier selection.  the basic steps we followed in the process:

  1. Definition of needs for the program.
  2. Collection of data, including determining a list of candidate partners.
  3. Interviews and screening of the candidates
  4. Final selection and transition of the program.

The definition phase was actual quite time consuming.  It was a real examination of the program and how we were going to outline the scope of the program.  In other words, how were we going to define the expectations and quantify what we wanted a partner to do.  This included:

  • Compiling a show list.
  • Defining the events and quantifying the program (type and size of shows, et al).
  • Clarifying

The data collection phase was just that: researching potential partners by geography, referral and finding cards of people who had already called on either the client or me.  We took those data and formulated a list.  In the Esterline case, we started with over 20 candidates and whittled it down to a top 8.

Interviewing and screening is the next step.  Actually picking up the phone and having a live conversation with the candidates.  A prescribed list of questions that helped paint a clearer picture of the company and how (potentially) they would do business with the client and who the actual account executive or team leader would be. This part of the process reduced our list from eight companies down to two finalists.

During the final selection phase, references were called and a final phone call or face-to-face meeting took place between the finalists and the end client.  After those meetings and the reference checks, the client selected the chosen partner.  All elements of the process were scored, annotated or logged in a way that could retrace accountability.



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