Unleash the Power of Trade Show “Pre-Networking”

By: Jim Roddy, President & CEO at the RSPA

You know the drill for trade show preparation: register for the event, book your hotel room, schedule your flight, pack your Hello Kitty toothbrush, yada yada yada.

If you want to maximize your impact during and after the event, add one more activity: pre-networking.

That concept was highlighted during a recent RSPA Niche & Startup ISV Community meeting, and I couldn’t agree more with its effectiveness. Pre-networking is the connection-related activities you engage in to establish relationships prior to attending an event.

Consider these six specific pre-networking activities:

#1 Scour the Speaker List: Event speakers are typically among the best-connected individuals in the industry. Find the speaker page on the event website, target those you want to connect with, and reach out to them via LinkedIn with a brief message:

Hi Kirsten:

I’m looking forward to hearing you present at RetailNOW. Let’s connect here first and then hopefully our paths will cross at the show!

Thanks & have a fantastic day,

[Your First Name]

#2 Examine the Exhibitor List: Most trade shows publish on their website a list of exhibitors and the expo hall map. (Here are the show floor maps for RetailNOW 2024 and MJBizCon 2024.) Build your own spreadsheet listing the companies you want to engage with at the show. Divide the list into “Top Priority” and “Want To Meet” lists. Check back frequently as the show floor changes; a surprising number of exhibitors don’t reserve a booth until the weeks leading up to the event.

Don’t presume you know who will exhibit and who won’t. For example, many longtime RSPA members are surprised that nearly half of the RetailNOW exhibitors today are ISVs; historically hardware manufacturers and payment processors dominated the expo hall, but that’s changed over the past few years.

This activity sets a foundation for actions #3 and #4.

#3 Send LinkedIn Invitations with a Personal Message: LinkedIn limits the number of characters in the message that accompanies an invitation, so the most you can do in terms of personalization is mention their name, your name, and the event name. Example:

Hi Duffy:

Will you be attending RetailNOW? Let’s connect here first and then hopefully our paths will cross at the show!

Thanks & have a fantastic day,
[Your First Name]

#4 Craft Customized Emails: This example applies more to vendors who are seeking new VAR and ISV partners and already have a database of target contacts.

Start the email simply and directly asking if they will attend the event. (e.g. “Are you planning to attend RetailNOW this year?”) The first line of your email might be generic, but the rest of the message shouldn’t be. Do what a former colleague of mine did which took him a few extra hours but led to his most successful show ever.

He created a standard text template asking for a meeting at the upcoming show. He copied and pasted that text into an email, then he took a moment to review the company’s website and social media feeds to understand their latest press releases, newest products, and most important initiatives. He then referenced one of those in his email outreach.

The biggest “problem” with this tactic was response was so great that his show floor appointment schedule filled up within a couple days and he had to book several meetings outside expo hall hours. (And he was concerned about gaining weight because he booked himself for three breakfasts each morning.)

Don’t miss the retail IT channel’s #1 trade show, education conference, and networking event July 28-30 in Las Vegas! Visit the RetailNOW 2024 website and register today.

#5 Post on Social Media: Let the world know you’re attending an event by posting about it on social media. But please for the love of Pete don’t be boring (e.g. “Attending ABC Expo? Come see our new products at booth #999”). Instead, be specific and upbeat. A few examples following a format that I’ve used:

  • Twitter: I just purchased my pass and booked my flights for #RetailNOW2024 in Las Vegas. Can’t wait to see my fellow @InsideRSPA members there!
  • Twitter: COUNTDOWN: 20 days until #RetailNOW2024, the retail IT channel’s #1 trade show, education conference, and networking event. Hope to see you in Vegas!
  • LinkedIn: I just purchased my pass and booked my flights for #RetailNOW2024 in Las Vegas. The education breakouts I’m most looking forward to are:

           >> “Legally Speaking: Cash Discounting and Surcharging” with Atty. Jill Miller and Ekta Iyer
           >> “Eliminate Owner Dependency (and Make Your Business Better)” with Tom Bronson
           >> “AI and ChatGPT: The Do’s and Don’ts to Maximize Impact” with Dennis Wilson
           >> “Generational Transition Within Small and Family Businesses” with Bobby Bauer,
              Truman Meecham, Owen Lucas, and Mary Harris

          Looking forward to seeing my fellow RSPA members at the show!

#6 Add These Activities to Your Pre-Event Checklist: Yes, I’m assuming you have a pre-event checklist because you should have a pre-event checklist. I guarantee you will reduce your travel-related stress and achieve better outcomes if you have a checklist for actions and materials needed for your show-related travel.

I’m happy to share my travel checklist with you if you like. Feel free to email me or – better yet – share this article on social media, use the hashtag for the show you’re attending next, and then tag me. The more pre-networking the better!

Don’t forget to register for RetailNOW 2024, July 28-30 at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas. It’s Where The Industry Meets!

Jim Roddy is the President and CEO of the Retail Solutions Providers Association (RSPA). He has been active in the retail IT channel since 1998, including 11 years as the President of Business Solutions Magazine, six years as an RSPA board member, one term as RSPA Chairman of the Board, and several years as a business coach for VARs, ISVs, and MSPs. Jim has been recognized as one of the world’s Top Retail Influencers by RETHINK Retail, a Leading CannaTech Influencer by The CannaTech Group, and is regularly requested to speak at industry conferences on SMB best practices. He is author of two books – The Walk-On Method To Career & Business Success and Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer – and is host of the award-winning RSPA Trusted Advisor podcast. For more information, contact JRoddy@GoRSPA.org.