Rumor has it, in some association circles, trade show attendance is struggling. This could spell trouble for how vendor members find value in belonging to your organization. While some industries may be feeling the pain more than others, it is never a bad time to think about the ways you are engaging your vendor/supplier members. Read on for a handful of ideas on engaging your vendor-side members in effective and successful ways.
Many association supplier members will tell you that, while benefits like professional development and advocacy are wonderful, company exposure is the brass ring when it comes to evaluating investments in member organizations. If the ability to network and enjoy face time with professional members is available, the reward for attendance is much higher to vendors. This is especially true when bonding over common interests occurs (think Shared Interest Group activities, a wine tasting fundraiser, a volunteer opportunity or an annual lobbying day). In these environments, the ability to connect and make deeper connections creates the relationship building opportunities most vendor partners value.
Use Their Knowledge
If your organization is experiencing a lack of vendor participation, perhaps it would be helpful to start thinking of those members as potential subject matter experts. Members who sell goods and services to individuals or other companies in their industry provide a wealth of knowledge about trends, unique problems and solutions, and best practices. Put those folks to work by asking them to host a webinar, provide a lunch-and-learn (L&L) or write in the association’s magazine.
In an effort to organize the flow of content and ensure your audience isn’t hearing from the same vendor time and time again, set a goal to fill a year’s worth of topic and content expert slots in advance for each webinar, L&L and/or article. This will also make vendors aware and appreciative that your organization offers an array of opportunities to share what they know.
Don’t Get Rid of Your Trade Show!
The trade show is still an extremely valuable event for most vendor members. If your trade show seems to be waning in popularity and/or success, think twice before putting it on the chopping block. Keeping your trade show will not only preserve or strengthen a large revenue source for the association, but it will also signal to your vendor members that you are invested in connecting product seekers with providers. This will create appreciation and engagement.
Make sure, though, that when you and your staff are planning your trade show that you are doing so with your professional members in mind so you are building something they just cannot miss. Also, don’t forget to offer suggestions and ideas to your vendors regarding what makes a fun and engaging trade show experience for the attendees:
- Be warm and welcoming; make good eye contact; and comfortably lead the conversation.
- Decorate your exhibit space so people want to stop and see what’s up.
- Educate yourself on what is truly important to your trade show audience.
- Set yourself apart! Offer a memorable game, cool trinket or awesome prize (or all three) in your exhibit space. Make the attendees want to tell their colleagues to stop by.
Vendors will be more willing to continue supporting your association trade show if you are thoughtful and strategic about exhibit hall hours. Scheduling at the end of the conference when attendees are ready to head home is probably a no-go. Similarly, think about what will get decision makers inside the show: lunch, adult beverages, prize opportunities, awards program, etc.
Want more tips for attracting and engaging vendors at your association? Check out our free guide to vendor relations below!