I am starting a service for trade show exhibitors and had this question. It would be too expensive, and wouldn't make sense to go to numerous trade shows as an exhibitor, just to approach others with a service. Some trade shows have an option to go as a non-exhibiting vendor, which allows you to leave literature and get a vendor badge for a nominal fee. Some shows, however don't provide such an option. I know some events may have stipulations against such interactions by attendees, but some I have looked at make no mention of the practice. Would exhibitors look down upon this, feeling that you are wasting their time and give my service a bad reputation, even if it is a useful service for them personally? Could I possibly be banned from the event or venue if policy is not clearly stated? Are there other concerns I should have about this type of approach in this venue? I feel this would be the best way to reach these people/businesses, since it is applicable to exhibitors of any field. I apologize that I can not disclose any information about the service as I have an agreement with my co-founder. I personally would love to share the idea with this community.
I hope this question fits this forum and thanks to all who give input on the matter.
Yes, you'll be wasting the time of the sales people at the exhibits, they are looking for customers, not for service providers. That being said, if you are considerate of their time and actually have a genuinely interesting product to offer, go for it.
For instance, wait until a booth is empty to approach the personel. This way, you are not interferring with their business. Keep in short and don't be obnoxious.
This is a very tricky subject.
We do several trade shows per year. It's not uncommon to spend $50K to $100K plus on a larger show. The last thing that impresses me at a show is some guy walking around trying to pitch me out of his messenger bag. I paid to be there and attempt to develop leads.
Time spent talking to you goes against my original purpose.
At the same time, any reasonable business person wants to reduce their expenses and/or increase their chances of success. And, I'm probably not going to go as an attendee to any kind of "trade show" trade show, so you are in a tough spot.
I think this mostly comes down to your pitch and approach. You need to be a highly refined sales person and manage to learn a little bit about my company/product/industry to understand what your value prop is to me specifically. EG: at many trade shows we exhibit at, the exhibitor mix is varied. There are service providers (no physical goods), Manufacturers, Resellers/OEMs, and supporting players (eg: finance/lending, training facilitators, etc.). So you might have a really neat quoting tool, but it may or may not apply to me personally. You have about 10 seconds after approaching my booth to not piss me off (and I'm saying this somewhat generically based on conversations I've had with other exhibitors in the past about these things). If there is ANY reason why you COULD have exhibited at the show but chose not to, you'll almost certainly be met with scorn. If your product is truly non-industry specific and applicable ONLY to exhibitors you might have a chance.
Another option might be to call up the show promotor a week before the show and see if they have any unsold boothes. See if you can strike a discount deal, explaining that you are a little bit of an outlier, but someone told you that the show would be a good one for you to be at. Now, you can approach the exhibitors and say "I've got this product/service/feature that I realize might help you out. Here is a brochure (and a 15 second pitch). I don't want to take time away from you, but if it seems interesting I'll be at my booth, #12345, stop by and I can give you a quick presentation or more info."
My recommendation would be to simply gather contact information at the show and then follow up after the show is over. You could simply go as a normal attendee (possibly cheaper) and then go up to a booth when they are not busy and say "I really like your booth. I am always looking for ideas on how to have a great booth, who at your company is responsible for the booth?"
Then once you have the name and email and/or phone number of that person you can follow up the week after the show.
Also take a camera (or cellphone camera) with you and photograph the booths (except if that is prohibited). That way when you speak with the person you will have the photos in front of you and you can talk intelligently with them about their booth. If you compliment them on their booth you will build rapport, which is critical. Then you can ask them "Is there anything you would like to change or improve about your booth?" which may well lead to a sale.
Be aware that almost all shows prohibit this activity and you might get told to leave if someone observes you walking up and talking to every booth in the row and you don't look genuine.
Only talk to people looking for a person to and step back if a prospect appears. Only give out business cards (they will toss your brochures and if security sees you giving out brochures they will get suspicious). Etiquette tips: don't take their brochures or giveaways, keep it short.
If they have nothing to do sales people like to talk. Prospects create prospects so talking to one person instead of no-one is likely to make another person pause and look at their booth. Pick the quiet times e.g. when there a meals or conference sessions.