Heading to a Conference? Why You Shouldn’t Skip the Exhibit Hall

Posted on Jan 26 2016 - 11:57am by Maria Patterson
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expoAhhh, conference season. For brokers and agents, the New Year usually starts with travel plans as brands and networks pepper Q1 with their respective annual conferences. A conference offers a lot more than a getaway to a highly desirable destination—it’s also a once-a-year opportunity to hear from leadership about big-picture plans and new tech roll-outs, get top-notch education from experts and coaches, drink in some motivation from big-name keynote speakers, and network with peers and colleagues from across the country … and around the globe! And who knows? You may even take home a nice, shiny award to boot, as brands and networks usually honor their top affiliates during annual galas.

All of that is certainly reason enough to pack your best blazer and most-slimming swimsuit and hit the road. However, there’s one more valuable opportunity at conferences that you may be overlooking: the exhibit floor.

The trade show component of your brand or network conference should not just be a way to kill time between educational sessions. Sure, that sundae or martini is a big draw, but these scaled-down exhibit spaces are actually a rare opportunity to make quality connections with many of the service providers you work with. While you often have to fight the masses to network with service providers during big events like NAR Annual, brand and network conferences give you a chance to really get down to business.

During the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in San Diego last November, RISMedia editors chatted with exhibitors about what makes a trade show successful, garnering some great pointers from the service provider point of view.

“[The] REALTORS® Expo was outstanding from start to finish,” said Bob Goldberg, NAR SVP of Sales & Marketing, Business Development & Strategic Investments Professional Development, and Conventions. “This was our largest expo in recent years with almost 400 total exhibitors and a record number of first-time exhibitors (129).”

Most exhibitors agreed. "Firstly, the location was great,” said John Carey, sales manager for WOLFmedia, Lone Wolf Real Estate Technologies. “San Diego is a beautiful city and the Convention Center is a convenient and suitable venue. Our booth was in a central location and I was able to speak with REALTORS® from as far as Australia and Japan."

“The show floor was buzzing and busier than last year,” agreed Kathleen Gunderson, assistant vice president and events project manager for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. “[Our] booth and sponsorships generated great traffic and the Realtor Relief Foundation wall was filled with support.”

Here are some tips we’ve come up with based on exhibitor feedback from the 2015 REALTORS® Conference. Keep these in mind at your brand or network conference to maximize your exhibit hall time:

Get a demo

Service providers at your brand or network conference really want to show you how their latest offering works, so sit down and do a demo. “The high energy [REALTORS® Expo] provided a great opportunity to network and showcase the distinct benefits that HomeTeam Inspection Service’s model provides,” said Shannon Keeney, marketing manager for HomeTeam Inspection Service. “HomeTeam representatives were able to demonstrate My HomeTeam—a sophisticated app that allows real estate professionals to schedule inspections fast and access all of their inspection reports.”

Jeff Harris, vice president of Enterprise Sales for Matterport, agreed. "It's helpful to have people interact and experience our technology—once you see it and experience it, it becomes very clear how it can be incorporated into your practice."

Maximize face-time

Putting a name to a face goes a long way, so use exhibit hall time to make a personal connection with the vendors you work with throughout the year. “It’s important for us to be here, to keep our presence fresh,” said Bryan Finley, San Diego franchise owner for Pillar To Post Home Inspectors, about the REALTORS® Expo. “People know us as the best in the business and the ones who don’t know us see there’s no comparison once they do.”

“Face-to-face interaction is very important to Oakley Signs & Graphics successfully maintaining business relationships,” said Nick Limongi, director of Customer Experience for Oakley Signs & Graphics during the San Diego event. “We also love taking advantage of the opportunity to introduce ourselves to new potential clients.”

Make your voice heard

Face-time with vendors also allows you to provide important feedback that your service providers find invaluable. "We find [the conference is] a great place for us to network and to develop strategic partnerships,” said Tyler Thompson, vice president of Business Development for Deductr. “The bonus is getting to see all the REALTORS® that have used Deductr over the last year and getting feedback from them."

“Exhibiting gives our team the opportunity to say thank you to our long-time customers and get feedback from across the country as well as make contact with new prospects,” agreed Rhonda Denny, regional sales manager for HWA Home Warranty.

“I love to hear how innovative users are with our technology and the unique ways they leverage Adwerx to reach their audience,” added Molly McKinley, VP Corporate Marketing & Communications for Adwerx. “These are the stories we would likely not hear if we didn't have this face-to-face interaction."

Learn something new

The less-hectic pace of your brand or network’s trade show floor allows you to dive deep and explore new resources from current and prospective vendors. “Our program ‘Grow Your Real Estate Business with self-directed IRAs’ was a hit at NAR [Annual],” said Yvonne Garcia, director of Marketing for The Entrust Group . “REALTORS® are not only recognizing the need to learn more and incorporate this into their marketing strategy, but also understand the need personally.”

“I learned a lot about [REALTORS®’] business and I enjoyed showing how a truck rental program could help market and make them a celebrity in their community,” said Robert Mikalonis, director of Food Trucks for On the Move. “It’s nice to know that so many are seriously considering our program and want to add a truck.”

“The chance to be here with agents and brokers and to introduce Xome Pro is an awesome opportunity,” said Xome SVP of Marketing Allison Cornia during the REALTORS® Expo. “This is our first time at NAR and our first chance to introduce ourselves to NAR members, show our support for agents’ objectives and for them to get to know us.”

Attend parties and get to know sponsors

Exhibitors that make the extra investment to sponsor a party, a specialty drink or some special service are worth getting to know. They’re making an extra effort to reach you, so pay attention and learn more about them.

“We always enjoy getting to see our friends and colleagues in the industry at the NAR conferences, many of whom attended the ListHub Internet Marketing party at the Rooftop Andaz,” said Fiona Green, director of Marketing for ListHub. “We had over 800 industry VIPs join us for an event which was presented by ListHub and co-sponsored by realtor.com, Top Producer, CloudCMA, SentriLock, and The CE Shop.”

“NAR San Diego definitely delivered this year. We loved providing Weichert® pedicab rides to the attendees,” said Kevin Hill, SVP of Business Development for Weichert Real Estate Affiliates, Inc. “It resulted in lots of activity and interest at our franchise booth.”

Get to know leadership

While the relationship you have with your local rep is critical, trade shows may give you the chance to meet the leaders of the firms you work with, providing you with some great insight into the culture and long-term goals of the company. “It’s always important for our corporate people to meet with our partners,” said Lisa Fettner, VP of Marketing for ReferralExchange. “Our Founder Ali Hamed was [at the REALTORS® Conference] for the first time, meeting with many companies. We love working with individual agents and developing long-term partnerships.”

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