"This looks absolutely amazing!" The attendee was smiling, eyes bright, a wide grin. "If this is what I think it is, I'm pretty sure this piece of equipment will solve all of our problems." He turned to the booth staffer, a young woman at her very first show. "Could you tell me how it works?”
Protecting Your Interests: Using Competitive Intelligence Gathering Techniques at Tradeshows To Safeguard Your Bottom Line
By Susan Friedmann
Jan 23, 2009 - 8:32:12 AM
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The staffer, thrilled at the possibility of selling a piece of equipment that sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars, was more than accommodating. She answered every question, even the most technical. When the prospect wanted to take some pictures, she helped him get good shots -- from every conceivable angle.
When the prospect left, he had every relevant piece of sales literature. He also had a dozen great digital pictures, the card of the booth staffer, and a promise that someone from the exhibitor's company would be following up directly after the show.
However, the attendee didn't let the grass grow under his feet. His organization was in touch with the exhibitor's organization within days.
However, instead of a purchase order, the communication was coming from the attendee's legal department -- who had a pretty good case that the exhibitor's display model was based on their proprietary design!
Tradeshows offer the most overt intelligence gathering environment imaginable. There is no other place where you can find all of the companies in one industry gathered in a convenient location, with all their offerings on display. Helpful booth staffers will answer questions, often those questions that should raise red flags among an exhibiting team.
This can work against you, or, as illustrated in the story above, it can work for you. The world is getting smaller every day. Ideas are stolen. They're copied, reverse engineered, you name it. However, as the owner and originator of these ideas, you may have no idea that this has happened -- until you stumble across the results at a tradeshow or industry event.
In an increasingly competitive world marketplace, you can't depend on chance discoveries! Savvy tradeshow exhibitors and attendees know that they have to take the initiative, and carefully approach tradeshows with one eye toward protecting their own intellectual assets.
Determine a goal for your staffers or employees you're sending to attend a show. Make it clear to them what type of thing they're to look for: products that duplicate your own, for example, or that incorporate proprietary technology without permission.
It is never your employee's role to have a confrontation about these topics at the show. Instead, their role is, as illustrated above, to gather as much information as possible about the product and company, and relay that data back to your headquarters, where it can be acted upon by the appropriate personnel.
Preparation is essential. You can't send your staffers in with the command to protect your interests without equipping them to do so. Here's how you start that preparation:
Prior to the show, study the exhibitor list. Identify which companies you already know, and make special note of any new names. It is far more common for emerging, smaller organizations to engage in unscrupulous activities -- if only because the larger, behemoth firms have legal firms that keep them from getting into trouble! Sometimes show organizers make this easy by listing exhibitors by industrial categories, but other times you're left facing an alphabetical list.
Create a 'hit list' of companies that you absolutely have to see. Of course you'll want to visit your major competitors – but don't be myopic. It is important to pay careful attention to any unfamiliar exhibitors, even if they are only tangentially related to your industry.
Augment your target list with pre-show research, including what readings from trade publications and industry knowledge. This will generally give you a starting point for your investigations. Pinpoint those items you definitely want to know more about, and include these on your team's list of goals and objectives.
At the same time, it is vitally important to remain aware and open to any information that may arise serendipitously. It is impossible to know ahead of time what your team will encounter while they're walking the show floor.
Having the skills and wit to recognize copyright infringement and intellectual property theft, no matter what form it takes, is a valuable asset in any employee. Make sure you recognize and reward your team appropriately!
Written by Susan A. Friedmann,CSP, The Tradeshow Coach, Lake Placid, NY, internationally recognized expert working with companies to increase their profitability at tradeshows.
Author: "Riches in Niches: How to Make it BIG in a small Market" and "Meeting & Event Planning for Dummies."
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