Chris Edwards, Facilities Show Event Director highlights how cleaning and FM professionals can get the most from networking at industry trade shows
Collaborative partnerships continue to be key to the success of the cleaning and FM industry and business growth is very dependent on talking to people and making connections. While online networking is beneficial to cleaning professionals who are pressed for time, a ‘virtual handshake’ is not a replacement for face-to-face networking. It’s important to remember that it is people who are at the heart of all communications – for clarity, authenticity and warmth you still can’t beat meeting face to face.
Networking with interrelated industries such as FM and security at major industry events, like the Facilities Show, has many benefits. It is a valuable way to expand your knowledge, share ideas, keep up with the latest industry developments and learn from the success of others.
Networking is primarily about making important connections with others. It involves meeting and getting to know people who you can assist, and who can potentially help you in return. People you connect with may not buy your product or service instantly, but in time they might, or they may refer other people your way who could. If you’re going to networking events focusing purely on getting clients, you’ll miss out on building relationships with useful contacts whilst raising your own company’s profile.
How many people have you met at a show, conference or awards ceremony who made an impression on you? Getting out and about at a large show helps build rapport with your existing contacts and to build connections with many more people whilst all in one convenient location.
Once a rapport is established with your contacts, future opportunities may arise like joint ventures, client leads, and speaking opportunities.
Exchanging information on challenges, experiences and goals is a key benefit of networking because it allows you to gain new insights that you may not have otherwise thought of. This information could help further your career and be useful background for meetings, business tenders and so on. Similarly, offering helpful ideas to a contact is an excellent way to build your reputation as an innovative thinker.
A little bit of pre-event research will help you get the most from networking at the show. Look at the show website and Twitter to find what’s going on and where and take a look at the list of companies exhibiting. Think about who you might be able to schedule meetings with in advance, whether it be new or existing contacts, existing customers or potential customers. Ensuring your diary is full of meetings before you step foot into a busy show will save you time and effort once you get there.
Large events will often offer free services to pre-book meetings with suppliers. For example, the Facilities Show provides a tailor-made, one-to-one meetings programme bringing together manufacturers and distributors from the show floor with visitors to the show. A free service portal enables you to search for and request meetings with suppliers that are in the exhibitor list, meaning your meeting can be scheduled ahead of arriving at the show.
Prepare a couple of short, key messages you want to share about your own company that will engage people’s attention. Being able to easily articulate what you do and why, for whom, and what makes your doing it special or different from your competitors will help you get referrals. Have a think in advance about the type of questions you might want to ask others to find out more about them.
Brief team members who will be with you at the show so they are confident when speaking to new contacts and ensure everyone has a supply of business cards and marketing materials that represent your company in a coherent and cohesive way.
If you’re exhibiting at the show, make the most of it by issuing news announcements about the products and services you will be showcasing and make sure your company is taking advantage of free opportunities offered by the show. For example, this year the Facilities Show is launching a free chance for suppliers to have their innovations featured in the FM Future Trends Zone.
Join networking groups
Being part of networking groups is becoming increasingly important, helping you keep up to date with industry developments and as a source of support and advice. Key groups will be found at the largest trade shows, where you can ask them further information. These bodies will host society gatherings at events, where cleaning and facilities management professionals can connect informally over refreshments.
Before signing up to a business network, make sure that it will suit your business. Some are specific, such as Thursday FM; others have a regional focus such as FM North or an international focus, such as the International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA).
Don’t be phased by networking – just be yourself. The more often you start conversations, the better you will become at it, so be the first to introduce yourself or say hello. Shows hold informal networking sessions as part and parcel of the whole experience as well as the opportunity to book meetings.
Make sure you ask open-ended questions in networking conversations. Questions that ask who, what, where, when – as opposed to those that can be answered with a simple yes or no – will help open up the discussion and show the person that you are interested in finding out more about them.
If you feel the conversation has run its course, find a way to excuse yourself politely by explaining that it’s been a pleasure to meet the person but you have a seminar or a meeting to get to or that you would like to carry on circulating.
After the event, make sure you follow up promptly with contacts made at the show. Express that you enjoyed meeting them, and ask if you could get together and share ideas.
Remember that in these competitive times, exhibitions are the important ‘icing on the cake’, complementing continuous networking and communications. PR and advertising, social media, speaker opportunities and on-going networking should be a constant for any company that wants to stand out from its competitors and establish a strong voice and brand presence.
For further information about networking opportunities at Facilities Show 2017, please visit www.facilitiesshow.com/pr1.