Networking at Trade Shows

Written by:

Alex Striler

February 2, 2022

Many racers go to trade shows with a handful of proposals and hand them out to everyone with the word “Marketing” in their title. I did this for many years before I realized it was the wrong way. SEMA and PRI can be great places to start relationships with potential sponsors, but they are not the place to hand out promotional materials or ask for money.

Don’t waste valuable time with a marketing director or brand manager by becoming a pesky salesperson. Become his friend instead.

Use trade shows and events to develop personal relationships. When you become friends with someone, you can call them any time. If you come off as a salesperson, they’re not going to answer your emails.

Waiting for a callback that never comes can be worse than losing a race. You may lose because a competition was better--that’s okay. They deserved the win. But when someone ghosts you, it becomes personal. It makes you wonder what you did wrong.

The problem is that you proposed before you dated. Nobody says “yes” to a stranger who proposes. Get to know her first. The best time to send proposals is after you have relationships and discussed how your racing relates to their business. But you have to get to know them first.

Trade shows are a great way to start relationships with sponsors if you remember that the company personnel you meet are working the event to sell more products. They are trying to sell to their customers. Show them you understand. Use the time to learn more about their brands and goals. Ask questions about their products, don't make the conversation about you.

Become interested from a customer’s perspective, but also respect their time. You’ll only have  5 or 10 minutes to chat before they talk to the next person, unless you schedule a meeting in advance. If they expect you and don’t mind a pitch, it’s okay to sell yourself. But, I find it never works with strangers. It turns them off. So I only schedule time with people I know and I’ll always let them know why I want to talk so they can decide whether or not they want to hear the pitch.

Bruce Hendel, VP of NA Sales of from VP Racing Fuels said on MeetTheSponsors.com,“I  can tell you my personal opinion about trade shows. From a sales point,salespeople are there to sell, so a lot of us get annoyed when we get bombarded with sponsorships, because to me it's not very personal. I know they're walking around handing that same proposal to a hundred different people. I prefer getting a phone call, ‘Hey, our team’s going to be at SEMA. We really like to set up an appointment and maybe meet with you, show you what we can offer.’That approach is way better than just cold calling at a trade show and trying to hand us a deck to review while we're there. From the sales side, we're spending money at that show to sell product to our customers.

Tony Yorkman, Senior Partnership Manager at K&N brought up a good point on his episode, “SEMA and PRI, happen so late in the year, if you go to a tradeshow, you're just barely getting connected … that's the last place I want to talk about sponsorship … But if I’m at SEMA and meeting them for the first time, and I don't know who they are, I’m realistically not going to partner with them this year. I’m not going to make that commitment. I need time to evaluate them. I need time to see what's going on, and I need time to see how they really fit my plan. I’m always up for having those conversations, but I hate taking on the fly kind of tests, because I don't want to waste their time,I don't want them to waste my time.”

Unless you schedule an appointment to specifically discuss your race program,don’t spend any time at trade shows or events asking for money. Use the time to get to know people and let them get to know you. Once they know who you are and how hard you work, they’ll not only see the benefit of working with you, but they’ll also want to help you succeed. That’s what friends do.