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Trade Show Seller Secrets

Automotive Aftermarket Business
January, 2002

Get The Best Deal From Trade Show Sellers

By Dave Donelson

Do you feel like a mackerel when you walk into the convention exhibit halls in Las Vegas? It seems like there are hundreds of anglers aiming to hook your checkbook and sharks trying to take a bite out of your wallet. In other words, there are sellers in every exhibit working to get your business.

If you know what those sellers are thinking and what they’re going to do next, you’ll be a much more effective buyer. Here’s a look at what’s going on in the sales rep’s head and some tips on how you can bring home the best deals. Several factors affect the process, most of which give you an edge.

Trade Show Buying Factors

Time is the biggest factor for both the buyer and the seller. The sales rep is under pressure to sell as many prospects as possible in the thirty-one hours the floor is open. You can always skip an event to gain some time, but the rep needs to make every minute count. On the other hand, you don’t have time to play “hard to get.” This is a good negotiating ploy under normal conditions, but is generally a waste of time at a trade show. If you intend to be a buyer, say so.

Information and who has it is another factor. You know how big an order you expect to place, but the rep doesn’t. You know what the competition has offered; the rep doesn’t. It’s the seller’s job to pry this information out of you and, to serve your own ends, you’ll probably give some of it up—but you control the flow.

Then there’s the turf factor. The convention hall lobbies, restaurants, and aisles are yours. When you step into an exhibit, though, you’re on the seller’s turf. They outnumber you. They know the staff, have access to the private rooms, and control the key to the freebie vault. The offsetting advantage you have, of course, is that you can escape at any time.

Buy-Sell Transaction Stages

Most buy-sell transactions occur in stages. The first thing the typical salesperson will do is try to qualify you. The time factor is at work here, since the seller wants to deal only with those prospects that intend to buy today or in the near future. You will be asked a few questions to determine whether you are a tourist, a tire-kicker, or a buyer. A tourist is just passing through. They may be a “layperson” that is an enthusiastic hobbyist but doesn’t work in the industry. When asked if they need some help, a tourist will say “No thanks—just looking” or something to that effect. Unless you want to waste time tracking down a sales person later, avoid these types of phrases.

A tire kicker is someone who won’t buy right now but may in the future. A rep will want to spend only as much time as it takes to get contact information for future follow-up and hand you a brochure. If an immediate buyer walks into the exhibit, the seller will drop the tire kicker and go to pursue today’s order. To keep the salesperson’s attention, imply that you might place an order today and ask plenty of questions to display your interest. You may have to deal with the rep’s attempts to close a sale, but that’s easily handled by saying “No.” Finally, don’t just give the sales rep your card when you leave. Get his or hers, too, and give them a specific time to contact you. It’s only fair that you give them some hope of a sale after you’ve taken up their time.

You will be the center of attention, of course, if you tell the seller you’re there to place an order. As mentioned earlier, negotiating games are time wasters so it’s best to get right down to business. When you’re qualified as a buyer, you enter the needs analysis stage of the process. The salesperson will want to know several things about you beginning with whether you are the final decision maker or a decision influencer who will make recommendations to someone else. The decision maker will get a little stronger closing effort, but either one should receive full attention.

What Do You Need?

Among other things, the rep should try to determine your needs for his or her product line. Is it replacing an existing line or are you restocking? Are you adding a new line? Do you want to upgrade to a higher price point or expand your offerings? In other words, what you trying to accomplish by making this purchase? The seller will also want to know the potential size of your order, of course, as well as when you intend to place it. A good salesperson will probe to find your “hot buttons,” or the criteria like price, delivery date, terms, etc., that you will use to make a decision.

The temptation is great to play games during this stage—to withhold information or play hard-to-get. You may want to stall for time later (see below), but it’s best to cooperate now. After all, you need to qualify the seller and product line, too. The best way to find that out if they can satisfy your needs is to be very specific about what you’re looking for and why you want it. The only factor you might fudge on is the order size. It’s generally a good idea to imply that you’re going to place a monster order so you’ll be offered the best price and terms.

The third stage comes when the seller starts pitching his line. Unfortunately, too many reps have been trained to push their company’s newest product regardless of what the customer actually needs. This is a huge time-waster, so don’t hesitate to interrupt and ask them to present only the lines that meet your needs. It’s your money on the table so you’re in charge.

When the seller offers a product you like, be straightforward about any obstacles that might prevent you from buying it. Don’t offer objections just for the sake of objecting. Instead, make sure you’re very clear about what information you still need. It is your responsibility to learn everything you need to know to make an informed purchase—and the rep’s to provide it.

The End Game

The seller at some point will ask for the order. This isn’t the end of the buy-sell process, but it’s the beginning of the end. There are dozens of different tactics the salesperson may use, ranging from a direct question (“Do you want to buy this?”) to the alternatives close (“Do you want us to ship by ground or air?”). If you have all the product information you need, this signals it’s time to enter the negotiation stage.

One of the great advantages of buying at AAPEX and SEMA is the huge number of vendors to choose from. Any given product category will probably have dozens of vendors and suppliers competing for your business. Ask the rep that’s trying to close you for the offer in writing, and then go see his competitors. If he won’t put it in writing, take notes yourself and confirm the details with him before you leave. That way you know you’re comparing apples to apples and he knows he better offer you the best price right now—you may not be back otherwise.

Once you’ve done your comparison shopping, go to the supplier you’ve chosen and move into the final stage, placing the order. Here you can use all the factors—time, information, and turf—to your advantage. Begin by asking the rep if his previous offer is as good as he can do. Tell him or her you’ve gone to X number of his competitors and you want to review the offers before making a final decision. Don’t report a fictitious counter-offer, since a good seller will know the competition’s price range and detect a bluff.

Stand near an exit from the exhibit to signal your willingness to walk away. Keep the escape option open especially if the seller takes you into a “closing room” and/or calls over a manager to help close the deal.

Try to take up some more of the seller’s time, since the more of it is invested in you, the greater the urge to close the sale. Finally, make an offer you’d be comfortable accepting (not a ridiculously low one—that may blow the work you’ve done) and ask to place the order right now. You’ll be surprised how often your offer is accepted. And the worst that can happen is you get the original deal, which your shopping has shown to be the best anyway.

AAIW is a great place to make good deals, especially if you know how the seller’s mind works. You can shop among dozens of competing vendors, see new equipment and supplies, watch product demos, and do hands-on testing. You may even pick up a free T-shirt or two to go with your great buy.