CI at a Trade Show: Building Collection Targets

Planning for trade shows, conferences, and congresses is a year-round effort. That’s true both when companies send their staff to trade shows to collect competitive intelligence, and when they plan around what to present and offer at the trade show. In this post, we’ll discuss how to identify collection targets and set priorities while at the trade show.

As discussed in our last trade show post, an essential first step for any trade show intelligence gathering effort is to set a clear list of intelligence objectives for the event. For any event, the information that can be collected is highly dependent on the topics that will be covered, the types of attendees, the exhibitors, and the amount of time available. Determining what will be collected is a process of matching what is needed with what is available.

Developing KITs around a trade show follows a slightly different process than that used to develop KITs around other decisions. Since the trade show is an opportunistic collection event, the KITs need to center on the event itself, and can be somewhat isolated from a major strategic or even tactical decision. For many companies, trade show KITs are developed only after the agenda is disclosed. This allows the company to match its collection efforts based on what will be found at the event.

In matching the collection efforts to the agenda, start by looking at the sessions themselves to see if any are being given by a competitor or a competitor’s partner. These sessions should be given high priority, and the collection team should be prepared to ask focused Key Intelligence Questions (KIQs) that support the overall KITs for the event. The questions are based on what is necessary to know about the competitor and the presentation topic.

After looking at the sessions, the next target for collection is the exhibit hall. Here, the KIQs get refocused around competitor booth staff and the knowledge they are likely to have. Typically, the staff at the trade show are a diverse mix, including both senior managers and entry-level employees at their first event. The knowledge each has depends on their level of experience, so the KITs have to be flexible enough to accommodate that knowledge base. This can include various levels of detail that match what the respondent is likely to know. In addition to questions for the competitors staffing the booth, the KITs should include subjective issues, such as the level of booth traffic, who visits the booth, how long visitors stay, and what parts of the booth seem most interesting to visitors.

Finally, the trade show networking events, both the large or show-wide as well as the more intimate or company-sponsored ones, are selected based on who will be attending and the general topics covered. These events offer a relaxed opportunity to dig deeper into the KIQs with a diverse range of respondents. Questions for the networking events are opportunistic and hard to develop in advance, so a general sense of what is needed should guide the collection. Since the networking events are, in general, loosely organized, it is important that the KIQs have built-in flexibility. Sometimes the information available through the networking is not at all related to the other KIQs, yet is still valuable to the overall competitive insights from the trade show.

Management of the collection effort at the trade show will be the topic of our next blog post.

– Erik Glitman, CEO