Trade Shows in Latin America: to Go or Not to Go?

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Trade shows are expensive. Are they worth it?

Short answer: It depends.

Last year I attended an infrastructure forum (which shall remain nameless). On the first day, an unannounced panelist, a medical doctor, suddenly began talking about how to revive a patient after cardiac arrest. It seemed the scheduled panelist had cancelled, and the organizers could find no one better to fill the gap.

Times like these you have to wonder if it’s worth it. Still, by the time the forum was over, I had made many key contacts, gathered a great deal of valuable information from the rest of the panelists, and my clients have benefited as a result.

So was it worth it? For me, yes.

For SMBs eying the Latin American market, the cost may seem prohibitive. The thing you have to remember, though, is that in Latin America, business is still done face to face. Email and skype are not enough.

Because business isn’t just business – people want to get to know you first. Otherwise how can they trust you? They want to hear about your kids, and your dog, and your wife. They want to hear about your favorite football team. They want to share a drink with you.

All this requires you to be here, in person, on the ground. And trade shows are the perfect opportunity to get to know potential clients.

But there are so many trade shows! I hear you complain. Which ones are right for me, if any? I don’t want to listent to doctors rattling on about cardiac arrest!

Here’s the bad news: it’s impossible to know for sure in advance. Every trade show is different, every year is different. There’s no guarantee that you’ll learn anything relevant to your niche, or meet anyone who can help you do business.

We suggest the following.

First, identify your target markets. What countries are you most interested in? Where is demand for your product or service the strongest?

Second, make a preliminary list of the relevant events. Not all trade shows or forums are right for everyone. Where are you most likely to make valuable contacts?

Third, plan ahead. Some of the most important trade shows only come along once every two years, and book out more than six months in advance.

Once you have a preliminary list, look up the speakers from last year’s event. Are these the kinds of people you want to meet? Consider contacting them directly. Ask them point blank if they think it’s worth your time to attend. You might be surprised at the answers you get.

Now it’s budget time. Have you got the money? Can you find the time? If you’re serious about entering the Latin American markets, and you’ve identified events that are a good fit for your business, then make the time.

Day of the event. Be prepared! Don’t just wing it. If you’ve got a booth, make sure it’s up and looking sharp before the doors open. Hire local contractors to do this, if necessary. Bring lots of brochures and business cards. If you don’t speak Spanish, hire someone who does.

Talk to everyone. And I mean everyone. Even people who are clearly not a good fit for your business. Why? Because it’s a small world, folks. You never know who knows who. Just because someone is not a buyer does not mean they are not a connector.

Oh – and one last piece of advice. Wear comfortable shoes. You may be on your feet for twelve hours at a stretch.

After the event, keep in touch. That ten-pound bag of business cards you lugged home? Go through every single one. Email each contact. Make it personal. And don’t just send one email. Add them to your LinkedIn. Drop them a line every now and again. Build that relationship.

I say again: it’s a small world. If you’re working in a niche high-tech product or service in Latin America, that world could be as small as a few hundred people. Trade shows can be your gateway into that world.

If you work in infrastructure, high-tech or related support service, here are my top suggestions for Latin American trade shows in 2015.

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