Dealing with the Competition at Trade Shows
A recurring feature of trade show life is figuring out how to deal with the competition that you are bound to run into. I mean there they are, the Uniblab Corp. with their $35,000 Skyline booth, a large plastic blinking blimp that’s floating majestically over the hall, and a booth staff that resembles the cast of 30 Rock.
My first instinct is I want to learn as much about them as I can–some information is always better than no information. I want to see their booth promo in action, and even put in an entry for that new Mini Cooper they’re giving away. Wouldn’t that be sweet?
Of course, they may already know you from appearances on panels and other industry events, so in this case, it’s just casual conversation about whatever’s going on in the industry. Taking their temperature about the state of the industry is as close as you’re likely to get in getting them to divulge any information about how they’re doing.
Other than the car and the blimp, is there anything they’re doing that could be adopted by your organization? Are you doing anything that you can’t believe they haven’t yet picked up on?
Fraternizing with Brand X
Occasionally, you may be asked to a social meeting that doesn’t seem to have any particular purpose, just drinks. You may be asked about certain aspects of your company’s operation and be put on the defensive. Feel free to say “I’m not at liberty to discuss that.” But what if the competitor says, “The reason I’m asking is we’re expanding our operations into your area and we’re looking for someone to run it. By the way, are you happy there?”
Now the conversational table has been turned 180 degrees, so there are probably a lot of conflicting thoughts. For openers, you’re flattered. You now want to think well of this person, because they obviously think well of you. And this kind of thing goes on all the time at trade shows.
Meet Later On?
The easiest path is to play it down the middle. Sure, you’re flattered that they’re thinking of you. No, you don’t plan to violate any confidentiality agreements you may have with your present employer, and though you’re not a suspicious person, the thought does cross your mind that there may not actually be a job.
So, you thank them for their interest and let them know where they can reach you (at your private email account) in case they’d like to set up a more substantive meeting later on.
That way, you can have the few days after the trade show to truly evaluate your current situation and whether you would want to work for Brand X.