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IMTS 2016: Trade Show Tips for Manufacturing Equipment Makers

By August 10, 2016

The International Manufacturing Technology (IMTS), one of the largest trade shows in the country–certainly the largest event devoted to manufacturing technology–will be held September 12-17 in Chicago. The show is huge. More than 2,000 exhibiting companies will occupy 1.3 million square feet of exhibit space at the McCormick Place. IMTS is held every even-numbered year in Chicago and attracts more than 114,000 buyers and sellers from over 112 countries.

Because IMTS only comes around every two years, it is really important for exhibitors to get it right. If you’re in the manufacturing technology business, it will be the place to be for one week, and making the right connections can be extremely valuable for your business. Here are some tips for making the show work for you.

  1. Announce your participation. If you haven’t already, make sure you send an email to your contacts letting them know you’ll be at the show. This seems simple, but in 2014 many of the companies I spoke with didn’t do it. “We just put it on our website,” they said. They just expected their contacts to find them. The show is huge and spread through several halls. If you’re not a huge brand, you’ll be hard to find. The company I worked with not only announced their participation in the show, but offered to schedule appointments for product demos. We set a dozen or so appointments to show off our micro machining technology. 
  2. Join the AMT and use their tool. The Association for Manufacturing Technology sponsors IMTS and they have some great tools available to members. One is MTI Insight, an email marketing tool that you can use to send emails to registered attendees at the show. We used this a month or so ahead of the show and it was incredibly effective. On our badge scanning device, we asked how people had heard of us. Some 60 percent said “email.” Our booth was full from the show’s start to finish. 
  3. Target carefully. With great email tools come great responsibility. Don’t blast emails to people who aren’t in your target market. The IMTS email tool has lots of filters for different categories. Since the company I worked with was focused on micro machining technology (milling, drilling, turning) for medical, automotive and consumer products, I focused on those industries and on those product categories. People are much more likely to respond to an email that is relevant to their business and that shows you’ve done some work to figure out who they are. 
  4. Think about your salespeople. Another good reason to target carefully is to use your sales team’s time wisely. Getting lots of unqualified leads feels good until you start following up. Making call after call to people who have no interest in your product is a waste of time for both parties. In 2014, I stood across the aisle from a company that had hired beautiful models to scan the badges of every person (mostly men) that walked by the booth. The attendees gladly handed their badges to the  models, but I couldn’t help thinking of the poor person who would have to call all these people who were likely not interested in the company and probably wouldn’t even remember its name. 
  5. On the other hand…If you’re a new company and are trying to build a contact database, scanning as many badges as possible can be a good way to do it. Your goal in this case is awareness, not sales, and you’re hoping these people will help spread the word about your company. 
  6. Talk to other exhibitors. If you’re part of the team for your exhibit, you’re likely going to be there early setting things up. I always ask other exhibitors about their plans for the show, what works for them. That’s how I learned about the MTI Insight email tool from AMT, for example. Most exhibit staff share a kind of brotherhood of the underbelly of tradeshows–setup and teardown.

The Content Marketing Institute surveyed manufacturing marketers in 2015 and found that in-person events were seen as the most effective form of marketing. When most of an industry is in the same place, the opportunities are huge. You don’t have to be a big brand to have a great show. The company I represented was smallish, with a 20×20 booth in a land of giants. Picture complete assembly lines built to show off a company’s manufacturing technology. But we had the right people coming to our booth and even sold the three products we had in our booth.

Have a great show!

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