How to approach German Exhibitors to gain (more) Information

Trade shows are a great opportunity for gathering information and learning about the latest market trends. Around two-thirds of the world’s leading trade fairs take place in Germany.

If you intend to visit embedded world, HANNOVER MESSE, or bauma, for example, in order to update yourself first-hand on state-of-the-art technologies, it is a good idea to keep in mind that exhibitors expect to get a return on their trade fair investment. For them, acquisition of new customers is typically the top priority, followed by taking care of their existing contacts. Exhibitors might easily sense whether you consider buying from them (in the long run), or not; if you don’t, remember to not make extensive demands on their time.

Here is my advice on how to increase your chances to still gain as much information as possible – plus always feel welcome.

(Quickly) get to the Point

If I tell you that you should (quickly) get to the point, that doesn’t mean that you entirely skip the small talk. A good opening question is “How has the fair been so far?” When you show up during the first day in the morning, a simple “I hope everything went well so far?” might even trigger a brief informal conversation. Still, if people ask you how your trip was, try to keep it short.

(How to) smooth your Way into the Booth

If you don’t have an appointment and you are still unknown to the company, well-trained, goal-oriented exhibitor staff at a busy booth will instantly “classify” you: Do you have an idea of what you want? Are you a potential buyer? Or are you just expecting them to bring you up-to-date about what is (generally) new in the market? Bottom-line: They quickly evaluate if it will be worthwhile dealing with you, or if talking to you will be a waste of time and prevent them from talking to buyers. Common stereotypes / prejudices and (perceived) language barriers might also play a role when exhibitors make that call.

Smooth your way into the booth at a German trade show
Smooth your way into the booth

When you have done your homework, you can tell the exhibitor something like: “My name is Martti Maczulskij, Head of Purchasing at Future Enterprises, Espoo. I have studied your latest product catalogue, and Dr. Braun, at your Dreieich office, old me that his colleagues would be willing to give me a quick demonstration of the newly released Flux Capacitor during embedded world.” Then I bet everybody will be happy to attend to you. If you need help with arranging for appointments, you can always get in touch with me (andra[at]andra-ibf.com).

If you just want to browse the stand, there is no harm in telling the staff so; if the exhibitor has put some thought in the stand layout, you will easily sense how open the company is to spontaneous visitors. If you’re unsure (maybe a vitrine and a daydreaming sales person are blocking the way into the booth), just politely ask if you can enter.

Don’t leave People in the Dark

You might already have experienced that Germans are very explicit and direct in their communication; we do not need much context, and speak clearly about what is important to us. Clear messages are generally expected and appreciated; ambiguity makes us nervous. For example, an engineer who is working for Siemens told me that when in groups, Asian visitors sometimes converse among themselves instead of talking to the staff at the booth. She finds this behaviour very irritating, especially when they talk in a language she doesn’t understand. Please keep your team consultations short, and briefly explain to the exhibitor what your discussion was about.

Remember: “Polite” isn’t always “polite”

An Indian manager once told me that his friends often ask him if Germans are rude. I wouldn’t say so; only that our understanding of being polite is different. For example, for us, being polite means holding the door for others (even if we do not know them), addressing people formally (even if they are waiting on our table at a restaurant), and being careful not to disturb others in public (e.g., on a bus). Somebody who is speaking loudly on the phone on the Intercity-Express from Munich to Frankfurt is considered rude.

German directness
For Germans, a “no” usally doesn’t sound rude

Ignoring the person following you when you enter Hall B2 and letting the door fall shut in his or her face, or trying to jump the queue at the box office is considered rude. But, if the booth receptionist at LogiMAT is – with a soft voice – telling you that no, Ms. Müller cannot talk to you since she is busy with her pre-arranged key account meetings, it is just so you don’t waste your time returning to the booth again and again.

Try finding a Balance between “too shy and too demanding”

A German PR professional observes that (at least to him) Asian visitors who are interested in foreign technology sometimes appear “too shy or too demanding.” He says that one should “find the balance between shyness and a demanding attitude.” For instance, you should not confuse being direct with being (perceived as) pushy or aggressive. ”I request” for us sounds very harsh and demanding; better say “could you please…” and add a “Thank you” from time to time.

Stick to the Rules, and you will always be welcome

Finding the best way to bend the rules and create a bypass is not a virtue admired in Germany. Don’t try to skip the line at the box office, don’t try to smuggle your friend onto the premises, don’t try to talk staff into letting you access the fair before it officially starts, don’t smoke in the washrooms (go outside and dispose of your cigarette butts in the ashtrays placed outside the halls), don’t bring your own food to the restaurant…

Trade show rules
Better don’t take pictures

And please also keep in mind this rule: Generally, you are not allowed to take pictures or shoot videos of exhibits and stands on the exhibition grounds unless you have first asked the exhibitor for permission to do so, and the exhibitor has explicitly granted such permission; you may even need approval from the organiser.

An unsolicited “snapshot” taken at an industrial goods show can easily lead to a heavy fine. Exhibitors often do not appreciate having their new developments being exposed to this kind of spotlight.

All the best!

What else?

1. Read more: More articles on Attending Trade Shows in Germany

2. Join my LinkedIn Group Doing Business in Germany: Trade Fairs, Events, FAQ and Best Practices

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