Competitive Intelligence at Trade Shows - Planning and Preparation

Competitive Intelligence at Trade Shows – Planning and Preparation

March 17, 2013 |  by

This is my second post on tips and tricks at trade shows. The key to taking advantage of the opportunities to gather intelligence —and minimize errors—is careful planning and thoughtful preparation. Because industry players – competitors, suppliers, customers, regulators, potential partners, gurus – are all gathered in one location, you can learn so much at a fraction of the cost of traditional research methods – when you work smart.

Wherever money is exchanged, information is exchanged. It’s there if you know how to look.

Leonard Fuld, The New Competitor Intelligence

Key Intelligence Topics

Strategic planning focuses on your ability to clearly define the objective of the conference intelligence effort. A set of Key Intelligence Topics (KITs) facilitates the identification and definition of  your company’s intelligence needs. KITs are strategic components of an ongoing competitive intelligence process. The following are examples of KITs:

  • Competitors’ positioning, branding, and messaging
  • New products or product line extensions
  • Extent of competitors’ presence at the event
  • Competitors’ intentions
  • Competitive technologies
  • Drivers of innovation

The Playbook

Doing your homework before the event helps you to focus your purpose and define the procedural aspects of your collection effort at the event.  Conduct pre-conference research on two fronts:

  • Learn the latest on the industry and the players through secondary sources—company websites, professional journals, news,   articles.
  • Collect information on the show, including hotel and conference accommodations, transportation, exhibit hall maps, schedule of events, presentations, hosted receptions, and networking/social opportunities.

This information can be assembled in a conference “playbook” or briefing provided to each team member. Each playbook also includes a calendar of events that comprise collection opportunities tied to each KIT. In addition, the playbook provides information on ethical guidelines, the “command center” where you’ll conduct a kickoff meeting and daily debrief sessions, contact information, and rules about security around equipment, materials, and phone calls.

At the Show

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

While careful preplanning is important, staying flexible is just as critical. When you arrive at the conference or trade show, check the final schedule for corrections and last-minute changes.

Holding a kickoff meeting with your team provides an opportunity to review the KITs, intelligence targets, information sources, and intelligence opportunities. You can reinforce the strategy and focus, coordinate assignments, and pump up enthusiasm.

In addition to planned and formal opportunities, intelligence gatherers working smart position themselves at key locations where people mingle.  These include the breakfast buffet, the exhibitors’ break room area, the hotel lobby, the elevator, the bar, the airport.

Give team members the time to “work the floor” and visit competitors’ booths multiple times. In addition to your targets’ exhibits, visit other displays.  Discuss key findings at the debrief sessions.

Next Blog Post

So, while you’re busy gathering critical information on your competitors, what is happening back at YOUR booth? What are YOUR colleagues talking about? Check in next time to learn about counterintelligence through a case study. Better yet, sign up to the right of this page to receive automatic blog post updates via email.

Loose lips sink ships

US Office of War Information, WWII slogan



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