Many leading tourism exhibitions and international MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences & exhibitions) events have been cancelled as a result of the Coronavirus crisis, ITB Berlin and IMEX Frankfurt being two very good recent examples.
What follows is an article I wrote almost a decade ago about traditional trade fair B2B etiquette in Germany.
After reading, it will be interesting for you to contemplate how such business interaction and etiquette will indeed develop in post-Coronavirus times?
How much physical distancing will be required at future MICE events, B2B fairs and trade exhibitions?
And, indeed, how many of the tips listed below will apply to the new post-Covid-19 virtual meetings, events and exhibitions worlds?
How will traditional hosted buyer / visitor programmes be run in future when colleagues might no longer be willing to fly let alone be transferred by coach in groups large and small and ushered around exhibition halls to attend tightly packed presentations and appointments on exhibitor stands?
Let alone attend post-exhibition gala dinners and live networking events?
What are the implications for exhibition hall layout, booth design and for stand catering / hospitality?
What is the potential for programming new and engaging online and virtual B2B formats?
Does Covid-19 mean - as the Nobel Prize Winner, Wiliam Butler Yeats, wrote in his epic poem, Easter, 1916 - that
All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.
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When I was a young lad of eight we had an old Primary School book titled “Courtesy for Boys and Girls”.
This dealt with subjects such as deportment in public and behaviour at table.
Even back then in 1968 it was considered somewhat of an “Edwardian” anachronism in the brave world of the “New Curriculum”.
It was abandoned soon after.
A great pity some would still say.
Nowadays, books and courses on social and business etiquette for children and adults are booming.
“Knigge” is a good example from Germany.
This got me thinking about business etiquette as it applies to colleagues from English-speaking countries visiting and exhibiting at trade fairs and exhibitions in Germany.
The following are some tips which may enhance your B2B trade-exhibition attendance, saving yours and others time and ensuring your efforts are not only effective but also productive for all parties involved.
Timing is everything: write to your clients / potential clients well in advance (four to six weeks) of the exhibition informing them of your stand presence if you are an exhibitor or of your intention to attend the fair and desire for an appointment if you are a trade visitor.
Enclose targeted information on your new products, offers and stand location.
But don’t overload at this point.
Differentiate in scope, content and form between established, new and potential contacts.
In the case of new or desired contacts ensure you research their companies well and that you possess the correct names, titles, positions and degree/s of decision-making responsibility of the persons you wish to meet.
Follow up by phone if necessary if you have not received a reply within a fortnight.
Make use of the first day of the fair and any relevant seminar / networking events to make additional business appointments.
The final day of the exhibition is usually a good bet for this as schedules are often less crowded at this point.
Clarify the exact date, time, location and duration of meetings – on-stand or off-stand.
Rehearse your sales presentation / sales pitch well in advance.
Anticipate questions and answers.
Keep to the agreed appointment time – punctuality is a virtue in Germany.
If for some reason or other the appointment cannot be maintained, then please inform your contact in advance so as to allow for sufficient time to re-arrange.
If the meeting is on your exhibition stand or booth, then make sure that you offer hospitality / refreshments (coffee, mineral water, soft drinks).
Refrain from use of plastic utensils if possible and ensure that the necessary table / seating spaces are available and that you remain undisturbed for the duration of the meeting.
Make sure all participants understand the subject matter of the meeting, so come prepared – ask questions and have answers to potential questions (rates, availability, terms and conditions etc.) at the ready (e.g. on your laptop or tablet computer).
Make sure you also have a sufficient supply of your personal business cards and promotional material to hand.
Connect if you are on LinkedIn.
Send all necessary information and support materials in the week following the exhibition or when requested to do so.
This saves you either carrying bulky bags or taking up too much valuable stand space with storage; material getting thrown away and / or lost, and lightens your partners’ load.
Duration of appointment: aim for 10 minutes at the fair.
This can always be extended or moved off-fair if your appointment so desires.
If not, you will not have overextended your welcome / hospitality and you will have made a good impression.
Turn your own mobile / cell phone off during the duration of your meeting.
Give your full attention.
In addressing strangers or business partners, Germans mostly use the formal mode of address (Sie in German), i.e. surnames and not first names.
The informal mode of address (Du in German) is rarely used in business transactions.
First names and the Du form are subsequently used upon invitation only.
This is a sign of familiarity, friendship and trust.
Follow-up on all requests and proposals on time and deliver products and services as agreed.
Tip for E-Mail correspondence: write out text in full as you would speak as a matter of courtesy, avoid abbreviations, keep content formal, short and to the point.
Provide full contact details.
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Wishing you successful and enjoyable trade fairs and B2B exhibitions in Germany and abroad in post- Covid-19 times - live or virtual or something completely new, whatever the case may eventually be!
Photo: William Butler Yeats (13 June 1865 – 28 January 1939) was an Irish poet and one of the foremost figures of 20th-century literature.