Mark Dunn
January 26, 2023
min read

Trade shows are back and attendance is breaking all kinds of records.  All of the regional acquiring industry regional shows (NEAA, SEAA, MWAA, and WSAA) set all-time high attendance this year.  There are many new exhibitors and the payments industry continues to evolve and advance.  An awful lot has changed in the payments industry since my first show.  The shows have gotten much bigger, the products are now very complex and it seems that two or three hundred new companies have started up just in the past two years.  

The case for small to medium-sized ISOs has changed just in the last couple of years.  For many mid-sized ISOs it’s decision time:  sell out, merge, start selling differently – but execute a new plan. New investment money is looking for businesses that are more than an attritting portfolio.

In any case, payments industry trade shows are a great place to find a buyer, a new partner, or a new service for your merchants.  Also, as an experienced professional you should be mentoring younger people in the industry.  From a more selfish perspective, you can help yourself and your company by identifying up-and-coming talent that you can bring into your company down the road.

So what practical advice would I give to someone headed to a payments industry trade show?  Here are ten tips I would pass along:

  1. Study up on how to be effective at trade shows.   Spend some time searching social media and the web for advice from experts.   Everyone has a different perspective on how to be productive.  (Unfortunately, you’ll find that most of the advice on the web is focused on vendors and exhibitors, not on attendees.)
  2. Set goals for yourself and make a schedule.  In advance of the show, identify the 8 or 10 key businesses you need to make contact with.  Identify the people by name and if possible, set a specific appointment with them.  Make sure you know in advance exactly what you want from them.  Make a note about what they commit to doing for you and what you will do for them.
  3. Remember that everyone in a booth works for a company that paid big money to meet folks just like you.  Give them a sound business reason for talking with you.  Be ready to talk succinctly about what it is you do.  Have prepared answers to the usual questions.  Listen politely to their message or booth pitch.  If there isn’t a business reason to extend the conversation, thank them and move on.
  4. Bring lots of business cards but also use one or more business card scanner apps or business card apps.
  5. Don’t eat alone!  In every situation, whether you’re getting coffee, lunch, or a drink, turn and talk to the man or woman next to you.  Invite them to join you.  Get the conversation started.   I once got my largest new client for the year from a random conversation over lunch at a trade show.
  6. Listening is the most powerful ability in the entire world.  Don’t try to be interesting, but really work hard at being interested.   The more deeply you hear, the more powerfully you retain information and the stronger the bond with the person.
  7. Move on!  Don’t let one conversation go on too long.  Remember that you only have about 16-20 useful hours at one of these events and you’ll need to cover a lot of ground.
  8. Drink water.  If you’re talking a lot, you’re going to need it.  You don’t really need a beer or a cocktail.  After a full day of meetings and making contacts, it will be hard enough to concentrate and stay sharp.
  9. Remember your business purpose for being at the show.  Stick to your schedule.  Don’t let yourself be distracted by people who might be a poor influence.  (Yes, it can be a lot like high school.)
  10. Send a short follow-up email to everyone you talked with.  Do this the same day you met them.  Get to the bottom line quickly and let them know why you’re following up.  If the conversation really didn’t go anywhere, let them know you were very glad to meet them and that you hope you can do business in the near future.

Those of us who’ve been around the industry a long time can do some things to help mentor younger people in the industry.  Here are five things for the experienced professional to do:

  1. Keep an eye out for young people in the industry.  Welcome him or her to your circle of conversation.  They may represent new business for your company.  They might potentially be your new hire.
  2. Take the time to listen carefully.  Don’t assume you’ve heard it before.  Most of us who’ve been around for a while believe we know what will work and what won’t.  We often don’t take the time to hear out a point of view that’s different from our own.  A lot is changing in the world of electronic payments and new people are challenging old assumptions.
  3. Follow up.  Let them know you enjoyed the encounter and make sure you take the lead in any information or action you promised.  
  4. Make a connection.  There may be someone you know who can be helpful to the new person.  Offer to connect with them on Linkedin or other social media.  
  5. Be generous with your time.  Five minutes of your time answering their questions can be of enormous value to them and will cost you very little.

We all benefit from the help or mentorship of an industry veteran at some point in our careers.   It may be that you don’t even know much about the part of merchant bankcards they are interested in.  If nothing else, simply knowing that someone cares can be a great boost to a new person.   Consider the question posed by the French philosopher Rousseau: “What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?”

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