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Trade Shows as a Source of Competitive Intelligence

A gathering of several thousand people strolling through a vast exposition hall would have been considered a crazy idea. This year, as we adjust to the new normal, while a full recovery may not occur after two years of virtual events, we start to see more and more physical events happening.

Executives indicate that events contain lower numbers; however, there was a higher ratio of quality leads, implying that those who came were serious about their goals.

Generally, industry events are one of the best opportunities to check your competitive environment closely: trends, new technologies, opportunities, and of course - competitor plans and products. It is an opportunity to gain competitive intelligence in the shortest time. But most organizations do not leverage this information resource as they should: with a plan.

This article will help you plan to fully leverage these events' competitive intelligence gathering potential and support your decision-makers intelligence needs.



Select the right trade show for you.

If your company is already scheduled to exhibit at the event, the decision is made for you. In not, check the mix of the presence between your immediate competitors and secondary ones. Who among them exhibit, and who plan leading, to attend.

Identify which groups need which information.

Different departments in your company have different needs: product, sales, strategy, marketing, etc. Make a list of all areas you would like to cover and assign them according to each department's specialty.

Prepare your CEO.

Warn your CEO that he might be a security issue as a target. In the heat of the collegial discussions at an event, your CEO might be tempted to mention recent success or development with someone who targeted them as an excellent source for CI.

Match the team to the objectives at the show itself.

The team should include experts, collectors, analyzers, organizers, and managers. Collecting and reviewing secondary data and sharing KITs (Key Intelligence Topics) and KIQs (Key Intelligence Questions) will help assign different roles.

Prepare a KIT for your colleagues who will attend.

Including the following information:

  • Details of competitors attending and where they can find them.

  • Anticipated new products or services by each competitor.

  • Recent news items and development of each competitor.

  • List of sessions where competitors are speaking.

  • Assignments for each of your colleagues. Here's an example:

Competitor Name

Key Questions

Responsible Executive

Alpha Tech

​When is the new product planned to be released?

Lewis Hamilton

(Sales Director)

Who are their leading System Integrators in North America?

Aryna Sabalenka (CFO)

Beta Systems

How do they see themselves positioned with the new technology platform in Europe?

Max Verstappen

(VP R&D)

We understand that they would outsource their support to India. Is that right?

Simona Halep (Product Manager)

Gama Inc

What use cases do they present at the event as

reference to successful activity?

Fernando Alonso (Sales Director)

Delta Ltd

What products are they putting in from and which are being hidden?

Ashley Barty (CMO)



Follow legal and ethical guidelines.

Attendees must show sufficient identification, so wearing your badge is crucial. Hiding this information means you're trying to deceive the show's organizer other exhibitors. Make sure to follow the trade shows' rules on photos and recording and only take items in public view. Violating these rules could be detrimental to you and the rest of your company.

Gather useful materials.

Pick up all copies of your competitors' literature and watch their product demos or live presentations. Keep a respectful distance, but pay attention to conversations between staffers and booth visitors. It often pays to go to the session early and pick up the handouts. The same applies to special symposiums and lectures: early birds often get brochures, but late arrivals may not.

Feel uncomfortable collecting materials? Send a friend who is not from your company to do that.

Attend the right sessions.

Choose the suitable sessions to attend, and show up early to take a sit in the middle. Participants from your competitors' companies will sit together, then try to sit close to them, as they might discuss what they hear.

Feel uncomfortable asking a question? Again, send a friend not from your company to ask or take a photo.

Use appropriate questioning.

When implementing the KIT by your colleagues, asking open questions (who, when, explain to me, can you give me an example for, etc.) might be though to implement. So, instead, use asked closed questions, with elicit answers of either "Yes" or "No" (do you, does this, is it true, etc.).

Plan to ask two or three questions at a booth and then leave. Most exhibitors change their booth staff every several hours. If you talk to someone in the morning, a new team will be there in the afternoon.

Use elicitation smartly.

You can use elicitation techniques when you're in the process of collecting information. No matter the context of the situation, people are more cooperative and open when comfortable, and their resistance is lowest. For example, telling booth staffers of your competitor that they probably wouldn't know something will encourage them to make an effort to impress what they do.

Attend Social and networking activities.

Conversations at receptions should be casual, but you can still succeed in gathering essential information. Arrive early to plan your strategy for the room, and do not drink too much alcohol. When starting a conversation, develop questions that will put others at ease and promote a dialog.



Create a post-event quick summary.

Ask your colleagues to send their KITs on the day they return. After creating a summary of what was collected about each competitor, build CI tasks based on these findings and provide follow-up recommendations for your company.

Create a full competitive strategy report.

Aim to post the quick summary within a week with event highlights, key themes, and urgent items. A second detailed report should be published within the month, providing more detail and analysis with retrospect and the recommendation.


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