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12 tips for manufacturers at NAED conferences

By Terri A. Dumas, RAB Lighting 

“NAED meetings are what you make of them” is a comment often expressed by both manufacturers and distributors. With advance planning and a networking strategy, your first meeting can be productive. Keep in mind that most manufacturers and distributors have attended these meetings for many years and have strong relationships and well established meeting times and social events that are repeated every year. If it’s tough to confirm meetings at your first few conferences, don’t give up. It takes time to secure your place on the distributor’s agenda. You’ll find that the networking and interaction is more than worth it and the experience cannot be replaced with e-mails and conference calls.

1. Request meetings with distributors many months in advance. Start setting up the Eastern Conference by mid-August, the Western Conference by late October and the South Central Conference by mid-December. Get a copy of the previous year’s list and assume the same distributors will attend again. Do not wait for the current year’s list of attendees. The “booth contact list” provided by NAED is a good place to start. But if you don’t get a response from the booth contact, move quickly to ask the key distributor contact for a meeting.

2. At the first few meetings, attend every training event possible, even if it doesn’t relate to your business. It does relate to the distributor’s business and this is a great way to understand their issues quickly and to meet new distributors.

3. Attend the “All Industry Network” meetings usually held on the first day of the conference at 10:00am. Often they are attended by more distributors than manufacturers. If you go to your first one and it’s not productive, don’t be disappointed. The meeting quality varies widely and depends on who attends and the mood of the group that day. Many times the topics are the same from meeting to meeting, but the discussions vary widely.

4. Attend the “Peer Network” meetings. This is an informal meeting for manufacturers only. It’s best to register in advance (but if you forget, just show up). This is a great way to get up-to-speed quickly on key issues in NAED. If you register, make sure you attend since your name is circulated in advance to all attendees and there is a tent card at your designated seat.

5. If you’re a member of a buying group, this is an opportunity to meet with the key contacts since they all attend.

6. If your key distributors do not have booth meetings available, try breakfast or lunch. Cocktails & dinner are tougher to confirm since these are usually planned well in advance by the larger manufacturers. If you plan a breakfast meeting, make a reservation at the restaurant since they are packed at that time.

7. During the booth meetings there is an “open time” from 9:35 to 10:35am. Most distributors keep this time block open for drop-bys. Wait by the booth where you really want a meeting. Wait for an open moment and introduce yourself.

8. If you can’t get more than a handful of meetings, contact the regional membership managers at NAED. They will help you, but remember to plan 2 – 3 months in advance.

9. Build your network of vendor relationships just as proactively as distributor relationships. A non-competitive vendor can introduce you to distributors you may not know well. Even if you do know the distributor, an introduction from another vendor will be a plus for you.

10. Always attend the Opening General Session and stay for the motivational speaker who follows. This will be the talk of the day and you don’t want to be left out of a great way to open a conversation.

11. The first afternoon of every NAED meeting is the unofficial free time. This is your best opportunity to contact key distributors for golf, fishing, or any activity that’s casual and fun. Plan very early for this.

12. Attire: during the day it’s business casual and in the evening most men wear jackets – ties are optional. Cocktail dresses for women every evening and business casual during the day.

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