The International Builders' Show (IBS) is an outstanding place to gather market intelligence and uncover the current issues and opportunities that are shaping the industry. I have found that engaging fellow attendees in business conversation at IBS is about the most effective way to get current on market and industry trends. Attendees are generally highly experienced in their field and represent nearly every aspect of the home construction industry.
As a market researcher and industry analyst attending IBS for the past 16 years, here are six things I’ve learned that enrich my IBS learning experience — and could work for you too.
There are many distractions at IBS — especially in Las Vegas! Set clear objectives for your information gathering; review the schedule of meetings, educational sessions, and exhibitor locations on the IBS website prior to arrival; and only deviate when you see opportunities that surpass your initial expectations.
Engage your contacts in a natural, conversational way. The information you gather in conversations will be about as authentic as the information you give.
Introduce yourself to people — they came to make new business contacts. Address them by name — they are printed on badges for exactly that purpose. Quickly uncover their excitement zone, or the conversation topics that they are passionate about, and they will be more fully engaged and willing to share their insights. Have some conversation starters in mind to get them into the zone, such as “What are some things you hope to accomplish at IBS?” or “Have you seen or heard anything that you’ll be introducing to your business?”
Once you’ve started the conversation, keep it going by acknowledging your appreciation for their sharing of insight. Despite tight schedules, IBS attendees are typically generous with their time and are more engaged in a conversation when they feel their input is valued. Providing valuable information in return is also welcome, and it certainly doesn’t hurt if they think you will be a valuable contact in the future!
By nature, asking someone a question can impose both a viewpoint and context that may be foreign to their thinking. A seemingly innocuous question to a home builder like, “When you are deciding whether to purchase siding, how important is the reputation of the manufacturer?” contains a number of embedded assumptions. Does that person actually purchase siding or is it someone else in the company? Does that person play a role in deciding which siding is purchased? If they do play a role, is “manufacturer reputation” even part of their decision-making process?
Remember that people generally attempt to respond to a question in the same context it is given, which may result in inauthentic feedback. You may want to consider modifying your approach by using a question like, “What does your company consider when choosing siding?” and then probe for missing details. Their responses will likely frame the context of the siding purchase decision and will provide you with the who, how, what, and why of their process.
Commit to team members to share your experience and learning at IBS when you arrive back at the office. This commitment encourages you to stay on course at IBS, review your progress and adjust course as necessary, take detailed notes daily, and grasp the implications of what you’ve learned.
And, one more thing … I’ve only addressed qualitative information gathering in this post. You can round off your IBS visit with quantitative market data by visiting Home Innovation Research Labs booth in the NAHB Member Advantage HQ area. Chris Steuble, our Annual Builder Practices Survey program manager, will be there to answer your questions on trends in building materials purchases.
See you next week in Vegas!***