One of the most productive and fun dimensions of the B2B is the fabulous range of diversity represented by exhibitors. Some sell their products or services directly to consumers, others sell primarily to other businesses; still others help other businesses market, merchandise and sell to their respective clients and customers. The common element among all participants in the show is the importance of personal connections with the markets they serve and with one another as well.

In the nearly two decades since the inception of the show, social media has come of age. The Internet had barely begun to have an impact on local business 18 years ago, but now Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others of their kind have become so commonplace that they are no longer considered anything special, supplementary or alternative by most businesses. Rather, they now are part of the core of most comprehensive marketing and communications strategies. Despite the expansion of electronic connections, social media has not replaced conventional, face-to-face contact. If anything, social media relationships have enriched personal connections and help make experiences such as the B2B more rewarding.

JobsinME.com

JobsinME.com is purely a product of the Internet age. It was established in 1999 with “one simple goal,” according to Field Marketing Coordinator Heidi Sawyer: “To use the power of the Internet to help local employers and jobseekers connect.” Predicated on the notion that “businesses will need employees and people will need jobs,” JobsinME.com was conceived to be a Maine-based alternative to impersonal nation-wide job banks, designed to facilitate connections between Maine employers and the local workforce. Its mission is described as “Real, Local, Quality.”

“We’ve been an Internet-based service from the very beginning,” Sawyer said, “so social media are natural for us. We’re everywhere, all the time, 24/7.” She believes that LinkedIn is probably the most productive social media platform for business, generating in their case “probably 90 percent or more of the social media contacts we have.” But, Sawyer added quickly, “nothing is better than being able to put a face to a name, to meet our customers in person,” at opportunities such as the B2B.

“We [do all the available] chambers, business expos, job fairs, HR conferences [and] jobseeker workshops because we can make a personal connection to the people we serve,” she explained. On a monthly basis, JobsinME.com typically posts more than 9,500 job openings, representing more than 2,300 companies, 36,000 resumes and nearly 780,000 site visits.

Target Marketing Maine

Like many enterprises whose mission is to help their clients market themselves, Target Marketing sometimes subordinated its own marketing opportunities to the needs of their clients.

“We didn’t do enough for ourselves,” explained Sherry Stone, newly charged with improving the Rockland-based company’s outreach to its own customers and prospects, “so we’re really just starting to take advantage of the kinds of personal connections we can make at trade shows.”

Target Marketing, a division of Dominion Enterprises, was founded in 1992 by a Maine entrepreneur who was responding to a growing demand for professional direct mail marketing services within the state.

Today, the Company works with hundreds of advertisers to send out mailings that reach every household in Maine every week. The company has a production facility with 45 people who prepare over 3 million flyers that reach over 600,000 homes every week, along with a staff of more than 20 people with broad experience in every aspect of direct mail marketing.

Target Marketing’s client base is as diverse as the Maine economy itself, including every conceivable type of product and service from supermarkets to sandwich shops and from pizza to perennials, with special capabilities for political and issue-oriented and grass-root campaigns (the only mailer in Maine with complete mapped Senate and House district profiles), the company mailed over 250 million direct mail pieces to every household in the state of Maine.

“We have a presence with all the social media, and we use those connections, and opportunities like this article, to invite people to our exhibits, too,” Stone said. “This year we expect to be part of six to nine trade shows; most, affiliated with chambers of commerce, but we are also exhibiting at the restaurant and lodging show.” Whether as a supplement to direct mail or to social media connections, it’s important, Stone asserted, to meet clients face-to-face whenever possible, too.

Shads Advertising Co., Inc.

Shads Advertising Co., based in Auburn since 1961, is a leading supplier of promotional products and corporate apparel in the North American marketplace. Its mission is to help its clients enhance their own marketing strategies.

“Our entire business is about solidifying relationships between businesses and their clients and customers,” said Peter Bunker, sales manager, “and we do it all, ourselves. Social networking is important, especially LinkedIn, probably the most productive connection for business.”

The firm and its sales consultants also belong to a wide array of civic associations and business networks, but among the most productive outreach techniques Shads uses is the deployment of customer satisfaction surveys following delivery of orders.

“We sometimes uncover issues that customers consider too small to even bring to our attention otherwise,” Bunker explained, “but this gives us the chance to fix them before they get too big.”

“Participation in the B2B,” Bunker said, “replaces the role that used to be filled by cold-calling. We will connect with between 100-150 clients in just one day. It’s a relaxed interaction that’s not in the customer’s space, or ours, but in shared space where we are all interested in intensifying [clients’] brand awareness among their customers and prospects.”

Grant’s Bakery

Grant’s is a unique full-service bakery, family-owned and operated for nearly 60 years in central Lewiston, and even though the vast majority of its business is direct-to-consumer, traditional retail from the shop on Sabattus Street, the family recognizes the opportunities presented both by social media and by presence at the B2B.

The bakery has always been active in the communities it serves and supportive of countless community organizations and initiatives. And like most other exhibitors, Grant’s is equally interested in both those attending the show as well as other exhibitors.

Having begun as a catering business operated out of the Grant’s family home, the family has never lost its connections to the larger community. Known for its meat and fish pies, homemade baked beans, and a wide range of specialty decorated cakes, scrumptious pastries and all sorts of delectable baked goods, the B2B provides the family with a chance to reconnect with old friends and stimulate ideas among show-goers.

A tray of Grant’s pastries is a perfect addition to any business gathering, for example. Kari Grant-Gagnon, who serves as sales and marketing director for the business, said, “Though the family history is a strong contributor to the success of their store, it’s their dedication to providing consistent quality products, and friendly and competent service that allows them to explore new depths of success.”

And an active presence on the web, on Facebook, and at the B2B helps them make new connections in an expanding circle of friends and customers.

Skelton, Taintor & Abbott

Ranked by U.S. News and World Report as among the “Best Law Firms” in the country, Skelton, Taintor & Abbott has been serving Maine for 160 years. Several of its attorneys are listed individually among the “The Best Lawyers in America,” as well. The firm is well networked in the community, with all of its professional staff serving on numerous boards and committees; and social, civic and youth sports organizations. Still, said staffer Lynda Cook, “Nothing takes the place of the kind of face-to-name connections we make at the show,” a fact corroborated by the day-long presence of the firm’s attorneys at their booth.

“It’s a unique opportunity to reconnect with clients we might not have seen for awhile,” Cook added, “as well as with other service providers in the community.”

The firm provides legal counsel and representation to a diverse group of individuals, businesses and governmental organizations. Its litigators practice in both state and federal trial courts in such matters as personal injury, divorce, bankruptcy, employment and commercial issues.

The firm also offers a full range of non-litigation services including real estate, business law, financial planning, wills and trusts, media, tax planning, education, labor, public utility and health care, and like so many at the B2B, the firm is equally interested in visiting other exhibitors and attendees. It’s good for their business, Cook believes, as well as part of their continuing commitment to the community.

Maine Community Health Options

Probably the newest exhibitor at the 2013 show is Maine Community Health Options, which is not even exactly serving clients quite yet. MCHO is Maine’s first  nonprofit, consumer-operated and -oriented health insurance plan. They are the only member-directed health insurance plan partnering with people, healthcare providers, and small businesses. MCHO will offer new and affordable health insurance options for Maine people and businesses beginning in January 2014. Open enrollment starts in October 2013.

In the meantime, the organization is forming alliances with healthcare providers including both Central Maine Health System and St. Mary’s Regional Hospital as well as brokers, employers and individuals.

“We’re spending the next several months developing community awareness and elevating understanding of this unique new model of healthcare,” explained Michael Gendreau, director of outreach, education and communication for the new firm.

“The timing of the B2B is perfect for us,” Gendreau said. “We’re starting from scratch, so we plan to use every possible combination of both traditional outreach and social media to help as many people as possible understand what we can offer, starting in October. We really do expect to help make quality health insurance accessible to individuals and small businesses who maybe couldn’t afford comprehensive coverage in the past,” He admitted that while it is a compelling message, it’s also challenging to convey.

Timing of the show, coming so soon after the firm has just established its offices in Bates Mill, is a great “opportunity to connect in person with the business community, to help put a personality to the concept we’re developing,” Gendreau added.

AVCOG

Owned and operated by member towns and counties, Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments is a not-for-profit agency that was established in 1962 as a regional planning organization serving the Western Maine communities of Androscoggin, Franklin, and Oxford counties.

The organization provides business counseling services to businesses in the tri-county area. AVCOG’s Small Business Development Center counselors met with 314 clients, assisted with 30 business start-ups, created 78 new jobs, and retained 45 jobs in the region.

AVCOG’s Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership staff reached out to and/or assisted 45 companies. With a focus on small- to mid-size manufacturing companies, MEP staff also helps to identify opportunities within the Department of Defense supply chain. The goal is to bring to these companies the technology, resources and training to help them grow and create a positive economic impact in their community.

In addition to vigorous networking through its member towns, numerous business and civic association connections, and through the clients it serves, AVCOG maintains a robust presence on Facebook, Twitter, RSS feeds and the Internet.

An annual presence at the B2B since its inception has been a prominent element in the organization’s outreach to the business community, to reconnect with clients it has served in the past and to provide a focal point for anyone interested in the economic and civic well being of the tri-county area.

Executive Director Bob Thompson summarized the AVCOG mission. “Municipal and regional cooperation is alive and well at AVCOG, as it has been for 50 years. Finding solutions for complex challenges, the integration of resources, and sharing of information is what we do best. The success of AVCOG can be measured by the success of its member municipalities and that says a lot.”


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