Do’s and Don’ts of Effective Trade Shows

Trade Show, Hot Prospects,

Trade Show, Hot Prospects,

The worst possible scenario is to be at trade shows with no booth visitors.

That should be avoided at all costs. However, trade shows these days have developed into side shows, with barkers calling show attendees into the booth for demos, raffles, contests, etc. There is fierce competition for attendees’ time and attention. So how do you get your message heard above the din? You need to have a strategy to get people to come into your booth and stay a while, ideally learning about your products in the process.

Send out a pre-show mailer to the attendees list (available from show management about 1 month prior to the event) giving them your booth number and a REASON TO COME TO THE BOOTH. A new product launch, to pick up an invitation to a party or reception, to hear about a new technology, to enter a contest, are all good “hooks” to get the customer into your booth. Note: if you give away a special “gift” to hot prospects, make sure it has a high perceived value, and/or is useful and likely to be kept on an executive’s desk. A company in the global trade logistics market gave world time clocks to targeted prospects. The clocks had high perceived value, were useful, and probably ended up on the person’s office desk – which is the desired result!

Run a Contest in your booth. Now this is not a new idea, but the trick is to get the customer to DO SOMETHING other than swipe their card through the card reader in order to enter the contest. One clever company ran a contest for a tour of England (which was related to their show theme). In order to be in the drawing for the tour, the booth visitor had to listen to 6 different (brief) product presentations before they could put their entry in the box. With the six, 3-minute presentations, the customer came out of the booth having heard a twenty- minute sales pitch!

Have a raffle in your booth. Again, not a new idea. But one company used the raffle as a hook to make people sit (always difficult) in the booth for a 15 minute sales presentation. Then they would have a drawing for a Palm III after the presentation. A name would be pulled from the immediate pool of listeners so the chances of winning were higher, and the winner was right there, adding to the excitement of the moment. A relatively inexpensive way to have a very busy booth and get your message out to a lot of people. Have a “personality” in your booth with whom show attendees can interact. But the personality should have some relationship to the product. Just having a celebrity, even if he/she relates to your show “theme”, may get you booth traffic, but it won’t give your product any exposure. One creative company created a personification of their product, which had a woman’s name. The woman/product became the booth personality, complete with full costume. She was a very popular draw, and attendees lined up to have their photo taken with her. Not only was she a popular attraction, she was helping to brand the product in the mind of show attendees because she was VERY memorable.

Stage a “game” in your booth. Send your customers on a treasure hunt to find product related information or items. Or have them take a quiz to test their knowledge. The winner gets a chance at a drawing, or a free product. But while the customer is collecting the info and items, or answering questions, they are learning about your company or products. Have a compelling product or technology demonstration in your booth. This is especially fun if the customers can interact with it, such as with video games. It gets more difficult with products that aren’t “games”, but if your are clever, you can come up with ways to make your demo interactive. For example, a touch-tone screen that walks the customer through a product demo, or a robot that talks to people and performs a demo. Or a demo that the customer can try on their own. A good product demonstration is still one of the best ways to promote your product.

“Strategies” to Avoid:

Booth Bimbos who draw crowds of gawking men, but no sales leads. Not to say that you can’t have an attractive woman in your booth – just be sure she is doing something related to your product.

Food in your booth. Many companies have tried giving out food items like popcorn and nuts. It makes a huge mess on your carpet and again, doesn’t deliver the qualified leads you seek – just hungry freeloaders. However, a dish of candy is OK. A company was at a show that ran over Valentines Day and they had a nice crystal dish that contained small, foil-wrapped Dove chocolate hearts. That was a very popular, but inexpensive treat that people really seemed to appreciate.

Cattle-call cocktail parties. They are very expensive and really have no value in creating sales leads, so your ROI is a deficit.

Silly booth giveaways. Trade Show attendees usually scout the show floor looking for the best freebies – most of which end up in the trash can when they get home, or are given to their children. The best giveaway is one that the customer will use – either at home or in their office. If it is silly, you can bet that it won’t end up on their desk! The whole point of a giveaway is to help brand your company in the mind of the customer, by seeing your company logo every day on an item that they use. A give-away doesn’t have to be expensive to be useful or product-related. High tech companies can give away customized mouse pads, collapsible internet connectors for laptops, business card calculators, and CDs. Silly squeeze balls make NO SENSE, unless your company makes therapy products for hand doctors.

And PLEASE think of something more creative than a T shirt! I have to share with you the all-time worst trade show giveaway I have ever seen. One software company (who shall remain nameless) was offering booth visitors emery boards! How cheap did that look? Also, it is an item targeted for a female audience, at a 99% male trade show! Frivolous booth “Themes”. Again, unless your event “theme” is directly related to your product or company, it is probably not a great idea. You run the risk of having your company or products not taken seriously. An example of a silly or frivolous theme was a company that tried a “Hawaii” theme in their booth. Scantily clad booth bimbos gave out plastic (tacky) flower leis. For the life of me I cannot remember the company or their product, but I do remember being turned off. This concept MIGHT have worked if the event had actually been IN Hawaii. But how many trade shows have you been to in Hawaii??

Just keep in mind that whatever strategy you use for generating booth traffic, make sure it is PRODUCT RELATED, and targeted to the right audience. A crowded booth looks good, especially to your competition, but your management wants to be assured that your product message is heard by the right target audience, and that valid sales leads are generated. So allow yourself to think “outside the box” and find ways to get your message out and have fun with your customers at the same time. If you are successful, they will remember your booth, your product and your company. And that’s the point, after all.

To increase sales

Remember that a lot of companies will be vying for the attention of Tier 1 attendees, so make sure your sales strategies are targeted and give the customer a payoff for visiting your booth. That payoff could be a new technology, a special gift, or a purchase discount. Whichever method you choose will provide motivation for the customer to visit your booth instead of your competitors’ booth.

Here are some suggested strategies to make your show a sales success:

Before every show, have a meeting with booth staff to go over booth sales strategies like the ones listed below. Rehearse and roll-play if necessary.

  • Sell product on the show floor. If show management allows, and if your product is appropriate – sell product in your booth. A great demonstration often motivates the impulse purchase, and product sales can help underwrite the cost of the show. One small company sold $24K of product over a three-day show.
  • Send hot prospects or good customers a free conference pass.
  • Email all your customers who will be attending and let them know your booth number and if you have any special events happening (party, reception, product launch) you would like them to attend. Send invitations if needed.
  • Email special customers or hot prospects and tell them to come to your booth for a special gift. Keep a list of those individuals in the booth and check them off as they appear. Make sure the gift is given discreetly otherwise you will have a hoard of people demanding the same item.

NEVER ask a customer a question that can be answered with a yes or no
(like “May I help you? or “Are you enjoying the show?”). You need to engage your customer in a meaningful conversation to determine their needs and qualify their sales lead potential.

Approach customers with qualifying questions like:

  • Which of our products would you be interested in demoing/hearing about?
  • What new products are you looking for?
  • What do you hope to get out of this conference?
  • What do you do in your company?
  • What is the decision-making process at your company?
  • Who are the decision-makers?

Don’t waste time chatting with booth visitors who are obviously NOT potential sales leads. Find a way to politely end the conversation and move on to more promising visitors. Try to set up appointments with key clients and hot prospects BEFORE the show. That way you will be assured of having quality time with that person. It will also make them feel special.

Set up a follow-up meeting for after the show to make a more thorough and targeted presentation once you have identified an individual as hot prospects. Be sure decision-makers will be at that presentation.

Make sure your booth presentations (PowerPoint, video, CD) and/or demos are professional quality with relevant content.

Follow up with booth attendees as soon as possible (preferably within one week) after the show – even if it’s just an e-mail thanking them for visiting your booth. Hot prospects should be called immediately upon returning to the office. Sales leads should be directed to the appropriate sales region/sales manager if they were not present at the show. Be sure to follow up on any orders written at the show. Make sure nothing falls into the cracks.

Operate as a team. If you cannot answer a customer’s question, bring them (don’t point) to someone who CAN answer it and make introductions.

Hold a sales de-briefing after the show to discuss show effectiveness and evaluate the attendees for target audience. Did the show reach your target audience? Were the booth visitors decision-makers or administrators? What was your ROI? Was it an image-building event? How many hot leads did you get?

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