Monday Mornings with Madison



In today’s economy, making the decision to exhibit at trade shows is not easy.  Companies question whether the leads from trade shows this year will result in actual additional business.  ROI is always a concern when it comes to trade shows, but more so during a recession.  For some companies, trade shows do not generate new business.  For others, they do.  Why?  Some companies prepare better.  As we discussed last week, the key to trade show ROI – especially during tough times – is to choose carefully which shows to attend and then thoroughly prepare for the show.  Savvy companies are choosing to exhibit at key industry shows where they can capture greater market share and leverage the downturn to achieve better show positioning.  Then they spend time preparing for the show to increase their odds of a good outcome.

However, pre-show preparation is not enough to maximize the return on investment of exhibiting at a trade show.  Some shows can be quite expensive when you add the cost of travel, as well as the set up, tear down and shipping of booth materials.  So it is not enough for exhibitors to just show up.  To get the most from a trade show, activities during the show are just as important as the preparation before the show.   Here are some tips.

Have a script.

Write down a show pitch and then practice it with every staffer who will man the booth, walk the floor or attend seminars. Do not wing it.  Every employee should be an articulate company ambassador and the messaging should be consistent. Test its effectiveness by tallying the sales leads generated at the show.

Get noticed.

Don’t ever assume attendees will find your company’s booth. Experts agree that the goal is to stand out.  However, experts don’t agree on the how.  Some recommend loud, bold displays that no one will miss from across the hall. Others suggest that developing an attractive counter-programming presentation geared to one-to-one interaction with the personal touch allows small businesses to position themselves as a haven for the convention weary.  Whatever the approach, the idea is to get noticed.

With so many exhibitors trying to get noticed, there is a need to be creative.  For example, at one trade show, an exhibitor offered fresh coffee in order to give away mugs that included the company’s Web address and phone number.  Another common tactic is to collect business cards during the show and then hold a lottery on the last day with an attractive prize for the winner.  More creative giveaways can target the specific traffic to whom you want by appeal.  

Step out beyond the booth.

Manning a booth does not mean that staff has to stand behind the counter.  Just because a counter or a table separates staff from the flood of passersby, it is important not to treat it as a barrier that cannot be breached.  Stepping out in front of the booth to flag passers-by is often a good strategy.  It is less intimidating to attendees to speak to someone in the neutral area of the hallway than to walk into a booth. 

Never leave a booth completely unattended.

While you don’t have to be ‘tied’ to a booth, it is also bad to leave a booth completely unattended.  It is impossible to know when an important customer might come by the booth.  Sometimes, the best clients visit trade show booths at the very beginning or very end of a show.  It is important to have someone present at all times.

Learn to read people.

Working a trade show booth is certainly good training for figuring people out. Staff who work trade shows often learn to tell the difference between a mildly-interested passerby and someone who is genuinely thinking about doing business with the company.  It is important to learn which is which, and not waste time with a lengthy sales pitch on someone who doesn’t seem impressed.  Instead, focus energy on those who might actually buy when there are potential customers walking by.

Build relationships with attendees.

The best way to build a relationship with an attendee is to get to know them… and the best way to do that is to ask questions.  Most people at trade shows push products indiscriminately on all attendees.  A better approach is to sit back and ask questions.  Learn as much as possible about the customer.  Qualify their needs, and determine if they can benefit from your company’s product or services.  Not only does that lead to long relationships, it opens opportunities to cross-sell and up-sell services.

Focus beyond immediate gratification.

When staff is working at a trade show, they may be swept up in the idea of commerce and work to make an immediate sale.  But the purpose of a trade show is to inform attendees about the company, and plant the idea of doing business in the future. The more complex and sophisticated the product, the less likely companies are to close a sale at that first meeting.  Instead, focus on developing a relationship and establishing an opportunity to follow up down the road.

Keep people around.

One tip discussed last week was to set up – in advance – appointments with attendees during the show.  This ensures quality traffic to the booth.  It also ensures there is a steady stream of people at the booth.  Between appointments, it is important to draw traffic into the booth and engage them in conversation – about their kids, their businesses, whatever; it doesn’t matter – even if they aren’t potential customers.  Why?  Because a busy booth is less intimidating and more inviting than an empty one.  So, have comfortable seating and other treats that will encourage attendees to hang out.  More people will approach if they see a large crowd at a booth.

By preparing for a show and then using smart strategies to maximize leads from a show, companies can raise the likelihood of generating a good ROI from exhibiting at a trade show.  Next week, we will wrap up this series by examining what should happen after a trade show.  Don’t miss it.

“If you don’t drive your business, you will be driven out of business.” B.C. Forbes

© 2010 – 2011, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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