Winning Trade Show Strategies


Rick and I just returned from working a government-focused trade show for a valued client.  The show was a raving success, producing a sizable number of raw (but targeted) leads, and many strong prospects.   Though booth traffic certainly had its ups and downs, it seemed we were able to stay engaged in meaningful conversations consistently throughout the four days (of very long hours).

As the show was winding down, we naturally asked other exhibiting vendors within our vicinity what they thought of the show.  We expected them to echo our feelings regarding its success.  We were surprised at what we heard.  Most exhibitors complained the hours were too long, the traffic was inadequate and the overall lead results were simply not that great.

As “glass half full” kind of guys, were we simply looking through the event with rose-colored glasses?  Absolutely not.  Our results were solid and recognized by vendors surrounding us (frustratingly so, I think).  So why were we successful when others were not?  Here are some lessons learned over the years and applied here that can help make your next trade show experience productive and efficient.

Start with the Right Show

It sounds obvious enough, but it’s astounding how much time, money and energy is wasted by companies conducting trade shows that don’t really reflect their buyers.  Many trade shows are essentially glorified fishing expeditions, attended in hopes of discovering some hidden pocket of lucrative customers.  Rarely does this bear fruit.  Sure exploring shows can be worthwhile, but you can do that by “walking a show” the first year instead of wasting a great deal of money and time on poorly targeted events.  Make sure the shows you attend attract people who can really drive a deal.

Target Even More

Even for a well-targeted show, it’s likely a large percentage of attendees to any given show will not be real prospects for you.  Creating booth “buzz” is beneficial to some degree (we’ll discuss this in a minute), but driving visits by legitimate, strong prospects is the ultimate goal.  To address this, create a traffic driving campaign for the 40 to 50 people in your database you REALLY want to speak with at the show.  Send them something that will get their attention and make them want to visit your booth.  You may spend more per prospect this way, but you’ll be driving the precise targets with whom you want to speak.  What kinds of things will get their attention?  Creative things–read on.

Get Creative

A little creativity goes a long way in generating booth traffic.  Standard “trinket and trash” giveaways have their place, but you may find a message-reinforcing campaign will yield greater results.

As an example, to capture prospects’ attention, we sent our top 50 targets for this show a bright blue mailing tube (irresistible to opening).  Open the top, and Erector set pieces fall out on their desk (a nostalgic construction toy that fit with the demographic of this show).  A printed piece inside displayed an image of a helicopter made with an Erector set.  The headline read “Making the Right Connections Can Really Help You Rise to the Occasion”.  The piece went on to describe how our system integrator client “makes the right connections” between disparate databases and systems in order to make the prospect’s job more effective and efficient.  It also invited them to drop by the booth and pick up their own Erector set.

We successfully persuaded 40% of our highly targeted list to engage us in discussions with this campaign (many of the others were simply not in attendance).  Further, we displayed several Erector sets inside the booth.  This generated nearly as many “drive by” discussions with people wondering about the relationship between a government-oriented technology company and toys.  This was pure gold, as it gave us a chance to launch into our positioning pitch and start asking probing questions.

Lose the Table

If you’re accustomed to sitting behind the big white table provided at many shows, you should rethink your approach.  You’re likely sending the wrong message to prospects.  Tables are barriers between you and prospects.  Sure they’re nice places to stack literature, but you’re not selling literature.  You’re selling solutions to problems.  You won’t understand a prospect’s problems until you get them talking.  Tables are subtle but powerful deterrents to effective engagement.

Salespeople attending shows often assume they’re stuck with whatever show management places in the booth prior to the show.  Not so.  Drag the table into the aisle at setup time and it will magically disappear before the show begins.  If possible, rent a bar height chair and a small, round, bar-height table.  Set these to the side so your booth is open and inviting.  Though you should stand up during busy times, during slower times the bar height furniture will place you in a better position for engagement than slumping in some low-seated folding chair.  Once a prospect approaches, you should always stand when conversing.

Adopt a Consistent Lead Capture Process

This may range from those fancy badge scanners to simply making notes on business cards.  Whatever the method, make sure it’s consistent and practiced across all salespeople working the booth.  There’s nothing worse than lost leads or incoherent notes due to a sloppy lead capture process.

Leverage Vendor Events and Lunch

After standing in the booth for hours, it’s tempting to want to slip away for a quiet lunch somewhere.  However, if you’re skipping the opportunity to have a meal with attendees, you’re ignoring a great lead generation opportunity.  Over the years, we’ve had innumerable productive conversations simply by plopping down beside some stranger and striking up a dialog with them.

Overall, Be Proactive

Too many times we see salespeople sitting back waiting for conversations to come to them.  Remember why you came to the show in the first place (presumably not for the golf).  Be proactive and assertive in talking with people and making connections.  You don’t have to be obnoxious to achieve this.  Friendly, engaging questions will typically do the trick.

Chad Blackburn, one of Galain’s sales partners, (he worked the booth with us at this show) is one of the best I’ve seen at this.  He stands in the middle of the aisle ready to engage any moving target.  A simple, “Hi there.  Where are you from?” typically stops people and allows him to initiate a conversation.  Another favorite tactic of his is to bring a football to the show and toss it to people as the walk by.  Hey, whatever works.

Trade shows can be frustrating and tiring.  But they can also be a highly efficient means of prospecting and initiating a relationship.  Keep these tips in mind for your next show, and maybe your experience will be even more profitable.

All the best,

Lorin

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2 comments on “Winning Trade Show Strategies

  1. John Mallen says:

    Great tips on trade show strategies. I feel like vendors who stand behind tables subconsciously separate themselves from their audience. It’s a poor business practice, if you ask me.

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