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Trade Show Success: What's the Secret?

Posted by : Phil Krone  on  Oct 03, 2016

Why do companies attend trade shows? Answers vary, including the completely unacceptable, "Not sure, but we've always done it."

Trade shows aren't for everyone but if you're going to go, don't just attend-participate. After all, you can see as many or more people in two or three days at a show as you might otherwise see in six months. Most business people understand that concept, so why don't more actually do it? 

We're going to talk about how to participate in three steps. 

1. Get Ready

The first step to getting ready is to understand why your company is attending . . . we mean, participating in, . . . this specific show. The "why" is crucial because it drives the "what" and the "how." But understanding still isn't enough. You have to say it out loud, write it down, and promote it inside your company.

For example, do you want to:

• Sell products or services?
• Get leads?
• Introduce one new product-or more?
• Learn about the latest trends? 
• Gather intelligence on the competition and the market?
• Entertain prospects or customers?
• Identify and get to know new distributors?
• Test out a new promotional approach or sales technique?
• "Fly the flag" to build your brand within the industry and market?
• Play defense: competition will be there, so we can't stay home?

Targeting more than one goal is fine, but unless your company has the resources (especially the human resources), three key goals are probably the limit. Ideally, the various goals revolve around a common purpose, even theme, and opportunities are coordinated so they aren't missed or double covered. That type of mistake not only wastes your time but also, much too often, a customer or prospect's time. If a show provides an attendee list ahead of time, be sure to set up appointments with people you want to meet with at the show. Share names internally who are already customers to provide value to them at the show. Without a list, just contact people on your VIP list you think might be attending. 

Sounds basic, doesn't it? But it's truly easier said than done. 

Companies sometimes come to us because they know they're "not getting the desired return on investment" from trade shows. They're frustrated because they don't know why. They might invest $30,000 to $40,000 on exhibit preparation, travel, and innumerable fees. (Beware those warehouse delivery deadlines!) They might have been doing it for years without any measureable return. Focusing on one or two goals will make measuring results a lot easier.

Every year one company we know uses a major industry show to entertain its distributors with a special reception and dinner. Doesn't sound all that exciting, does it? But the distributors, who are mainly smaller companies in niche markets around the world, look forward to this event as a highlight of the show. The company uses it for face-to-face networking with its distributors and as a show of appreciation. But it goes further: It conducts a separate workshop that introduces new products, announces new promotions, and provides training in sales and marketing the distributors can use with any of their other customers, too. The distributors receive value no strings attached. This company knows why it's attending this show and it knows how to participate.

2. Get Going.

If you're serious about Step #1, you'll no doubt find myriad tasks, activities, and "surprises" to get ready for. Now it's time to make the most of all that preparation by executing your plan in an organized way. Again, the objective is pretty basic, but once more, easier said than done.

Trade shows are exciting, confusing, distracting, and demanding. A good plan that answers the following questions, among others, is the first step to staying focused. Enforcing the plan is the second.

• Who sets up the booth?
• What sales support materials are needed?
• Who staffs the booth and when? 
• What do they do in the booth? What is each individual's role? 
• What don't they do?
• What are their objectives in the booth? 
• What do they do when they're not in the booth?
• How do they account for their activities and results and to whom?
• Are daily staff meetings necessary or will texts and phone calls work?
• Can we get a list of those planning on attending the show, and if so how will we best use it?
• Is your traditional sales process best for this show or do you need to modify it?

Clearly, those questions need to be answered in Step #1. We're putting them here because, even if you have answered conscientiously, poor implementation means wasted time both before and during the show. 

For example, let's look briefly at behavior in the booth. Here are some guidelines (dos and don'ts, if you will) that our clients have found useful.

Do have the right number of people (yours and visitors) in the booth-not too many and not too few. Either one will keep people away. The first because the booth looks crowded already; the second because they don't want to monopolize one person's time.

Do know what to say after you say hello. More important than it sounds, sticking with this rule requires some before-show practice. Your goal is mainly to learn if a visitor has a problem that your company-or you-can help solve. You know why you're at the show; now find out why this visitor is at the show. Questions work best. After a brief elevator speech about your company-or even before-ask a question along the lines of "What brings you to the show?" or "What are you hoping to find at the show?" That will get the ball rolling. You'll learn quickly whether a visitor's objective relates in any way to what your company does-or if you can help in some other way, say, by providing a referral. The right kinds of questions on banners or signs help draw people in. (We have helped our clients create those questions for specific shows and events.)

Do not . . . eat, drink, sit, or talk on your phone or to each other. Sound harsh? Booth staff must always look as if they are availableto talk with attendees and want to talk to attendees. Any behavior that sends a different message should be avoided. If you need to use your phone, step out of the booth and walk away for a while. (Don't stand nearby and slow traffic.) If you must say something to a co-worker, then do it but don't linger or appear to be socializing. Sitting is inconsiderate-after all, attendees are on their feet all day, too-and shows a lack of interest.

3. Keep on Going. This means after the show. You're going to return to a pile of work (on your desk and in your e-mail) you didn't get to during the show. Without specific plans to keep working on the show, you'll dive right in to do that undone work. Clearing your desk might make you feel better. But it won't provide as much ROI on the show as will following up on leads, confirming appointments, sending samples or other materials, or building relationships. There are even ways to get a head start at the show. Enter leads into your own database during the show or e-mail them to an assistant at the office. Routine follow-ups can then be done almost seamlessly. A set follow-up process will also provide a measure of the ROI, even if only in activity, not revenue or profit. 

Key Point: Immediate follow-up-within a week or so-is crucial to making the most of whatever investment your company makes in a trade show. And keep in mind that many, if not most, companies do not follow up immediately, including your competitors. You'll stand out if you do. The best follow-ups are your people. But if you are not going to do it within a week, outsource the follow-up to us or a firm like ours that makes outbound calls for clients.

Give us a call at 847-446-0008, Extension 1, or e-mail us at pkrone@productivestrategies.com. We'll talk to you about other ways your company can improve ROI at trade shows. What about the times you aren't going to trade shows? We can offer our thoughts on driving sales then, too.