Trade Show Marketing Tips

Since we sell unique trade show displays it is self serving to suggest that you’ll need one of our displays in order to be successful so we will skip the part about how it helps draw attention to your booth and get right to some useful trade show marketing tips.

The worst thing you can do is to show up at the trade show and hope for the best.

There is an old saying by Benjamin Franklin, “If you fail to plan, then you are planning to fail” and this is very true in trade show marketing.

Let’s begin with the basics such as who you will send to the trade show to represent your company.  Attending the trade show is not a reward that you offer to an employee as sort of a paid vacation.  The trade show will have long hours and after the show you’ll want to avoid the temptation of staying out late to party in a new city because the next day you’ve got to get up and do it all again.  This is not a vacation it is serious work for serious sales professionals. The people at the trade show should be the top salespeople in the company.  Sure the owner and upper management can be there and for many companies the reason to exhibit is to meet new customers and make sales and that is done by salespeople.

Before the trade show you can prepare a letter (the kind you mail) thanking people for stopping by your booth.  You’ll want to do this before the trade show because after returning from being away for a few days you’ll have a lot of catching up to do and you don’t want your follow up to fail to take place.

The number one complaint from attendees at every type of exhibit is, “I gave them my card and told them to contact me and nobody ever got in touch”. 

You may also want to buy some “Thank You” cards and hand write a note thanking people for stopping by to chat with you and include your card.  Then when you return from the exhibit you’ll only have to hand write in the person’s first name and mail the card. Mail works because most exhibitors will NOT do this because sending a mass email is so much easier and free.  If you want to get noticed then do what the others won’t do, send a hand written card to everyone you spoke with.  After you’ve mailed the card then call everyone you spoke with.  If you do these two things you have hardly any competition.  Your competitors in your industry returned to their desks to find a lot of work backed up and they convinced themselves that if those prospects they met at the exhibit were interested then they’d call.  Your competition doesn’t know that the number one complaint from attendees is that nobody followed up on them.

When you are exhibiting did you ever notice that one booth has no prospects to speak with and another booth has too many prospects for the salespeople to deal with effectively?  You may have wondered how this has happened when the two may have the same size exhibit and one doesn’t stand out from the other.  You may also have noticed that later in the day the roles are reversed and now the one that had no visitors is overwhelmed with prospects while the other one has nobody to speak with.  The problem has to do with human psychology and how we like to buy and we hate to get sold.  It is a little bit intimidating for some people to walk up to an exhibit when nobody is there but salespeople who want to make a sale and to stop and ask questions.  However, if other people are there then it feels more comfortable to walk up and peruse a brochure while listening to the questions others have.  So people will stop at a booth when they see other people have stopped at a booth.  Your job then is to get people to stop at your booth in order to get others to stop at your booth.  OK great, now how do you do that?  Some companies refuse to buy pens and other trade show give away items because they feel that only cheapskates who want free stuff will stop by their booth to take things and leave.  Let’s assume for a moment that it is a true statement that only cheapskates who want free stuff will stop by your booth if you provide free pens with your logo.  Mission accomplished!  While they stop to get a free pen they feel embarrassed to simply take a pen and leave without at least pretending to have some interest in what your company is all about so they will ask a dumb question or two and leave with the free pen.  Let’s treat them like bait fish that you get to use to attract the big fish you are going after.  Let the cheapskates take a free pen and ask a couple of questions and watch how real prospects wander over when they see people talking to you.  You know this works; you’ve seen it happen at other people’s booth and your own.  You may stand there 15 minutes without talking to anyone and then as soon as one person comes over to talk to you another and another will follow.

It is simple; people attract people so your mission is to get people to your booth even if you have to bribe them with free trade show give away items.

This is the reason you’ve seen exhibitors at a trade show hire a magician or pretty women or setup a popcorn machine. You want to bring people in even if the reason you bring them in has nothing to do with your business.  People attract people.  When the show ends for the evening and you go out walking in that great downtown area you will notice restaurants with a line waiting and others with most of their tables empty.  You will assume that the empty ones can’t be very good and you’ll go to one that seems busy.  Maybe you won’t wait in the longest line and I’m almost certain you won’t set foot in the emptiest one.  You will assume that there must be a good reason why it is empty and you don’t want to find out the reason.  Therefore you’ll go to one where you see people.  Your exhibit booth is like that and people will avoid your booth because they don’t want to get sold and they assume nobody is there for some reason.  Get people to your booth with a magician, pretty models, trade show give away items or whatever it takes!  I was at a trade show where I saw an IT service company with a huge espresso machine.  Many people love espresso and people who had absolutely no interest in talking with an IT company that night stood in line to get free espresso.  Espresso is brewed very slowly one cup at a time. As soon as one person requests a cup then a second and third person begins forming a line.  Now others walking by see people at this booth and they don’t want to miss out on whatever is happening there so they stop by.  In this particular trade show I saw several IT companies and mostly they were falling asleep in their booths because attendees didn’t come to the exhibit to talk to an IT company.  This one IT company was taking all the customers simply by using espresso as their bait.

This is another great trade show marketing tip most people will ignore.  Do NOT sit in the chairs that the exhibit company provides.  When you sit in your chair then the potential customers who see you will often assume that you are on your break and they won’t want to interrupt.  Likewise eating lunch or dinner at your booth is like putting up a “Closed For Lunch” sign and you can be sure you will not be interrupted.  The attendees will avoid you when they see you eating or sitting.  If you have chairs at your booth they are for customers and for you when you are seated with customers.  If you are not with a customer then you should not sit as that will prevent you from seeing customers.  Most exhibitors will sit whenever they feel like sitting and will return to the office to report that the trade show was dead.

If your company has uniforms this is the time to be sure all employees have fresh uniforms for each day of the exhibit. If you don’t have uniforms you can affordably, quickly and easily get some embroidered polo shirts for everyone.  Nothing is worse than having potential customers wonder if you work there or if you are just another attendee.

In the exhibit hall the attendees feel that there is so much to see and they don’t want to miss anything so they wander around aimlessly almost in a trance.  It is somewhat similar to being in a shopping mall in December.  In the mall every few seconds you’ve walked past another store unless something was in the window that got your attention.  In a trade show there are exhibitors directly next to you and across from you. As the attendees walk by it only takes 3 seconds to walk completely past a 10 foot exhibit booth space.  Your job is to get people out of their trance by greeting them with a smile and asking a qualifying question.  First remember to smile enthusiastically and then ask your question.  The question should NOT be “Hi how are you?” because polite people will respond with “Fine thanks, how are you?” and they will be walking the entire time and the 3 seconds will have passed and now they are one booth past you.  Instead of that method try this; smile and say, “Hi does your company use___?” and you mention a product or service that your company offers. The answer “no” could be an indication that this prospect doesn’t know about your products or services or that they are not in the market.  A second question should be used to clarify that.  If the answer is “yes” then the second question might be something like, “would you like to see how ours saves time and money?” . Most importantly you must continue to smile and look friendly and approachable not like a hungry salesperson.  You want to offer information at this point not get the contract signed.

If you have a magician you can say, “Check out the magic show” and you are building up a crowd and many will stop and talk and take brochures. In that case you don’t need the qualifying questions.  The same is true if you have any local celebrity signing autographs or if you use trade show give away items.  For example you might have tape measures with your website address that says “Our competition doesn’t measure up?” and then your question is “How about a free tape measure” and people love free things so they will often stop to get the free gift and ask, “What does your company do”.  Now you are speaking with a prospect while at the same time attracting others because people stop when they see others have stopped.

One thing that is a sure waste of time and money is standing in the aisles (which may be prohibited anyway) and handing a brochure to everyone who walks by.  Latter you can collect your brochures at the trash bin at the end of your aisle. The brochures should be readily available at your table for people who are interested in your products and services.

At least three weeks before the trade show mail invitations to all of your existing customers and former customers.  You will be giving them an opportunity to reconnect, hear about new products and services and letting them know you are still around.

In sum we do offer great trade show give away items, embroidered polo shirts and unique trade show displays and spending your money on any of these things is a waste of money IF you don’t plan ahead with proper trade show marketing. I hope you find these trade show marketing tips useful and that you’ll use them because I can assure you that your competition won’t!