Saturday 22 February 2014

Trade Show Marketing - 10 Tips for Sales Success

Trade Show Selling Strategies

Tips for Success! Making the Main Thing the Main Thing

Written by Robyn T. Braley

The energy, passion and excitement of a great trade show make the medium a unique selling experience. They can be hot, cold, humid, dry and everything in between.

Some are loud while others are quiet. They can be a frenzy of selling and networking or … the alternative! Just the thought of empty aisles sends shivers of dread running up and down the spines of trade show veterans. 

Trade show selling can be fun. Exhausting, but fun! My clients have exhibited in Louisville, Moscow, Las Vegas, Chicago, Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, and points in between. Whether the show is large or small, the basic sales strategies are the same.

Goal Setting
Success begins by setting realistic goals. We say ‘realistic’ because every show is different and requires a thorough assessment. Goals may include;
  1. Communicating brand relevance and meaning 
  2. Positioning your company with the competition
  3. Shaping market attitudes and opinions about your brand
  4. Scouting the competition
  5. Profiling or demonstrating a product or service
  6. Creating an invitation only in-show event to connect with existing and potential clients and market influencers. 
  7. Creating media profile through staging an event during the show
  8. Testing market potential through direct customer feedback
  9. Prospecting qualified leads for after show follow up
  10. Meeting top decision makers of potential customers
Leverage Opportunities
A Calgary based manufacturer of high tech automotive products was scheduled to present an engineering paper in the conference section of the Society of Automotive Engineering Congress in Detroit. I was sent to generate media coverage about their product.

Before leaving, I contacted CBC radio in Calgary and sold the idea of doing a report about the conference when I returned. That earned media accreditation which gave me access to more than 700 automotive journalists from around the world. At any one time there were about 500 journalists hanging out in the media room eating free food.

Only days before the show, I talked our way into a vacant news conference segment wedged between the Lear Corporation and a General Motors affiliate company. My client's company had nowhere near the stature of those companies. 

However, the show organizer’s liked the unique story I was pitching. It focused on a break through product that was high tech and also had a huge environmental upside. 

The outcome? The trade show media strategy generated stories in major dailies like the Detroit News, trade magazines like Auto News, and coverage by various European media. Their stories were picked up by other media around the world.

Know Your Show
Trade shows are not for everyone. If this is a first time show, do your homework. Interview some of last year’s exhibitors even if it means cold calling them. 

Regardless of what show producers tell you about expected attendance numbers and attendee profiles, there are no guarantees. Keep in mind the old advertising rule. A crowd of 50,000 means nothing if your potential customers aren't in the crowd. 

However, an attendance of 1,000 is highly significant if 100 of your prospects are there. Depending on what you are selling, you may only need to make one solid connection to make your efforts worthwhile. 

Empty Aisles
was booked to do a Trade Show Selling seminar for the Western Canadian sales teams of an international commercial construction company. Salespeople were brought to Calgary two weeks before the trade show for the seminar.  

For the show, my client shipped a mega display from their Atlanta head office. "C" Suite executives flew in as well.

Exhibitors were told by show promoters it would have a global reach. Construction people from around the world were planning to attend. 

According to them, the attendance would be similar to the tens of thousands who came from around the world to our annual petroleum industry show. That resonated with local companies.

Up to that point, I had not heard about the show from any of my other clients. There was no 'buzz' around town.

You guessed it. The show was a disaster. A very expensive disaster. 

The halls were full of trade show exhibitors but the aisles were empty of attendees. The tragic joke among exhibitors was that they would organize a bowling tournament and set up pins at the end of each aisle. 

Making the Main Thing Be the Main Thing
Success requires more than asking your receptionist book a spot – any spot. Showing up with quick print banners to pin on black drapes that were supplied by the show is also not a good idea. 

Crude brochures, produced inhouse, seldom do it in a marketing environment where first impressions are everything. Neither is manning your booth with people from the construction crew who haven't showered or changed into show appropriate clothes. I've seen - and smelled - prime examples of why this is a bad idea. 

Investing in a professional booth with engaging graphics, professional photos, videos, brochures, promotional products and other trade show tools are a must. Each element makes a unique contribution to telling your brand story.

The Main Thing
But sometimes, you just need to make the main thing the main thing. A friend manufactures mobile concrete mixers that are mounted on heavy duty trucks. 

Each year he invests in enough space to be able to drive one of his units into it. People from around the world see his unit at the World of Concrete show in Las Vegas or Orlando.

He developed an international client base by making his product the main thing in his display. A slick video or dynamic photo display would not have had the same impact.

Sales Goals
In business-to-business trade shows, the goal is seldom to sign a contract or actually sell something. If that happens, you will be having a very good, fantastic, out of this world, excellent day. 

Rather, the goal is to prequalify prospects for after show sales calls. You need to quickly gather key information in a minimum amount of time. 

Even more important, have an efficient, organized way of recording prospect information. After the show, you probably won't remember the hundreds of people you had brief conversations with if you don't have memory prompts. 

The 5-Second Window
It takes 2 seconds for your booth design to grab the attention of people coming down the aisle. It takes 3 seconds for them to do a quick scan of your booth visuals, product displays and other content and decide whether or not to stop by.
The 10 ft. Rule
Try to make eye contact with anyone within 10 ft. of your booth. Use a physical gesture like a nod or smile to engage them further. 

Cycling Prospects
Work with 3 man teams. Person A and B stand on the edge of your space connecting with people. Do not have a 'wall' of sales people stand there as that is intimidating.

When someone drops by, A or B engages and moves to the back of the booth. Person C takes the empty space. 

When person C brings a prospect to the back, person A slowly cycles back to the aisle space and breaks off conversation ready for the next prospect. 

Exit Strategy
Having a prospect exit strategy like 'get this person out of the booth space - puuullllease' can be a lifesaver. It will also increase team productivity.

Performance Coaching
This can also be called the survival section. 
  • Use relaxation exercises, memory tips, and other soft skills to help keep you sharp.
  • Voice management is paramount. Pace yourself. It is tempting to shout over the din of the show to be heard. Slowing your speech rate will help.
  • In case you didn’t know, perfumes, alcohol, smoking and caffeine can be voice killers. 
  • Buy extra bottles of water. Noone will be offended if you hold one in your hand. 

No Fish Please
Finally, respect trade show etiquette. For example, do not fry fish on a propane camping stove behind your booth during breaks. It's generally frowned upon.

Robyn T. Braley is a writer, speaker and occasional media guest. He is the President of UniMark Creative which does website design, video production, media services (editorial and advertising), and graphic design. He speaks at business conferences and also blogs about branding. 

Call now! Book a Trade Show Selling Seminar with Robyn Braley. Click for information.
Twitter: @robyntbraley

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  1. This blog was a really interesting read, information has been presented in a clear and concise manner. Thanks!

  2. Every point is so clearly explained that I surely make the main thing the main thing and also focus on exhibition stand design so that i would stand out in the trade show.

  3. Your information I found very useful and we will definitely keep in mind before proceeding for any exhibition. Actually I am also in the same field, we are .exhibition stand designs should be practical also and your designs are so practical.