Greenfield Belser, a Finn Partners Company
October 1, 2005
Today more and more professional service firms are taking part in the ever-growing trade show circuit. There's good reason. Traditional businesses have always viewed trade shows as powerful business development opportunities where contacts are made and relationships are born. While there is a lot to be gained from a successful trade show experience, there is an equal opportunity for loss as well (and not just financially). To increase your firm's odds of success, the following tips are designed to help you Stand Out At The Show.
In this article you will learn:
- Trade show secrets for success
- Pre-show marketing best practices
- Winning the battle for mind-share on the show floor
- Post-show follow through
Before the Show
Make a commitment. Develop and adopt a formal firmwide policy regarding trade shows. If an event is worth attending, it's worth doing right. Allocate appropriate resources (yes, money) for both pre-show and post-show marketing.
Set measurable objectives. You can have more than one goal, but it's best to be clear about what your participation at the trade show is going to accomplish. Exhibit objectives are best when they are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound. Follow the rule of S.M.A.R.T. and you'll be ahead of the game.
Do your homework. There are thousands of trade shows your firm could attend, but not all are going to give your organization the best ROI in terms of your goals and objectives. Select tradeshows that best target the audiences that you want to reach and best suit your business development goals. If possible, obtain a copy of exhibitor evaluations from previous years. Past exhibitor experience is always a good indicator of how well a show is organized and run.
Budget, book and bargain. Prepare a budget for each show that takes into account all expenses including travel, shipping, hotel accommodations, promotional items (giveaways) and entertainment. Book your space early to take advantage of early-bird discounts. Bargain and negotiate for prime real estate—if you can get it, select a position to the right of the exhibit hall entry (perhaps because most of us are right-handed, people tend to turn to the right upon entering a department store or supermarket or exhibit hall). Locations near food stations are also positive, but avoid locations right at entryways. While these locations look great on the exhibit hall diagram, in reality, most attendees will simply pass you by as they enter the exhibit area. Also investigate what sponsorship opportunities are available. Having your logo appear on a highly visible item like the conference bag may be worth ten grand but sponsoring a luncheon where your organization is "thanked" from the podium or having your firm's name appear on cocktail napkins might not be a wise investment.
Inform and invite. Create a buzz weeks before the show takes place. Advertise in trade publications specific to the trade show's industry. Develop creative direct mail pieces informing people of your participation, booth location and speaking events you may have during the conference. Try to wheedle a registration list from conference sponsors in advance of the event in order to target key prospects for meetings, meals or, better yet, golf outings, tennis lessons or shopping excursions (anything to get people off-site and involved with you on a personal level). Above all, enlist your professionals to make personal contacts prior to the event and insist that everyone attending arrange a minimum of two meetings for each day of the conference with a current or potential client or a member of the media. Those unable or unwilling to accomplish this simple task should not attend the event.
Don't look good—look great. At their most, basic trade shows are great big beauty pageants. A run-of-the-mill booth defines a run-of-the-mill firm. Your booth display is your best opportunity to stand out at the show. It must invite and engage attendees, deliver a clear message and be a well-executed extension of your firm's brand. Consider designing a booth that occupies a larger space to allow attendees to enjoy a richer and more comfortable exhibit experience. At a trade show, when you're going toe-to-toe with every other exhibitor, it's important to keep up appearances. Be bold. Great design makes an impression.
Handouts or throwaways? Avoid clutter in your booth by limiting the number of handouts. While attendees may pick up trade show literature, 75 percent of this material is discarded, according to The Wall Street Journal. Be smart. Keep samples on hand, but offer to send materials to interested attendees after the show. That's one way to get their business cards! However, keep your promise and send materials out promptly (within 48 hours of the show's conclusion). Few people go to the trouble, but materials that are designed specifically for the show and its attendees confirm your industry interest and professionalism. No matter what, have plenty of business cards in hand at all times!
Gimmies, games and gimmicks. Everybody uses them. The key is to use them effectively and efficiently. Demonstrations at booths only work if you have enough space to comfortably accommodate everyone and the demo is brief and easy to understand. The only demonstrations worth doing are those where the product or service demands it. Hand out gimmies in exchange for a business card. The novelties you select should support your organization's message and brand. Toys for the kids at home are fun, but a better strategy is to relate your premium to your services.
At the Show
Staffing. Calendar everyone's time throughout the conference from set-up to breakdown. If people don't follow the schedule, don't include them at the next show. A trade show is not a boondoggle; it involves serious expense, often exceeding $100,000.
It's easy to make a good impression—it's just as easy to blow it, too. Follow the basics: smile until your jaws hurt, use breath mints, control your alcohol intake at the social functions and always be nice. Attendees may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.
Booth basics. Do not sit, read, drink, eat or Blackberry in the booth—EVER. Never bad-mouth a competitor—you never know if the person you are speaking to may be working with your competitor (oops!). Don't ignore prospects by gathering in cozy clusters with your colleagues. Face the aisle—attendees want to see your face not your back. Go outside the booth to make phone calls. Never leave the booth without informing colleagues where you are going and when you will return. Be on time for booth duty! Others are counting on you. Pay attention to posture/body language. Crossed arms=please don't talk to me. Don't complain about the show or being there (I mean, seriously!). Be prepared, know the names and companies for current clients!
Know your 0:30/3:00. Practice your 30-second elevator speech and make sure everyone is on the same page in its delivery. Conference attendees often revisit a trade show booth they find interesting. You don't want your people delivering multiple or mixed messages. Develop a three-minute branding conversation that educates and engages the prospect. Don't feel compelled to sell, use the time to listen and probe. Be knowledgeable on current issues facing the industry and be prepared to discuss them intelligently and succinctly.
Qualify and close. Establish who the visitor is—decision-maker, influencer, competitor or supplier. Try to uncover their level of interest. Ask questions like: "Tell me more," but be careful not to cross-examine. Try to learn about their decision-making process. Are decisions made by a committee or is there a single decision-maker? Inquire delicately about the budgeting process and if the company sends out RFPs or conducts beauty contests. Ask what their plans are for the coming year and if they are planning on making any changes in their selection of outside professional service providers. Record prospect information immediately, even while they are there. Give them your business card and handwrite your cell phone number on the back so they feel you are available to them. To close, reduce eye contact (relieve the pressure). Communicate your follow-up plan clearly but don't promise what you can't deliver (time or materials).
Sign up for next year. If the show met or exceeded your expectations and met your business development goals sign up to attend next year's show while still on-site. Many times you can lock in lower rates and earn favor with conference organizers so that you are thought of first when special opportunities arise for greater exposure.
After the show
Record and respond. Create a custom database of contacts made at the show and send out thank-you notes to everyone who stopped by your booth. Obtain the final attendees list and send out email or regular mail to all attendees NOT included in your custom database, offering them the opportunity to be added to your mailing list or your email distribution list. If you plan on returning to the event next year, let them know that you hope to see them there. Ask every attendee to submit a "next steps" document or action plan that requires any post-show follow through. Eliminate knowledge gaps through thorough debriefing.
Keep your promises. Follow through on all commitments made formally or casually by your professionals and other booth staff. Follow up on all leads generated at the show by sending a handwritten note or making a phone call. Avoid sending emails or generic letters to personal contacts made. Demonstrate how much you value personal business relationships by treating each individually and with personal attention. Follow up quickly—the sooner you make contact the more your organization will stand out from the pack.
Trade shows can be an incredible source for business development if you plan ahead. Choose your venue with care and do everything in your power to stand out at the show.