As a trade show attendee I like to have my questions answered. I like to know how much things cost, what they do, what colors they are available in and all that kind of thing. Lucky for me, most trade show exhibitors are more than happy to hunker down and give me the 411 on their products. Good for me, bad for them.
When you, as the exhibitor, give in to this highly logical temptation to help your booth’s visitors learn about your products you are pissing away money. Rather than chit-chatting about your product you should be going through a highly rehearsed script and data collection process (be a Trade Show Samurai). By doing this you will be able to quickly determine if the attendee is a good fit with what you are offering or if they are a time waster. Either way, you will capture the right information and pass it onto your sales team for follow-up.
Remember, what you learn about the attendee is far more important than what they learn about you. If you learn the right things you can convert them to a customer. If they learn the wrong thing they may not come back.
Case in point: I was at the Strictly Sailing show in Chicago over the weekend. I was waiting to speak to a guy at a yacht club booth. I waited there why the man loaded up another attendee with a free tote bag, some stickers and a nice insulated cup. Five minutes into the conversation he learned that not only was the attendee from out of town, he didn’t even have a boat. He just wanted some free stuff. I, on the other had, do have a boat and I keep my boat in the harbor where the yacht club is located. When the guy finally got around to me he made the same mistake– loading me up with tchotckies before learning anything about me. My kids were so bored waiting that I had to move on before learning much. Too bad the club didn’t get my name and number so they could invite me to an open house or something. I’m about as good a prospect as they are going to get– but they will never know it.
Case in point number two: I took my kids with me to the show. They came home loaded with cups, a toys, and stickers, and candy, and expensive catalogs. My kids are three and six. Neither of them own a boat and they are both broke. Not good prospects. The booth people were nice, helpful and wasted a lot of money on my kids.
When we exhibit at trade shows we fool ourselves into thinking we are there to teach people about our products. This makes sense and sounds completely logical. The Trade Show Samurai knows, however, that we are there to learn, not to teach. Make learning about the attendees your priority and your show will be great.
Traffic flow is a major concern for most exhibitors. Much has been written about traffic patterns on the show floor and how you can position yourself to get the most traffic. Booth space is often chosen based on seniority meaning that the companies that have been exhibiting at the show for the longest get the first pick.
Getting a good spot at a trade show is important and I encourage you to get the best spot you can. However, at the end of the day a good Trade Show Samurai-style booth strategy will beat a good spot any day of the show. This is because how you and your staff act in the booth will have far greater impact on your success than anything else.
It is amazing what lengths people will go through to actually avoid doing the work of lead generation themselves. They will go to great lengths to lure people into their booth. There is some kind of assumption that you have to get the attendee to visit your booth and provide their lead information without you having to say a word. All you really have to do is engage, intrigue, inquire and disengage.
I’ve been to lots of trade shows—more than I can count—in all my experience I’ve never seen a spot with such low traffic that it can’t be overcome with a little Trade Show Samurai action. Attendees are walking by all the time. Unless you engage them you are flushing away the opportunity. If trade shows were toilets they would be flushing all the time.
Trade Show Samurais will often find themselves defending their trade against the tyranny of the status quo. Trade Show Nirvana is only achieved when all booth staffers have been fully trained and indoctrinated into the ways of the Trade Show Samurai and developed a mastery of the four core arts.
There are no relics of the Dog & Pony strategy that are more deeply ingrained than the chair. Chairs have been part of trade show booths since the beginning of time and you will find scant few examples of booths without chairs. Trade Show Samurais do not use chairs. There are three main reasons:
As a Trade Show Samurai I have fought this battle numerous times and numerous times I have lost. I learn to live with it and to work around it. The way of the Trade Show Samurai is to practice humility and patience for someday the others will see the light and someday they, too, will want to experience Trade Show Nirvana.
If you have ever been involved in a trade show, ask yourself this: how much time have I spent training for the trade show before the day of the event? Probably none. In fact, I’ve never heard of serious any pre-show training in at any company.
If a company does any sort of training at all it’s usually held in the morning on the first day of the event. They tell all the booth staff to meet an hour before the exhibit hall opens so they can go over a few “key messages” and go over some new products or how the spin-to-win game is going to work. Most people come late and miss part of it. They don’t have a problem blowing it off because they figure they already know it. This kind of training is the equivalent of no training.
It’s no wonder that trade shows are so ineffective for most companies.
Several years ago I was starting a new company which helps students find the right college. My partner and I visited the National Association of College Admission Counseling. I found a company that was already doing something similar to what my partner and I were planning. I spent almost two hours in their booth. I spoke to their President, CEO, CTO and lead investor in detail about their company, how their software worked, who their customers were, and even their sales and marketing strategy.
Why on earth would they spend that much time with a potential competitor instead of talking to potential customers who were walking by us as we talked? I wasn’t hiding anything. They knew I was a potential competitor. I guess they just liked talking to me.
So on the one hand you have people manning the booth who have no idea what to say; and on the other hand you have top-management spilling their guts to complete strangers!
It’s time to rethink the game.
I know Unions get a lot of flack, but I realize they are an important part of many people’s livelihood.
My gripe with the unions is that while they are well-trained and do a nice job, their contracts with the expo centers tend to be a hassle for the exhibitor when it comes to small stuff.
For instance, at a recent trade show about 20 boxes of supplies were delivered to the hotel and not the show floor. We stuck all the boxes, which were heavy, on one of those luggage carriers. We pushed it down the hallway to the entrance of the exhibit hall where we were stopped by security who said that we had to hire a union guy to move it the rest of the way. There was a two-hour wait for the workmen and a minimum charge of one hour or $75. Moving the cart from the entrance to the booth would have taken less than five minutes.
We would be allowed to carry the boxes, one by one, in ourselves; but we couldn’t use the cart. We had to lift one box at a time so it took two of us about a half hour to move the boxes in ten trips. We were nice and sweaty by the time the exhibit hall opened for business.
Moral of the story? I’m not sure. Maybe make sure your boxes get delivered to the right place?