Today I visited a small wine conference in northern California. I collected a lot of marketing collateral that I will probably not read. I might, but I might not. Of the 30 or so booths I visited, six of them knew who I was when I left, leaving about 24 who didn’t. Only one person took my email address.
So, I got a huge stack of expensive brochures, they got nuthin. One person even sneaked (snuck?) up behind me to slip a brochure into my bag without even speaking to me. Weird.
As an exhibitor passing out brochures seems like a logical part of the process. After all, people take them and seem to actually want them.
Trade Show Samurais, however, know better. They know that passing out brochures willy-nilly is a total waste of time and money. Here are my reasons:
So, you will be handing out brochures that will wind up in the trash at great expense.
The Trade Show Samurai knows that when you had somebody something- anything- it usually marks the end of the conversation. For this reason it is good to hand out something cheap, like a business card instead of an expensive brochure. Ending the conversation is good. It means you can move onto the next prospect instead of wasting time with the current prospect.
Capture the data and then
I can’t tell you how often I hear someone say, “we were way too busy to collect any names at the trade show!” Because their trade show booth was so full and they were so busy passing out tchotchkes, bragging about their product and handing out brochures they forgot that the point of the show was to generate leads.
Many of these people lie to themselves by thinking that the show was great because they were able to connect with so many people and pass out so much stuff. This is not true.
Not long ago I surveyed visitors to a booth for a wine company. The main feature of the booth was a wine tasting and I asked people as they came out of the booth which wines they tried and how well they liked them. Very few could remember what they had tried. In fact, I’d say around 5% of the people could tell me the names of the wines. Most of them scratched their heads and pointed in the direction of the table where they had stopped. “We had a white one, I think it was at that table. Oh and a red wine too, or maybe we tried two red wines…”
Keep in mind that we were talking to people within minutes or seconds after coming out of the booth. People have a pretty hard time keeping names and faces and companies straight. Think about your own experience. Have you ever just met someone and immediately forgotten their name? A trade shows we meet dozens, if not hundreds of people. There is simply no way we are going to remember everyone. Even if we loved the product and want to buy it there is a good chance we will forget the name. It’s up to the company to follow up and remind them.
Exhibiting at a trade show is about generating leads for your company. Always take the time to collect a lead card for attendees. A packed booth is no excuse for not collecting names. In fact, a packed booth is the best excuse for collecting names. If you are a properly trained Trade Show Samurai you should have no problem moving through the crowd quickly and capture the right information.
Not capturing is a horrible waste of an opportunity. Don’t trick yourself into thinking that a happy attendee will come back to buy. You must pass good leads to your sales team if you want any real sales.
I hate them, yet I’m irresistibly drawn to them: I did a little research. They are Spanish and they are called Churros because they look like a sheep’s horn. I guess Churro is Spanish for a sheep’s horn. Yum!
Unfortunately, when it comes to trade show fare, a Churro is among the pinnacle of excellence. I think there is a law that says in order for a food to be allowed on a trade show floor it must have at least two or more of the following criteria:
4. Coated in sugar
If you are the type of hopeful who thinks “I’ll just get a salad at the show,” think again. Given the two-criteria rule above your salad will probably be cold, which is good, but it will also be soggy, which is bad. Using the above criteria Pizza (a popular choice) will also be cold and soggy as will hamburgers. French fries will be fried, but also soggy. Chicken will also be fried, but it will also be cold. Not the good kind of cold fried chicken, the bad kind.
This is why you see so many tasty things that are fried and coated with sugar. Hence, Churros.
The Trade Show Samurai packs a lunch.
If you’ve ever had kids, you know that the popular culture tells you to use a “Time Out” rather than a spanking when kids misbehave. Deep down you might really feel like laying the smack down on the toddler when they paint on the living room furniture with your wife’s make-up brushes, but you know that that type of discipline has been proven time and time again to be ineffective. Thus, you use the Time Out in hopes that your child will get the message and turn into the little angel you know he should be—the kind of angel who never cries and changes his own diaper.
There was a time when spankings were considered the right form of discipline. I can remember being spanked as a child by my father whose hands were the size of pothole covers and just as hard. Nowadays, the Time Out has all but replaced spanking as a form of child discipline. They just work better. That is, they work better if you do them right. If you don’t do them right you will wind up in a fierce battle of wits with your child which will certainly result in years of therapy for both of you.
Doing a Time Out “right” includes some fairly well-documented structure that includes the following steps:
Tantamount to a Time Out is the parent’s ability to not only observe the right steps in the right order, but also to maintain calm in the heat of battle. Calm but firm, no arguing or talking, just follow the rules. Failure to skip one step or losing your temper can turn the whole thing into an exercise in futility that will likely backfire.
Trade Show Samurai-style strategy is similar in many ways. First, it works better than spankings. Attendees hate to be spanked and it rarely starts a relationship off on the right foot. It’s also better than traditional Dog & Pony-style strategies that have been in use for decades.
Skip a step or do them out of order and the interaction may not turn out the way you had hoped. Do it right and you will capture a good lead that is ready to hear your message.
Trade Shows and Time Outs are all about behaviors. The structure may seem awkward or even unnecessary, but without it the program just doesn’t yield the best results. You may find yourself smacking your kids or smacking conference attendees, do this and you’re headed for trouble.
This is what Trade Show Samurai do not wear.
Fitting in and not being seen at a trade show is quite easy. Simply don what is known as “Trade Show Camouflage.” It will keep you hidden from pesky attendees who might want to talk to you.
When most of us attend a trade show we do a lot of talking. Talk, talk, talk, talk. Talking is good, but talking has a cost for both the exhibitor and the attendee. The cost is time. Time is a finite resource on the show floor and the more you talk, the more time you use up.
Trade Show Samurai-style strategy limits talk time to about three to five minutes by focusing the topic of conversation to uncovering any potential sales opportunities. In other words, the talk is about finding a common ground, taking a few critical notes and then moving on to the next person. When you talk this way, you ensure that you and the attendee will have time to talk to lots of people and, thus, uncover lots of opportunities.
However, the typical trade show booth staffer “gets into it” with attendees. They talk about their products, their company, their services, features, benefits, common acquaintances, the weather, parties and all sorts of other things that chew up time faster than squirrels in a wood-chipper. This sort of talk should take place off the show floor. You or your sales team will have plenty of time after the show to follow-up and chew the fat with potential customers. During the show, however, the more you talk, the more opportunity you leave on the table.
The urge to engage in time-wasting talk with trade show attendees can be overwhelming. You may find someone you like or someone you think might be a good prospect for your company. You can’t hold yourself back. You are giddy with excitement and want to start moving that person down the sales pipeline immediately. If you do this you will kill your show. It’s a sad day. Poor dead trade show…sniff.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but you are in a constant battle with time on the show floor. Battling time will require all your cunning. The Arts of the Trade Show Samurai will help you develop the skills and the discipline to battle with all your might.
The practice of hiring “Booth Babes” is quite common in the trade show industry and one might think that a nice set of melons goes a long way to attracting visitors. I have noticed that some of these Booth Babes are friendly and smiley and do a pretty nice job engaging attendees of all types on the show floor. The problem is when they open their mouths.
Booth Babes have a lot of experience being hot, but little or no experience with your company. Therefore, when someone starts talking to them it becomes immediately obvious that they are clueless when it comes to knowing about your product or services.
Here is how an ugly Trade Show Samurai would stack up against a super-smoking-hot Booth Babe:
Bottom line is, we’ll take the Pepsi Challenge with any Booth Babe any day of the week. Trade Show Samurai deliver more than a pretty face.
It seems that the predominant trade show strategy for exhibitors is the Dog & Pony version where they display their products, pass out tchotchkes, drink coffee and attend parties or events. These shows are great. They are lots of fun. Success at these kinds of shows is expressed in terms of feelings and emotions as in, “what a great show!” Or, “we heard a lot of nice things about our new products,” or “the booth looked great!” Dog & Pony Trade Shows have a lot in common with vacations and holidays. This isn’t to say that they aren’t a lot of work (they are), but they focus on socializing, schmoozing, and fun.
Contrast this with Trade Show Samurai Strategy. This is where the booth is staffed with disciplined Trade Show Samurai who are hell-bent on collecting leads and uncovering valuable sales opportunities. These shows are a rush. The feeling of extreme productivity is infectious not only for the Trade Show Samurai, but also the attendees. The busier the Trade Show Samurai are the more attendees flock to the booth just to see what’s going on. Success at these shows is expressed in quantifiable terms such as the number of leads generated or the overall cost per lead (CPL). Even the parties and events are discussed in terms of the opportunity they uncover. The pinnacle of success is called Trade Show Nirvana.
Both strategies are at opposite ends of the trade show strategy spectrum even though both are at intended to increase sales. Both strategies involve both work and fun.
More and more, however, the Dog & Pony strategy is becoming harder to justify financially. Company managers and executives are increasingly sensitive to return on investment and the Trade Show Samurai strategy produces quantifiable results that are much easier to justify.
As a Trade Show Samurai, I see Trade Show Nirvana as the best of both worlds. I get to enjoy the show and show my impact to the bottom line. Achieving Trade Show Nirvana isn’t impossible. It requires that you and your fellow booth staffers learn the ways of the Trade Show Samurai and that you apply the skills you learn with discipline and consistency. Getting the best of both worlds is entirely within the grasp of literally any trade show exhibitor. You can even bring a few dogs and ponies if you want.
A small company with a 10’ x 10’ booth staffed with a couple of well-trained Trade Show Samurais can beat an established player with a $150,000 booth and an army of salespeople when it comes to cost-per-lead and here’s why: I recently spoke to the sales manager at a well-established company that makes pans and things out of aluminum foil. It’s a company I know quite well; I’ve seen them at the International Housewares Show many times. They always had a well-appointed booth, but it was hard to tell who is actually working the booth because they are not very good at engaging attendees.
I was talking with them about the Trade Show Samurai training program.“No, no, no, no, no…” he said abruptly, “we’ve been doing this for 50 years. If we’re missing something someone’s going to get fired.”
Most large, established exhibitors think they nail the show strategy every year. They believe they are maximizing its value. Many of them believe that they already have the whole market, and that may be so. However, by not properly engaging attendees they are probably missing out on opportunity to up-sell and cross-sell existing customers. When it comes to leads, existing customers make much better leads than non-customers.
Smaller, newer, hungrier companies are much eager to collect lead and are much easier to turn into Trade Show Samurais. They listen, learn, practice and execute like masters. It is for this reason that they can outperform the “establishment” every time.
At the end of the trade-show day, the number of qualifiable leads you bring home is the most concrete measure of your success. Beyond that every other measure is a “feel-good” about how you did. Leads, whether they are from current customers or potential customers, are the barometer for success. If you are open to this concept the sky is the limit. The salesperson I spoke to is, indeed missing something.
The most challenging thing about consulting in the trade show world is spelling the word “tchotchke“. Really, what kind of nut case invented that word? I think it has alternative spellings like “chochkies”. It’s kind of like the word “Czar” which can also be spelled “Tsar” as in “I am the Tchotche Tsar.” What an honor.
I met the guy who owns the domain name www.tchotchkes.com. I wonder if anyone can get there by entering the name directly into the browser.
Here are some alternatives that you, the Trade Show Samurai, can use instead of the word tchotchke:
The word, apparently, is similar to a modern Hebrew word that means slut.
Passing out sluts from your trade show booth is a sure way to generate some traffic.