A Nice Trade Show Dojo

When the booth staffers look like a team, they act like a team. However, there is often great resistance to booth uniforms, especially between genders, generations and management levels. Women don’t want to wear what men wear and senior managers don’t want to wear what their lowly subordinates wear. Likewise, “old-dog” salesmen don’t want to wear what the young whipper-snapper marketing dude is wearing. This conflict is either resolved by compromise or it’s not resolved at all. However, looking like a team doesn’t mean you all have to wear a logo-polo shirt and khaki pants.

The key to looking like a team is to coordinate colors and styles and, if possible, embellish a little with branded elements. If your corporate color is red, for instance, men can wear red ties and women can wear red scarves. The wayward Gen Xer can wear a red polo shirt or whatever. The point is everyone coordinates and looks like they are part of the program.

TridenteHere is an excellent example that I came across at the Exhibitor Expo in Las Vegas. The company, Tridente, is a trade show exhibit company in Spain. Notice that while they aren’t wearing the same uniform, they both coordinate and look like a team. Many of the exhibitors at the expo had their act together which is the least I would expect from an event that was made up of people who specialized in trade shows. There were a few instances where the pitch was weak, but for the most part it was quite well done.

Tridente did a couple of other things well too. They were passing branded poker-chip key chains making your tchotchkes a souvenir of the trip rather than strictly a business promotion is a nice touch. This isn’t to say they couldn’t benefit from a little Trade Show Samurai training, but it was nice to see a company with such a thoughtful approach.

If Trade Shows Were Toilets

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.

What Time Outs and Trade Shows Have in Common

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:

  1. Warnings
  2. Placement in the Time Out spot
  3. Explanation of why they are there
  4. Observing proper time limits (usually one minute for each year of age)
  5. Reminding of the why they are their
  6. Asking for an apology
  7. Hugs and kisses
  8. Back to fun

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.


The Tao of Tchotchkes

Years ago I owned a company called Bananagraphics that, among other things, supplied tchotchkes to people who wanted to pass them out to every Tom, Dick or Harry who came within spitting distance of their booth. I love them, they are essentially toys for adults (not to be confused with adult toys).

The best tchotchke I ever got was a Skype headset. It’s very nice and I use it when I do webinars. (My webinars are epic, if you haven’t already attended one you should.) The headset says “LivePerson” on it. That is either the brand of headset or there is a company called LivePerson. I’m pretty sure it’s the latter, although my ownership of the headset isn’t really compelling me to go check it out, even though I’m writing an article on the subject. The bottom line is that these kinds of things do not generate sales. Sorry.

There are two other problems with tchotchkes, besides their not generating sales. The first is that the word itself is a pain in the ass to spell. The second is that trade show exhibitors use them for the wrong reasons. They use them to lure people into their booths, like a carrot.

Using tchotchkes like carrots is problematic for two reasons. First, it’s an insult and second you lose the opportunity to use it for a better purpose- to end conversations.

Think about it. You are attending a trade show to learn all the great things an industry has to offer. To imply that you are there for anything other than intellectual and professional simulation is an insult and for me to stand in my booth passing out tchotchkes is tacky. Everybody does it, but that doesn’t make it right.

The best use of tchotchkes is when you are finished with the conversation with an attendee. When you do that it helps bring closure to the discussion and it acts as a little thank you for spending the time. Now the attendee can leave feeling good about the interaction and put your tchotchke in the trash with all the other tchotchkes they will collect at the show.

Trade Show Samurai on the show floor turn over attendees like pancakes. Every few minutes they will be ending one conversation and starting another. It is essential to be able to end the conversation smoothly, quickly and respectfully. This is called the Art of Disengagement and a little tchotchke is almost perfect, a business card is perfect, but if you must have tchotchkes at your booth, use them properly.

Trade Show Camouflage

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 Talking Kills Trade Shows

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.

Trade Show Lead Zappers, the Blessing and the Curse

Trade Show Lead ScannerOne of the biggest challenges faced by companies who employ a Trade Show Samurai-style strategy at the show is handling what can be an overwhelming number of sales leads. Mild-mannered employees will generally bring back only a small handful of leads if they bring any back at all. A Trade Show Samurai, on the other hand, will bring back hundreds or even thousands of new leads.

The first barrier to handling all those leads is data-entry. It is time consuming, boring, and runs the risk of never getting done which means all those great leads may get stale on the shelf. Many shows offer lead-zappers where you simply point the zapper-thing at the barcode on the badge and when it beeps you have an instant lead! Hooray! But wait—this isn’t enough. The electronically captured lead is worth slightly more, not much more, than a business card. The only thing you really know is whether they stopped by your booth long enough to get zapped. This won’t help your sales staff do much in the way of setting priorities. The other problem with zappers is that they can be expensive to rent and exhibitors make the mistake of only renting one to save money.

Lead zappers can be a great tool if you follow the following rules:

  1. Rent a lead zapper for every Trade Show Samurai in your booth. You don’t want to have to drag people over to the place where you keep your zapper and you don’t want to have to wait to use it.
  2. Zap more than just the badge. Many zappers will let you zap other things and append it to the information of the most recent badge-zap. This allows you to pre-define some characteristics and set them up before the show. Remember the lead card? If so, the information on the card can sometimes be structured so it can be zapped.

Lead zappers can be awesome tools if they don’t get in the way of the Trade Show Samurai’s work. If you can capture qualifiable information, don’t bother.

I often recommend clients use a lead-capture kiosk which includes a data-entry program and a laptop. Kiosks could also be a place to keep a badge zapper.

Bottom line- if you can make a badge zapper work for you then go for it.

For more information about lead retrieval systems check out this blog.


Trade Show Leads, the Essential Ingredient

A fish bowl of leadsA fishbowl filled with business cards is what most companies bring home from trade shows. The sales people may go fishing in the fish bowl to find a recognizable name or two, but for the most part the business cards are worthless. They are worthless because they have no meaning. How do you value one business card over the other? If you have 100 business cards should you call every one? If you are a busy sales person chances are about 100% that you have better things to do than cold call names from a fishbowl.

What salespeople want are qualified leads. A qualified lead generally means that the lead represents a real sales opportunity. The lead shows interest, has money, is ready to buy, etc. However, in order for a lead to be qualified it first has to be qualifiable. A qualifiable lead is the essential ingredient for a lead. It is the 5-10 attributes that will allow you to rank-order the lead in terms of potential sales opportunity.

I used to work in the college admissions industry. We sold lead-generation services to colleges. The best potential customer was the dean of admissions at a mid-size, private liberal-arts college in the Midwest that already used the Internet for recruiting students. The worst potential customer was a lowly admissions counselor at a very large, public college no matter where they were.

So, the attributes that were important were:

  • Title of contact
  • Tax status of the school (public or private)
  • Location of the school
  • Size of the student body
  • Their use of the Internet for recruiting

With these five simple attributes I could assign a score to each lead and rank order it. When I was at this company we staffed our booth with Trade Show Samurai and brought back literally thousands of lead cards per year—far too many to handle with our small sales force. It was no problem, we simply rank-ordered them and gave our top potential leads to the team. The others we included as part of our lead-nurturing program and we called them when they showed interest.

The difference between a business card and a highly qualified lead is the qualifiable information you collect. With it you have a sales feast for the sales team, without it you have fish food.

Trade Show Samurai vs. Boobs

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:

Trade Show Samurai vs. Booth Babes

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.

Three Reasons Why Chairs Kill Trade Shows

Trade Show ChairTrade 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:

  1. Booth staffers will sit on them. When a staff member sits down in the booth they are not ready for action. They cannot assume the Trade Show Samurai stance and they can’t properly engage attendees. When a Trade Show Samurai is tired they simply leave the booth for ten minutes, sit down in one of the thousands of chairs outside the booth, take a quick rest, and then return to the dojo.
  2. Attendees will sit on them. Few things waste more time than an attendee who has parked themselves in your booth. They will feel slightly awkward and feel compelled to feign interest in you and your product long enough for them to catch their breath. These are Time Bandits and they should not be allowed. Once they sit down it is nearly impossible to apply the Art of Disengagement.
  3. Chairs get in the way. Trade Show Samurai booths are a flurry of activity. Every square inch of the booth is put to good use and it’s not a good thing to be bumping into furniture and other people. Engaging an attendee properly will require about 100 square feet of open space. If a chair is in the way you will inhibit your ability to stay in the zone.

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.