We put together the specific trade show skills that we have found to be highly effective and efficient in pulling off events that actually bring results. These skills are not the easy things anyone can master (such as wearing comfortable shoes, and keeping meals and snacks away from your booth). No, these are true skills – techniques that require thought, practice and aptitude. These trade show skills have the power to separate you from the other exhibitors, enabling you to get the most out of your trade show experience.
Know Your Goals.
Before you begin any planning your trade show, ask yourself or your team, “What are we trying to accomplish?” Do you want leads, awareness, customer relationships, market leadership, product introduction or something else?
Stand and Deliver.
Never never never sit down behind a table. Get out front with the attendees. If you must have a table for whatever reason, push it to the side so you can greet visitors. Your company is paying thousands or tens of thousands for you to be there. Make it count.
Get the Face Time.
Nothing is better for selling than face-to-face interaction when it comes to trade show skills. A trade show is the ultimate opportunity to get lots of prospects and customers in the same room. Don’t squander the opportunity. Take full advantage of it.
Everyone wants to get the best location on the exhibit floor, but you can help attract attendees in other ways too. Use unique color schemes, striking graphic designs, overhead banners/signs, or raffles. This is a also good opportunity to use social media to help achieve your goals.
Define Your Target Prospects.
Define who you want to meet at the trade show by title and function. Then, search for them in your database of past trade shows, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. Mail them an invitation to meet with you at the show. Then send an e-mail. Follow up with a phone call.
Know your trade.
Be certain everyone representing your company (at the booth, in meeting rooms, on panels, etc.) is up to speed on your goals at the show, and is familiar with your products/services. Each morning, meet over breakfast and share information about questions people ask at the booth, what competitors are doing, etc.
Point Out Your Coolest Feature.
The old adage is, “features tell, benefits sell!” This is right most of the time, but you can make an exception for trade shows, where you are competing for attention. As an attendee, when you walk through a trade show with 100 different booths, what do you talk about later? It’s the booth with the coolest feature, whether it be the booth itself or an unusual giveaway. Cool features grab attention.
Substance Trumps Flash.
Once you have grabbed the attention of a prospect using your cool booth feature or giveaway, you can only make them stay if you have substance. Be clear when you tell people exactly what you do and, more importantly, why you do it better than the other guys. Be simple. Be specific. Be definitive. How can you solve their problems?
Divert a River; Don’t Dam It Up!
Have one of your staff stand out in the aisle and move attendees to the booth (divert traffic). Use your cool feature or giveaway as the hook. Then the rest of the staff can determine whether s/he is a good prospect. Please, don’t sit behind the desk and call out to them; it’s like building a dam. Attendees get frustrated when they can’t move.
Be Assertive, Not Aggressive.
Assertive is somebody who is willing to introduce themselves to or talk with anybody who walks by; aggressive is somebody who won’t let them leave and won’t let them get a word in edgewise. You want to engage a person in conversation to see if further interaction might benefit your two companies. But you don’t want to put them off; then they’ll leave even if they need your product or service. It’s a very fine line, so be sure not to cross it.
Plan WAY Ahead.
Thanks to on-site trade show services available at most venues (printing, furniture and display rentals, etc.), you can pull together your booth presence in a matter of days — for a “small” fee. However, the inflated prices you’ll pay will take a bite out of your budget. In order to save your expo budget and have a competent trade show presence, you should start preparing a minimum of six to eight months before the event… minimum.
Brief and Debrief.
Fighter pilots are briefed prior to a mission, engage in the mission, then meet afterward and are debriefed so they can learn and improve. Names and ranks are on Velcro patches on their flight suits. When the pilots walk in the debriefing room, they tear off their names and ranks and leave them at the door, enabling blunt, honest, forthright communications, without repercussions. After the show, learn from everyone from the newbie to the expo veteran.
Be Dramatically Specific.
If you give statistics or case studies, don’t use round numbers; they seem made up. When you tell people about your technology, tell them 58.7% improvement in contact rates by calling with local caller ID. Do not say they will improve by half. When you set an appointment, say 10:50 on Friday morning at the bottom of the entry stairs. Do not say let’s meet around eleven in the entry way.
Follow Up Immediately.
Don’t wait until you return from the show, if at all possible. Most people do just that and, again, you’ll get lost in the shuffle with the rest. Have the team start keying in business cards right at the show, and finish up that night in the hotel rooms. Ideal is to move people to a meeting room and follow up in real time; next best is to set appointments right at the show for the days following the show; and minimum is to get the business cards into the system and follow up that night with an email, LinkedIn connection, and a phone call the next day.