Monday, January 16, 2012

TRADE SHOWS: WHERE CUSTOMERS COME TO MEET YOU!

Education never ends. No matter how much you know about anything there is always something else to learn. A little later this month I expect to help man a booth at the Can-Am All Breed Emporium in London, Ontario. Perhaps I will see some of you there. If so, maybe you can help keep me honest. I will be there March 17th and 18th at booth I 8

If you have ever worked a booth you know it can be very tiring and boring. At some stage you wonder if you really needed to be there as there are other (maybe better) opportunities to generate income and certainly more enjoyable ways to spend your time.

In fact trade shows are unique opportunities. Usually I am phoning people or occasionally visiting them. They are often busy and off guard. Many of them are really annoyed that I interrupted whatever they were doing and only wanted to sell them something that is pretty low on their priority list. At a trade show things are a little different. I am not interrupting them. Most of them are actually open to new ideas (or exploring old ideas). They are seeking information. In some cases they come quite a distance and there are always some I have been totally unaware of.

Before the Show

Think clearly on what you hope to accomplish at the show. Strictly selling, developing relationships, keeping up with your competition, increasing awareness of your products or company, educating the public or something else. Note the theme of the show and fit into it. Contact your established customers and any contacts to find who is planning to attend. Encourage them to visit your booth. Creating traffic this way helps develop traffic from onlookers who are curious about the attention you are attracting.

Planning for a trade show starts months ahead (even a full year). Selecting a show is a skill all by itself (more on that later). Once a show has been selected, mark it on your calendar and think of all the things you hope to accomplish. You will be limited in space, time and manpower. A check list is a must and you need to check that it is up to date.

Scheduling your preparations will better ensure a successful show. Those involved in the show need to know what is expected of them well in advance. Strategies need to be agreed upon. If you are doing demonstrations they should be rehearsed. If you are giving out literature it needs to be made available and perhaps customized. Signage, furniture, carpeting, and any props need to be made available and familiarized with.

Social media can spread awareness. To start off, link up to the show Facebook page and Twitter account. Find out if there is a hashtag and if not you could create one yourself. Let all your contacts know you are there, when and where. Keep up to date with social media developments.

You will need energy. If you are by yourself you can be standing for hours, perhaps talking for hours (over the din of a crowd). You need to be concerned about comfort and where you may feel it first is your feet. Comfortable shoes and a padded floor make a big difference. Food is also an issue that you will find trade shows normally provide expensive, relatively unhealthy food. Bring your own with your energy needs in mind, but avoid eating in front of visitors. Bad breath can be a problem that starts with your choice of food, but can be remedied with paste and brush. If you are out of town dining after the show should be planned for. Be well rested.

A solitary trade show exhibitor has a strong challenge, but needs to take a break. If you have more manpower at your disposal schedule the booth staff considering peak times, appointments and energy levels. A break can include scouting to see what others are doing, lunching with visitors or suppliers and perhaps developing alliances.  Or for a short time tune out your environment.

Booth design and location can be critical to success. Some elements of success include being well lit, having some motion in your booth, large photos. Do not barricade yourself in with tables. Location is something you may have little control over, but look for opportunities. It is sometimes possible to get a more desirable location if other exhibitors fail to show. The problem then becomes directing people to your new booth.

At the show

Arrive early. Make sure your booth is ready. Scout around so you are familiar with such things as eating facilities, common meeting areas, show management office, washrooms and other exhibitors (competitors, possible allies and even potential customers).

You can't talk to everybody, but everybody at the show is some sort of prospect. You will learn that most visitors don't want to hear a lengthy sales pitch. Many of your contacts may be compared to planting a seed that may take some time to grow. Others could be an instant boost to your business. Often you have only a very few seconds to get their attention. To avoid missing opportunities you should not sit down, you should minimize talking to booth staff or doing chores. Those walking by may not even notice you or think you are too busy to bother with.

A simple question can work wonders. "What brings you to this show?" One that worked for me is "where are you from? " Do not go into a sales presentation before having an idea of what their motivations might be. "Do you have any concerns that we can help you with?" If any interest is expressed ask if they would like more information or a demonstration. Try to capture some contact information and awareness of relevant concerns. This can be done by holding draws or asking them to fill out a lead card. Offer your contact information. Engage them as much as you can within the limits of time and space.

Shows seem to be famine or feast. Unavoidably visitors join other visitors in the midst of one of your presentations. Some people just like to avoid too direct a pitch while others are attracted to whatever is interesting to others. You have to bear in mind all parties, but the first visitor should be respected. You can let the other person join in, but you may have to repeat yourself. You can start from the beginning, but that could (or might not) irritate the first visitor. Or you can offer to repeat your presentation (or deal with other concerns) after finishing this one. Ideally your booth is manned with enough people to minimize this situation.

Literature and samples are areas of concern. Show management get upset because visitors will often accept literature to be polite and then dump it when they get out of sight. Samples are sometimes mistaken for stolen items that security guards may question your recipients about. Both literature and samples are expense items and although there is truth in the value of numbers you should be selective. Offer to mail or email literature. Samples to me are an ideal opportunity to follow up so requesting contact information is appropriate.

At some point it becomes important (for both of you) to disengage. You are there to engage with as many people as practical as they are to soak up information from as many exhibitors as practical. A simple question "is there anything else I can help you with at this time?'' Thank them for their time. You might point them to other booths of interest which might enhance you as a source of information.

Respond during the show (not missing opportunities to meet new people) as much as possible. You can email from the show (or shortly after the show) an acknowledgement of their visit and commit to another contact as soon as practical after the show. If you are able to personalize or deal with specifics do so.

Activities to generate more traffic might include dealing with other booths that are complementary. Use twitter or Facebook to announce special reasons to visit your booth. The old stand by of candies or nuts still has some value, but try to be unique. At one booth where we were selling an orange smelling cleaner we gave out orange candies that drew traffic and linked to what we were selling.

Phones are very useful, but can be a danger. You do not want to be interrupted when talking to a visitor who might be very transient. If you are by yourself you should limit time to deal with incoming calls relying on voice mail as much as practical. If you check with your office during slow times you might head off problems coming from the outside. By all means use your phone to put out messages to those at the show. Don't forget the show's hashtag to reach a wider, but focused audience.

After the show

Do an assessment as soon as possible while details are still fresh. You are looking for what needs to be done in the way of follow-ups, but also figuring out how you could have done better in preparation for future shows, particularly if you repeat this same show. This is an excellent time to update your checklist.

The real evaluation of the show is an ongoing process. In my data base there are two areas where I am careful to record relevant details (in addition to all the standard contact information). Under every contact record I note the original (and sometimes supplementary) source which likely would include some new prospects met at the show.   On the contact log I also have an abbreviation for the show including the date so I can later trace who I met at particular show. I also include people who I merely waved to as that can be part of a future conversation. "Sorry I didn't get a chance to talk to you. I hope you enjoyed the show." Such information makes following up easier and evaluation more meaningful.

In some cases you made sales or had contracts signed at the show. For many of us, the sales are after the show and often take more effort to develop. If you are able to measure sales to specific clients it will provide an important measure. If not, perhaps you can relate the show to your overall sales. Go back to what you had hoped to accomplish. Can you measure any of that? Did you get a few benefits you had not expected? Every experience should be a growth experience.

So your decision to go back to the show (or not) should factor in the results. You will also find talking to visitors and fellow booth holders that they recommend different shows and can often give you sound reasons. You are unique so do not get carried away with advice of those with a different agenda, but don't ignore them either. Traditionally trade shows are held in a slow part of the year, but your timing might be just a little different.

The photo at the top going from left to right is Kelly Bowers, Barry Finn, publisher of The Rider and myself. Once again, I will be at the Can-Am All Breed Emporium at Western Fairgrounds in London Ontario on March 17th and 18th at booth I 8. The booth will look something similar to the one in the photo.

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