Trade shows, conventions – and other face-to-face events – are now an incredibly huge industry, and as such there exists a voluminous amount of online articles and other written materials. Personally, I have researched and written over forty articles on various trade show topics. Yet from all of the research I have seen on such events, I’ve learned that enjoying success as an exhibitor can be boiled down to five must-do actions, as follows:
1. Build a comprehensive master plan. The complete success of your trade show exhibiting experience hinges upon your planning. The better the plan is, the better the potential results will be.
- Include an event budget and schedule of expenses
- Use credible sources (like the Exhibitor’s handbook from the show sponsor)
- Include all show deadlines and self-imposed deadlines
- Include objectives, goals, and target numbers for the return on your show investment
- Include the desired location and size of your booth space
- Include a schedule of meetings and proper staffing and training for the show
- Include a pre-show marketing and promotional strategy
- Include all the logistics for the exhibit transport/shipping, installation and dismantling
- Include a plan for all of your ordering: the exhibit itself, literature, giveaways, prize(s), etc.
- Include creation and execution of any presentations
- Include hotel bookings, airfare, transportation, meals, etc.
- Include post-show tasks and follow up activities
2. Create a highly effective booth. The best trade show displays don’t just happen, they are thought out carefully, and executed according to a strict plan. Select a trade show professional advisor when purchasing your exhibit. Your trade show supplier should seek to help you genuinely, and gain a lifetime client.
- Research: Attend a few trade shows to see what competitors are doing that seem to be effective. Take a look at trade show providers (online) to see what is available that will work. Note: When you select a display vendor, be sure that their client support is top-notch and that they are interested in lifetime customers. Service is just as important as money matters.
- Graphics: The graphics chosen separate the best trade show displays from the lesser ones. At maximum, your trade show graphics must be a show-stopper. This is achieved by incorporating bright, bold, crisp, colorful graphics –the company logo is top center – with a clear and concise message. And that message should be directly in line with trade show goals and objectives.
- Space: It is proven that open and inviting space is very effective at pulling people in and retaining them for a while. It is fun to accessorize an exhibit, but you must avoid clutter and cramped space. Having chairs available is a huge plus; most attendees are on their feet for long lengths of time and you can offer the chance to relax a bit.
- Multimedia: Right from the start – during planning – you should be deciding on the use of multimedia, including TV/video, computers, projectors, and even music. Plan this from the start, not as a last minute inclusion. People are naturally drawn to moving images, and sound. Be certain that all screens and monitors are at eye level for the average person.
- Promotional models: There are trained professional models – male and female – that are specifically used for standing outside your booth and drawing people in. Often times they are not that expensive. This is a very nice touch for any quality exhibit.
- Kiosks: Kiosks are great for games with prizes, live demonstrations, presentations, and so much more. Again, this is a form of multimedia that is a natural attention-getter. Many of the best trade show displays utilize kiosks to grab and retain the responsiveness of attendees at the show.
- Giveaways: Free USB drives (“thumb drives”), food (if proper), pens, coffee mugs, calendars, and gift certificates for goods and services – are all excellent giveaways. Avoid putting your logo on throw-away items; stick with items that are retained after the show and that serve some function.
- Drawing: A well-organized drawing for a bigger prize is always an excellent event to include that will make your booth special and memorable.
- Common sense: Always do things that are in line with the trade show theme. For example, don’t put models in skimpy swimwear in a more formal trade show. A little common sense goes a long way.
- Know your numbers: Spending big dollars is worthwhile as long as you research thoroughly, plan well in advance, set realistic goals, execute the exhibit extremely well, do pre-show marketing/post-show marketing, and use a comprehensive follow-up plan. The return on your trade show investment depends on understanding your budget figures and projected goals.
3. Staff and train properly. One critical piece of a strong trade show master plan is proper training and staffing of your trade show display. This is easy to overlook because at first glance one might simply think all you need is one or two people to man the booth. Very often this is not true. There are several serious matters to consider.
- Use an entertainer or special attraction: There are magicians and other entertainers that specialize in attracting – and even helping to qualify – visitors to trade show booths. Or your staff might do a short skit or live theater to help capture traffic.
- Select staff that wants to be there: The people that operate the booth during the show are a direct reflection of your company. Choose outgoing and gregarious people who are sincerely interested in playing a role in the success of the exhibit
- Train well in advance of the show: Obviously your booth staff must be well-versed on the products and services being promoted in the marketing message. They must also know how to engage, qualify, gather leads, deliver presentations, etc. This training must begin plenty in advance of the trade show event.
- Have a morning meeting each day of the show: Huddle together and discuss how the effort is going, changes, new directions, assignments, goals for the day, and anything else.
- Get out in the aisles: It never fails that some of your best, most qualified prospects will walk right past your booth. Staff has got to get out in the aisles and engage passers-by.
- Engage, don’t observe: Observing the show from inside the booth doesn’t work; engaging, and involving people is what works.
- Assign areas: The show will go like clockwork when each person has an assigned area and tasks.
4. Gather only qualified leads. The end-run goal of the trade show is to gain qualified leads. Remember, it is quality, not quantity, which equals efficiency and best results.
- Opening line: Use an opening line like: “What brings you to the show today?” This forces people to stop and think, and is a strong lead-in to qualifying prospects.
- Use “BANT” questions (Budget, Authority, Need, and Timeframe): To discern a qualified lead from wasting time on non-qualified visitors. When appropriate and timely, determine what the prospect’s budget is, if they are a decision-maker, what exactly are their needs, and a timeframe for action.
- Use various “types” of questioning: there are pre-determined questions for qualifying.
- Branching (logical progression): Use pre-planned questions that establish a logical progression, moving the prospect down the qualification pathway.
- Closed-ended: Basically, closed-ended questions mean that you are proving specific options for the answer/response.
- Open-ended questions: Open-ended questions are most often used to learn more specific information from the prospect.
- Record or register lead information: Accuracy and completeness is the key to quality, qualified leads. Set appointments whenever possible. Make the process of registering leads as easy as possible for the prospect.
5. Follow up after the show. This is the time for earning a tangible return on the trade show campaign. The follow up strategy should be well defined in the master plan and executed promptly after the show. Hot and warm leads will go cold very quickly.
- Emails: Emails are one of the best ways to reach out because emails are un-intrusive and can be responded to at the convenience of the prospect. However, there must be a call-to-action mechanism built into the email(s).
- Phone calls: In general, phone calls are less effective than email because they are more intrusive and can be an annoyance. Phone calls can result in a non-ending game of phone-tag as well. If, however, there has been established a basis of familiarity or expectance, phone calls are most effective.
- Appointments: Often, emails and phone calls are used as a call to action and/or to set up the next contact. The best way to have the strict attention of your new prospect is through an appointment.
- Visit the lead personally: Announced and unannounced visits to a prospect – especially to take them to lunch or something – can be an effective way to turn a prospect into a client/customer.
The above 5 “must do” actions are only a starting place. These are only a framework upon which to build. Once again, the success of your trade show event is directly related to creating an all-inclusive master plan. All of these actions fit within the master plan. Plenty of more information exists on each of the above 5 actions; make the best use of that online information to maximize success.