Optimizing Tradeshow Participation

A True Exhibition (of Marketing & Sales)

As a marketing and sales representative for several clients as well as my own businesses, I find myself attending and/or exhibiting at several tradeshows or conferences throughout the year. The events that I visit span many different industries and vertical segments that have, over the years, included risk management to musical instruments to high tech and consumer electronics, to name a few. No matter what industry supported, one thing that is constant, however, is the format for participation among vendors, the exhibitors or sellers, and intention of attendees, the buyers. Each vendor/exhibitor confidently displays products or services with their best sales and marketing foot forward. Attention is given to every detail as potential customers lurk among the fray. Buyers/attendees with special interest in the industry at large, peruse products or services with a specific intent to learn more and ultimately, buy! There really is no truer exhibition of sales and marketing medium than tradeshows. (Informal definition of marketing & sales revisited “Marketing hooks em and sales reels em in.”)

The objective for exhibiting at a tradeshow is quite clear – Secure the attention and interest of qualified prospective buyers. Engage them. Generate a qualified lead and/or initiative a sales relationship. Close a deal/order. Do all of this very efficiently. Then, quickly, move on to the next opportunity. Let’s take a closer look at each piece of this process in hopes that it helps you optimize your participation and results at your next tradeshow event.

1. Secure the attention and interest of qualified prospective buyers

There are a few important words intentionally included in this subhead. Certainly generating attention and interest is important and can be somewhat easy. We’ve all seen the oh-so-commonly used squishy balls, pens, candy, booze, barely-clothed assistants, celebrities, contests, children’s’ toys and other ‘swag,’ as it’s commonly referred to—used in and around booths for the opportunity to just have someone, hell, anyone, stop by and, by chance sway their interest into the event-relevant product or service. However, securing the attention and interest of “qualified” prospective buyers is not so easy. To do this more effectively, consider:

  • Pre-planning questions that pre-qualify a booth visitor and then relay that visitor to the respected sales person and/or executive.
  • Generate a pre-show VIP list of accounts or industry-known buyers where it’s a priority that immediate attention is given or a top sales person is assigned, should they make way into your booth (you may only have one shot and their time is valuable. In addition, it’s likely they will be visiting your competitors before/after you – so don’t lose out on the opportunity to sell them!)
  • Frontload your event by setting up meetings in advance of the tradeshow with qualified prospects

2. Engage prospective buyers

It’s one thing for qualified prospective buyers to show up in your booth and for you to recognize that. It’s another to engage them effectively. To do this:

  • Arm yourself with relevant questions and/or statements about the product or service you are offering. Remember to sell with features yet lead with benefits. Speak with them and not to them.
  • Be efficient, courteous, professional and helpful. Show you grasp the industry and understand the needs of customers.
  • Take them through demos, testimonials and/or display product/service before-and-after shots, as necessary. The best sales people are storytellers. So quickly tell a story.
  • Be efficient (I know I said that several times already) with your approach. Unlike a phone call or in-person presentation, there are several distractions at a tradeshow. Your time to engage is limited. Be effective and precise with what you want to accomplish and know when to cut loose (remember the scene from Jerry McGuire where Jerry and Sugah were calling clients upon their business divorce. Jerry lost several opportunities, as he was not efficient and focused on only a few which took longer than he wanted or expected). Don’t. Waste. Time.

3. Generate a qualified lead and/or initiate a sales relationship

Tradeshows for vendors is about (no drumroll necessary here)… Selling. The attendees know this and so too do the other vendors, your competitors, all vying for attendees’ time.

  • Do not be afraid to collect the contact information of qualified prospective customers/attendees.
  • Initiate a sales relationship with an opportunity to follow up after the event. A simple, “May I have your card or can I take down your contact information to follow up with you after the show” usually works. Be sure to ask “How and when is best to contact you?” Be clear with your intentions and suggested next steps “I’d like to personally show you product/service (XYZ)…” or “I’d like to learn more about how we can help you…” Keep good notes for show follow up (I like to write on the back of business cards of the people I meet so I recall our conversation and can easily follow up with next steps upon my return)
  • Set up an appointment if given the opportunity. If you don’t sell them on the show floor, it’s likely that once you’re in their office or in another setting you will. Tradeshows are a great springboard to making this happen.
  • Be selective with how you generate and qualify leads. Soliciting business cars via a contest may get you a lot of attendees’ contact information but may take you (or your salesperson) unnecessary time to weed through those who are not qualified buyers or interested in your product/service at all… In other words, think through your sales cycle and the process before you execute a lead generation tactic, as it could be inefficiently counter-productive.

4. Close a deal/order

If a sales opportunity exists during a tradeshow, do not hesitate to ask for the business and close the sale. Generate an order.

  • Have the necessary order forms, sales processing and/or other mechanisms in place to finalize a transaction and/or process an order.
  • Get the necessary signature and/or provide a receipt of some sort so there’s no confusion that a transaction or order has taken place (I’ve seen buyers forget which competitor they actually purchased from).
  • Follow up in a timely fashion finalizing the deal. Leave no chance for confusion, remorse or a sudden change of heart.

5. Move on to the next opportunity

It’s a numbers game and tradeshows are an opportunity to reach a large audience in one spot with buying intent; couldn’t get much better than that, right? Seize that opportunity and move through as many as you can. Be aware that sales and activity may go in spurts with more/less popular days and times, buying patterns and/or schedules. (Did I mention? “Be efficient”)

Last but not least, measure your return on each tradeshow. Analyze what you did well and what you can improve upon next time. Try to scale your efforts and test different techniques and tactics for optimal response.

Tradeshows, when used effectively, can be your most efficient and productive return on marketing investment. Exhibit wisely!

About the Author

Angelo Biasi is General Manager of SMART Marketing Solutions, LLC, a leading full-service integrated marketing company in Florida and New York since 2001. He has helped create and execute marketing plans and integrated marketing solutions for companies such as Playtex, Bic, Rogaine, Tauck, and over 35 colleges and universities, to name a few. Angelo has an MBA in Marketing from the University of Connecticut and teaches Marketing at New York University where he has for over six years. He has been quoted and/or featured in USA Today, Mobile Marketer magazine, Mobile Commerce Daily, Luxury Marketing magazine, BNET TV and Business Currents magazine, to name a few. For more information or to learn more, email him at abiasiatsmartmarketingllcdotcom  (abiasiatsmartmarketingllcdotcom)  , visit www.smartmarketingllc.com, call him at 239.963.9396 and follow him on Twitter @angbiasi.


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