I’m just back from Baltimore where the fall weather was delightful compared to the wet September we had in Florida.

I walked the entire show and saw many interesting things, but there were three that made me cringe:

Hiring an actress: it’s understandable to want to interact with as many booth attendees as possible, but you want quality interactions. Many exhibitors hire extra booth help through a local temp service. These attractive individuals are there to greet suspects.* This is can be cost effective since this person doesn’t require housing or after work entertainment.

But to be effective from a marketing perspective, your objectives must be thoroughly thought through, and you need to spend some time training the ‘spokes model’. The situation that alarmed me was the attractive young woman who offered to scan my badge (without qualifying me) and that by being scanned I was promised “samples” would arrive at some future date.

There are problems with this approach:

  • I was not a qualified buyer; perhaps a consumer but that wouldn’t justify the expense of sending samples
  • Sending samples via UPS or USPS is expensive; give them out indiscriminately at the show if your intention is to sample everyone.
  • Which samples might be of interest have not been determined
  • If such samples are not sent, I’m going to remember this as an broken promise

So define your trade show policies and train your booth staff (temps and employees) regarding:

  • How to ask a few qualifying questions.
  • What to say to suspects.
  • Who should get a brochure and/or price list.
  • When to (and how to) turn a lead that shows high interest over to a company employee who is better able to answer questions.

Often we leave most of this to chance, expecting people to use common sense even if they have no experience.

Don’t just tell: I watched an exhibitor repeat her elevator speech 3 or 4 times to the same attendee. “Non-GMO, gluten free, dairy-free, nut-free” etc. As if the potential lead was going to respond differently on subsequent repetitions.

A more thoughtful approach:

  • Greet the attendee: a simple “Hello, thanks for stopping by.”
  • Give your 30 second elevator speech.
  • Turn the spotlight on them and ask questions.
  • Listen and evaluate the responses!

Have 3-6 questions you can rely on as ice breakers. If you repeat the same question, other prospects who are still within earshot will hear you and they will no longer feel special. You want this to be conversational, not like a grilling.

Some suggestions include:

  • Tell me about your business.
  • What brought you to the show?
  • Have you seen anything like this at the show?
  • What is your best seller in this category?
  • What would we need to do to be successful in your store?
  • Are you the person I should follow up with?
  • When is the next category review?
  • What distributors do you use?

Be believable: I stopped to chat with a professional-seeming entrepreneur who gave “too much information” when asked, “How’s it going?” His response, “We’re in 6,000 stores and will be in UNFI next month.” Sorry, but I had a hard time believing a new product got into that many stores in 1.5 years without UNFI. I suppose it’s possible, but I’ve worked with many specialty companies and I’ve never seen it done.

So skip the hyperbole.

Additionally, you might be tempted to name drop, but learn who you are talking to first. As a buyer, I might not want you to be in a discounter, a supermarket or a mass market chain. You don’t know what I consider good or bad distribution, so be careful.

Trade shows are expensive marketing expenses. Make every dollar count!

Note: *A suspect is someone we think might be interested in our product (for example, they are an attendee where our customers congregate so they might also be a potential customer). A prospect is someone who we have qualified as a potential customer by asking questions and gotten affirmation that we have something that might work for them.

For the complete guide on trade show pros and cons, click here for Have The Most Successful Trade Show Ever