Optimising Tradeshow Success.

By Paul Quinn, © 2003

Here are eleven tips to help you maximise the value from your next tradeshow appearance:

1) Set Objectives

What do you hope to achieve from exhibiting at the tradeshow? More sales leads, greater PR exposure, attention for a new product, raised brand awareness, or expansion of your contact database? How will these objectives be measured? The number of resumes received? The number of interviews conducted? The number of placements made or job orders received?

Once decided, write down and communicate each objective to staff, set a budget and assign responsibilities so staff know what role they are expected to play in making the tradeshow a success.

2) Send Personalised Invites

Contact your prospects 2-3 weeks before the show with a personalised invitation that lets them know how a visit to your booth will benefit them. Research by the American Trade Show Bureau reveals that up to 45% of attendees come to an exhibit because they were personally invited, received a letter from the company, or saw an ad in a trade journal. Be sure your potential customers know you will be exhibiting at the show and give them tangible reasons to come and see you.

3) Screen Prospects

Develop a script and booth layout that your staff can use to quickly screen out people who are of little or no value to your organisation. For example, at a careers fair you could set up three different greeting points within your booth - one for Grads, one for candidates with 1-5 years commercial experience, and one for candidates with 6 years+ commercial experience. This way each group is made to feel like they have someone that specialises in their needs looking after them, and more importantly, your more experienced staff members can focus on looking after the prospects with greater potential value to your organisation.

4) Your Greeting

Research has shown that greeting customers with a line such as: "Hello - have you used our service before?", as opposed to "Hi - may I help you?" will increase sales by between 10 and 16 percent. If customers answer "No", you can say, "Great. We've created a special package for people just like yourself who haven't dealt with us before. Let me take a minute to tell you about it." Likewise, a similar response can be crafted for people who have contacted your company previously. This approach gives you a great lead-in to open a meaningful conversation and minimises the "just looking thanks" responses.

5) Stand Up And Be Counted!

Over 90% of interpersonal communication is non-verbal. If you are sitting down at your booth, your body language is screaming, "Go away! Leave me alone! Don't bother me!" To be more welcoming, you should instruct your staff to be standing and smiling whenever they are at your booth. (Needless to say, this means they should also wear comfortable shoes.)

6) Put Your Booth Design To Work

Your booth doesn't have to be the flashiest on the floor but it does need to draw the eye. So, make sure that you use simple and appealing graphics and large, bold images. Remember to use the entertainment factor with caution; a magician may help attract people to your booth but will it reinforce your agency's reason for being at the show in the first place? Also ensure you don't block the entrance to your booth; position tables and stands so that they draw people further in as opposed to shielding your sales people from your prospects.

7) Sponsor The Showbag!

Be quick - this simple tactic is extremely effective but typically only available to one sponsor. By plastering your logo, website address, and even a special offer to tradeshow attendees all over a giant plastic bag handed out at the main entrance for people to carry their loot in, the showbag serves as a walking billboard for your company both during and after the show.

8) Giveaways

All too often agencies needlessly invest in giveaways such as pens and mouse mats in an attempt to stand out from the crowd … only to find that every second booth is offering the same thing. If you are going to give something away to visitors to your booth - make sure it is both relevant and valuable to the person receiving it. Perhaps consider giving away useful information as opposed to merchandise. For example, an agency specialising in placing lawyers could provide the latest salary information or statistics showing the demand for various practice areas. Another idea is a laminated card printed with your logo and website and a useful list such as "Ten Ways to Get That Pay Rise" or "Ten Common Mistakes Contractors Make."

9) Code And Rank Your Leads

Why not ask your staff to make an initial judgement call on prospects and then 'tag' each resume or business card you receive with a 'hot', 'warm', or 'cold' code after the prospect has left your booth. This way after the show you can quickly identify and contact the 50 candidates who are most likely to result in a sale as opposed to laboriously wading through the 1,000s of resumes you received trying to remember who was worth talking to.

10) Follow up

If you haven't planned any time to follow-up the leads generated at the tradeshow - don't bother attending - because it is at this stage that relationships are sealed, customers are developed and sales are closed. Follow-up should happen within a week after the show closes. Wait any longer than that and you might as well forget it, because people won't remember who you are or why they talked to you in the first place.

11) Measure Your Results

Measurement starts during the tradeshow.

i) Walk around the exhibition floor and take note of the traffic patterns - which booths are people flocking to? Where are they positioned?

ii) Note down competitors' activities and the response received from their visitors using the same criteria that you created for your own exhibit evaluation. Jot down successful ideas that they have implemented, then consider these elements during your next tradeshow brainstorming session.

iii) Gain feedback from attendees - ask them "How does our booth compare?".

iv) Ask staff for feedback - what worked well? What didn't? What else should we have done?

v) Evaluate the leads generated and measure the number converted to sales.

vi) Finally, compare the results to the original objectives you hoped to achieve from attending the show.

In conclusion

Tradeshows have been around for many years and yet the full benefits that can be gained from attending a show are often not maximised. Agencies often attend tradeshows 'because we have always been involved' or 'because our competitors will be there' or 'because it's a good brand building exercise'. This type of approach almost always guarantees that the participating agency misses out on the extra business that tradeshows can generate because their booth has not been developed with a sales target or a strategic objective in mind. This can easily be overcome and tradeshows can begin to deliver more value, simply by following the tips outlined above.

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