Published on Trade Show Exhibitors Association (http://www.tsea.org)Home > AboutFace Newsletter > Twelve Steps to Exhibit Success: A Primer for Planning your Exhibit Marketing ProgramTwelve Steps to Exhibit Success: A Primer forPlanning your Exhibit Marketing ProgramAuthor: Margit B. Weisgal, CMEImage: firstname.lastname@example.orgA CEU-accredited Article(as featured in the TSEA/UNLV-Accredited Trade Show Study Program )Twelve Steps to Exhibit Success: A Primer for Planning your Exhibit Marketing ProgramYou are smart. You are very smart. You have chosen to use exhibit marketing to help your company be asuccess and attain its goals ? and you have chosen to learn as much as you can to make it work. Exhibitmarketing is the most cost-effective means of reaching customers and prospects; it reduces the buyingcycle; it allows you to reach hidden buyers. Most important, though, is that it can reduce the cost of a saleby as much as 75%. Even with all this information, exhibiting is nothing more than marketing in miniature.?With all the new technologies out there, we have, unfortunately, built more barriers and become moredistanced from our customers. They are greeted with recorded messages on our phones; e-mail is nothingmore than a throwback to the Victorian era of letter writing ? faster, but not as personal. We ask customersto visit our web sites, but we rarely spend the time to really get to know them. People do business withthose they trust, like, and respect. That means connecting on a personal level, something only a face-to -face meeting can engender.An exhibition is the only marketing vehicle that delivers a pre-qualified buyer to you.To succeed, you need to have a plan, to know where you?re going and what you want to accomplish.Exhibit success is in the details, making lists, checking them twice and refining them for each show inwhich you participate. Seventy-one percent of all exhibitors have no measurable goals or objectives oreven a written marketing plan. Deciding in advance what you want will make your journey that mucheasier. And by following this 12-Step Program you will create your personal road map to success.Exhibiting is circular ? and cyclical. When you finish Step 12, you?re back at Step 1. THE EXHIBIT MARKETING CIRCLE
1. Define Your Situation 7. Integrate Current Advertising 2. Identify Your Target Audience 8. Develop Pre-Show Promotion 3. Research & Knowledge 9. Design an Exhibit 4. Set Measurable Goals/Objectives 10. Plan the Follow-Up Program 5. Involve Management 11. Involve and Train Your Staff 6. Strategies & Tactics 12. Measure Results & Make $$$Step 1: Define the SituationIn business plans, this initial phase is usually referred to as a situational analysis. It is the basis for all theother steps. Before you can go anywhere, you need to know where you are. A simple analogy is definingthat you are in St. Louis and want to go to Chicago. If you don?t define St. Louis as your starting point, youcould go in circles. And if you don?t define Chicago as your destination, you could end up in New York orLos Angeles. You would be moving, but would it be in the right direction?Some guidelines to creating your situational analysis or definition are: Who are you? Tell about the company, what you do and how you got there. How are you currently positioned in the market place? Include your past and current marketing plans and promotional programs. Who are your competitors? The more you understand your ?neighborhood,? the easier it is to define what sets you apart. Most important, what are the benefits of your product or service? What makes you unique compared to others in the arena?Step 2: Identify Your Target Audience(s)Draw a picture of your customers. Also known as a demographic analysis, start with your current customerlist. Most of those you sell to have similar characteristics: small business, large business, multiplelocations, number of salespeople or personnel, territories, to name a few.You might have several audiences that your product(s) and/or service(s) appeal to. For instance, acompany that makes decals has several audiences; they range from bumper stickers for the promotionalproducts industry to product labels for a multitude of manufacturing concerns to car decals for automotivedealers. This list is just the beginning so they exhibit at a variety of trade shows. Other companies migh thave only one product or service, so it is much simpler to define those to whom they wish to market.Ask your salespeople to assist with this information. They usually have a good handle on defining your
current customers and prospects and their particular attributes. As you move forward in this process, you?lllook for additions to your client base that resemble your collective accounts. Involve marketing andadvertising since, in order to do their job correctly, they?ve already done some of this homework.Another facet of defining your target(s) is to specify the job titles of those who buy from you. Often, thereare several layers of people who get involved in the decision to buy, so you want to itemize as many aspossible. Even if, in the normal course of business, you find these people hard to reach, they will probablybe available to you at a trade show. If you know who you?re looking for, when they show up you?ll beprepared.A study done at Baylor University discusses the fact that ?hidden buyers? can be uncovered at tradeshows. As mentioned above, 83% of the visitors to an exhibit were not called on by a salesperson in thepast year. Because of downsizing, retained employees now wear multiple hats and time they would haveused in the past to meet with prospective vendors has all but disappeared. Trade shows allow them tomeet with and compare vendors in a shortened time frame and with far less hassle.Some guidelines to defining your target audience(s) are: Examine your current customer base and list similar characteristics. Also include current prospects. Detail job titles of those who are involved in the purchasing decision. Include those who initiate the purchase, specify the components and the influencers. Get support from your sales staff, marketing, and advertising.Step 3: Pre-participation ResearchMy first foray into trade shows came about because a customer said, ?Why don?t you exhibit at the XYZshow. I buy from you so others probably will also.? Off I went to buy a booth. Not exactly a scientif icapproach. For many companies, large and small, the decision to exhibit is a knee-jerk reaction. It?s bee ndone for years, so signing up to exhibit again is automatic. But since change is a fact of life, you should re -examine shows periodically ? at minimum, once every three years - to verify that they are still worth theinvestment. Even if you feel it is still worthwhile, maybe you should modify the amount of space you arebooking. And if it?s a show in which you haven?t participated in the past, you should look at it with adifferent perspective. First forays should usually be small to test the climate.Some guidelines on pre-participation research for ?new? shows are: Request an exhibitor prospectus from show management. Is the management experienced, reputable, and financially sound? Associations produce many industry-specific shows but others hire a separate company. A third group are for-profit events. Attend the show the year before you plan to exhibit and verify that this venue and the attending target audience will be good for you. Call some of your customers and ask which shows they attend. Is this show on the list? Ask if the show?s numbers were audited. Do they break out, with separate figures, attendees and exhibitors, or do they lump everyone together? One show producer counts visitors every time the come through the door; three days produces three times the actual number of attendees. Look closely at previous years? exhibitors. Are your competitors there? Are there some exhibitor s (non-competitive but in the same industry) you can contact for additional information? Where is the show taking place in relation to your market? If your company is national, does the show draw a national audience or a more regional one?
How does show management promote attendance? Be specific. Are the seminar program offerings relevant to your customers? Is there an option for you to present a seminar?Some guidelines on pre-participation research for existing shows, in addition to the above, are: Take a look at your show schedule. Are all the shows really necessary? Is the size of the current exhibit space really necessary? Ask show management for a breakdown of attendees? job titles. Are they what they used to be? Is the audience still comprised of decision makers? Does the seminar schedule reflect visitors? needs and concerns? Are you still getting a decent return on investment (ROI)?Step 4: Set Goals and Measurable ObjectivesLet?s start with a couple of definitions. Goals are the broad, long-range attributes that a business seeks toaccomplish; they tend to be general and sometimes abstract, stating the level of desired accomplishment.Objectives are more specific targets of performance, commonly addressing such areas as productivity,growth, and other key aspects of business. Their characteristics include: specific, attainable, measurable,realistic, and challenging ? and most important ? timely!In doing research and evaluating the effectiveness of each event in which you participate, the taskbecomes daunting because there are no benchmarks against which to measure and compare. Over 70%of exhibitors have no written marketing plan for the business, let alone one specifically designed for theexhibit program.If you have goals, you can better analyze your exhibit participation and determine whether or not it isworthwhile to continue. Another benefit is that goals provide a basis for everything else that follows. Youcan involve your staff in your plans so each person contributes to making the exhibit productive; it alsoprecludes staff from having ? and following - their own personal agendas.Most goals and objectives are sales related. This doesn?t necessarily mean you?ll write orders on theshow floor; at many shows, this is not even allowed. And the definition of a ?sale? varies. If you knowwhere you?re headed, a trade show ?sale? or ?close? is any action that moves you forward toward asuccessful conclusion. For example, an appointment for a full presentation at the prospect?s home officewould be considered a very successful ?sale? at a show.You can, though, measure the number of qualified leads (I repeat, qualified!) you get from the show and, ifyour company is willing, you can also track a lead through to the close. Some businesses? sales are high -ticket ? amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and sales are often made every few years, notannually. A reasonable objective for them is to maintain contact with prospects to ensure that when thetime comes, you?re still in the running for the job.One non-sales choice is to set contact goals. This number is predicated on how many people you can seeduring the show hours. Repeatedly, exhibitors get caught up in show management?s numbers rather thantheir own. If there will be 25,000 people at the show, that?s nice but irrelevant because no matter how busyyou are or how large your exhibit, you?ll never see them all ? nor do you want to. You want to pick yourniche audience as defined above.Most exhibit staff can see between seven and fifteen people per active hour each, depending on howcomplex the discussion needs to be. So if you have two staff members, you?ll see 14-30 per hour; if you
have 20 staffers, you can visit with 140-300, and so on. But not all hours during a convention are active. T oset contact goals, take the number of staff people (per shift ? not total), multiply by the number of showhours, and then multiply by five. This is your base number. Once you have actual data from each shown iwhich you participate, your own numbers take precedence. One warning about using contact goals: eachtime you speak with someone at the show, be it visitor, friend, colleague, or competitor, or even if you givesomeone directions, they all count towards the total.Here are some guidelines for setting goals and measurable objectives: Use contact goals: # staff (per shift) x # show hours x 5 = contact goal. Modify when you hav e your own data. Set sales-related goals, e.g., number of qualified leads (about 20% of all contacts made) or dollar amount of at-show or post-show sales. Involve your staff and let them know in advance what your expectations are for the event. Make your goals realistic. They should be attainable. Depending on what products/services you offer, and which event, you can have multiple goals and objectives.Sample Goals and Objectives: Demonstrate new products or services Meet buyer face-to-face See buyers not usually accessible to sales personnel Uncover unknown buying influences Showcase technical support personnel Shorten buying process Make immediate sales Qualify buyers Introduce new products or services Demonstrate non-portable equipment Identify new products or service applications Obtain product or service feedback Conduct market research and competitive analysis. Reach customer at low cost per call See top management personnel Target market by type of attendance Target market by function of attendance Introduce new promotional program Create more contacts per sales person in short time period Pinpoint low-cost personal selling opportunity Create high return-on-investment opportunities Introduce company to market Meet customers not normally called upon Reposition your company in a market Generate qualified leads Generate prospects Make more sales calls Promote technical benefits, data, or features
Step 5: Management Support and InputOne of the greatest barriers to a successful, effective exhibit marketing program is lack of managementsupport. Although rarer today than twenty years ago, there are still companies whose senior managersdon?t understand the benefits of trade shows or how to do them properly and, consequently, don?t offerassistance in making the program work. Often this problem arises because of past experiences. In th emanager?s past life, he/she worked a trade show booth where there were no goals, no objectives, and thestaff wasn?t informed as to why the company was exhibiting. In the 1980?s, shows were viewed as a placeto party hearty, not for work. This has obviously changed especially given show-related costs.But if this is a situation you face, part of your job is to bring management up to date. CEIR (Center forExhibition Industry Research: 312-808-2347) and TSEA have numerous publications and data about theviability of trade shows as a selling venue.You can also train your management.A colleague is currently facing this problem. Both the president and VP of Sales for the division prettymuch hate trade shows. At a meeting with the VP and a couple other people, he stated in no uncertainterms that he thinks trade shows don?t work. After seeing the company performance at a show, I agreed. fIyou do them badly, they don?t produce results; if anything, they leave a bad taste in visitors? mouths.Since the company is committed to booth space over the next year, I made him a proposal. Do it right for ayear and then reevaluate the situation. He agreed ? for about a week. When the next show rolled around ,he reneged on his support. Sometimes you can?t win. Fortunately, this situation is a rarity.Some guidelines for gaining corporate support are: Do a survey of management to find out where they stand with regard to exhibit marketing. Collect information on the benefits of exhibiting. Provide a report to all senior managers that includes your survey results and the benefits you?ve collected. Be specific as to why your company should be there. For each show on the schedule, create a binder, with copies provided to management, of data on the audience, a mission statement, goals, objectives, tactics, and strategies. Include staff work schedules and get their superiors to sign off. Also set up a means to compare objectives to results. Evaluate booth staff members, not only for a single show, but for all shows. As you collate these evaluations, you can institute an award for best booth staff. Peer pressure through competition is very effective in generating active, effective participation.Step 6: Strategies and TacticsOnce you?ve determined your goals, it?s time to develop your strategies - a road map of the tactics andactions you draw up to fulfill your mission, goals, and objectives - and tactics - a list of action items on howyou?ll reach them. For instance, if you have an objective of reaching 250 current prospects, your strategymight be to do a pre-show invitation to visit the exhibit. The corresponding tactic would include the detailsof the mailer and, if appropriate, a thank you gift.In creating this list of action items, you need to determine in advance which products and/or services you?llhighlight and present at the show. You can?t be all things to all people, so take a close look at thedemographics of the expected audience and figure out what will most interest them. An excellent place tobegin your product selection is with the seminar program. Titles and subjects usually reflect current issuesvisitors face. If your product/service supplies a solution, focus on that. Whatever you choose, the
perspective should be that of the audience. Often, we select items that we want to push, not what thevisitors want (or need) to buy. You can also use your research from existing customers and theirresponses on which shows they attend to select product.For each objective you?ve chosen in step 4, you will formulate a strategy with its corresponding tactics.These actions are the substance of your exhibit marketing plan. You have many options ranging fromnumerous promotional strategies such as direct mail, promotional products, and various print mediathrough to live entertainment in its many forms. More will come in Steps 7 and 8 when you enumerate thedetails for your promotions.Some guidelines for setting strategies and tactics are: For each goal or objective you set (for each show) determine what strategy you?ll use to reach it. Combine strategies and tactics to save money. If you do many events, you can create strategies/tactics that can be used at all of them simply by changing the show name. Reflect current audience needs in choosing products/services to promote or display.Step 7: Integrate Current Advertising and Corporate CommunicationsOne extremely important facet of marketing in general and exhibit marketing in particular is to have aconsistent presentation. It sounds far easier than it is to accomplish. Although trade shows are primarily aselling venue, you don?t want to lose any awareness and recognition of your company by altering thevisual portions of your presentation. Factors include the use of your logo and corporate colors, currentslogans or tag lines that are part of your outbound message to prospects and customers and the overallcorporate image. Many studies have shown that your company gets bored with its advertising a whole lotfaster than the people who see it. Changing it every five minutes might keep you interested but this lack ofuniformity will lose you your audience.To apply this to exhibit marketing, you need to take a good, hard look at all your marketing messages.Ensure they are in line with current corporate communications. Although you might use a differentmessage in your graphics, one that is specific to the target audience at that show, the theme shouldremain the same as what you?re using elsewhere. Even something such as uniforms for your sales staffshould reflect corporate colors, not colors that are currently fashionable.Guidelines for incorporating marketing communications messages are: Review current advertising campaign slogans for incorporation into booth graphics. Review industry-specific advertising and marketing for messages to show audiences.Step 8: Develop Pre-Show/At-Show PromotionOnce you have decided to exhibit at a particular show, it is up to you to decide which visitors you want tosee. Hoping the right prospects or customers will walk down the correct aisle, see your graphics and enteryour booth is leaving your future to chance. The odds are slightly better than getting struck by lightning, butstill not great.At small shows, you can do a minimum because visitors tend to walk the entire show floor. Even so,walking does not equate to visiting. Visitors (for all size shows) tend to enter between 25-40 exhibits for adiscussion. Your job is to get into that group.At big shows, you really need to do something. And, if done correctly, that ?something? allows you to
compete with all the other exhibitors, both large and small. Here, as in the rest of your exhibit marketingprogram, consistency is necessary. Use the same messages to promote your company as you useelsewhere.Your promotional effort begins with deciding on whom you want to reach. Current customers, currentprospects, and selected visitors from the pre-registration list make up an excellent ? and the best - targetaudience. Existing customers should be contacted because the easiest person to sell is someone who isalready buying from you. (Your objective would be to sell them either a product upgrade or additionalproducts/services.)At a minimum, some form of direct mail should be used to target your audience. For a reallycomprehensive selection of all your promotional options, read my book, Show and Sell: 133 BusinessBuilding Ways to Promote Your Trade Show Exhibit , AMACOM, 1997. A free promotional option is thelisting in the show program. Those 50-75 words allocated to each exhibitor offer you a chance to stress thebenefits of working with you, not just a list of your products. And if you?re introducing something new at theshow, contact the media prior to the show to make appointments and leave a press release in thepressroom. You can usually get a list of media in attendance from show management.For other promotions, using promotional products is recommended. No, not the ?stuff? you leave on acounter for the scavengers to collect. These items should be included in what is called a ?two-part?promotion. You mail one piece ? a postcard, a coupon, a survey ? to your audience and when therecipients bring this piece to the booth they get a reward. Of course, the gift is only presented after they?vebeen qualified ? no matter whether or not they are a potential customer. After all, they?ve acted the wayyou wanted them to act, so they get a prize ? and you?ve trapped information about them for the future.In doing promotions, I often got a 63% response ? outrageous when you consider that most direct mailgets 1-3%. One promotion we did (and really inexpensive) was an invitation to our exhibit with a fishingtheme. Inside copy read ?if you?re fishing for new prospects, we?ll be the best catch of the show.??If you?re including advertising in show publications or industry-specific journals prior to the show, don?t ?please ? take an existing ad and stick a star burst in the corner with ?visit us at booth 123 at the XYZshow!? These ads usually have all the specifications for your product or service listed. If visitors can ge tthe information they need from the ad, why should they come talk with you and allow themselves to bequalified? Position your company as an answer center, solving problems the target audience is currentlyfacing. Your message should be along the lines of ?if you have this problem, talk with us for the bestsolution.? This helps pre-qualify the audience.There?s tons more you can do: games, drawings, live talent, mini-plays are just a few. Some are reallygreat ? and some awful. Make sure that, whichever option you select, it enhances and supports thequalification procedure. After all, that?s why you?re at the show.Some guidelines for pre-show promotion are: Choose promotional objectives to be used and decide on what action you want to happen as a result. (Example: For direct mail, do you want recipients to bring the mailer to the booth?) Select your target audience based on the physical number of people you can see. Set your budget. Determine themes for copy. This should be reinforced in exhibit graphics. Set a time-line for implementation. With direct mail, you need to have in a timely fashion the list, printing, addressing, collating, mailing (allowing three weeks for bulk mail) and, if you?re doing it,
telephone follow-up to set appointments. Determine measurement standards. If it works, you want to repeat it. If it doesn?t, figure out wha t went wrong so you don?t make the same mistake twice.Step 9: Design an Exhibit to Support Steps 1-8After show-sponsored seminars, I offer one-on-one consulting to participants. One gentleman who was aprincipal in a distributorship representing twenty different lines asked me to visit his booth. When I arrived, Icouldn?t believe what I was seeing. Grabbing his arm, we marched down the aisle thirty feet, looked at hisexhibit, and I asked, ?What the heck are you selling in there?? He was so busy telling people what theyshould buy, he never looked at what he was trying to accomplish from the visitor?s perspective.In another situation, three exhibit houses produced designs for a large corporation. They worked with theexhibit manager to incorporate the goals for the show. At the meeting with the big boss to determine whichdesign to go with, the boss announced, ?I like the blue one.? Another instance of ?sometimes you can?twin!?Your exhibit is nothing more than a backdrop, a stage set, to showcase the actors (your staff). Its purposeis to pre-qualify visitors and invite them to have a discussion. Booths don?t sell; people do. Make this se twarm and inviting, a place people want to enter. Don?t block your space with a table ? it?s just anotherbarrier. Don?t have so many signs with lots of unreadable copy that your message doesn?t get through.?When you design your exhibit, figure out how you want visitors to behave. There are only about eight basicdesigns; everything else is a variation on or combination of them. Do you need demonstration areas? Or amini-stage for a performer? A seating area? Are visitors going to visit multiple sites within the space so yo uneed to allow for flow? Good exhibit houses will ask you these questions prior to developing a design.Some guidelines for exhibit design are: What types of products will be shown to visitors? In what types of shows will you exhibit? What results do you want from your efforts? Themes or messages you want to convey? (Are these the same as your regular marketing and advertising communiqués? What image should the booth convey?And last, when you set it up the first time, walk out. Walk away from the exhibit about 30 feet and lookback, putting yourself in the shoes of a visitor. Now what do you see? Is this how you want others to se eyou? Be objective.Step 10: Plan the Follow-Up ProgramAccording to some experts, 80% of exhibitors never follow up on trade show leads. Can you imaginespending thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars and then not doing anything? Without a follow upprogram in place youve wasted all the money you invested in doing the show in the first place. Whenanyone requests a follow-up call or information sent, they judge your company by your response. So if youdont call or send the literature when you said you would, you lose all credibility. Years ago when attendinga trade show, I asked for information to be faxed immediately because I had a deadline for providinginformation to my customer. Of the three companies I contacted at the show, only one responded when itsaid it would. The other two went on my "dont ever use" list. I asked. They said they would. They didnt. Icannot trust them. And thats the message that gets through when you are not responsive: "We dont keep
our promises."When you, and everyone else, return from a show, your desk is piled high with messages, mail, and thingsto do because you were away for a week. So you start by going through all that stuff and returning phonecalls and answering letters and finishing reports and making sales calls... and when do you take care of theshow leads? They end up at the bottom of the pile. By having a program in place before the show begins ,you are assured that your promises are kept.Hot leads should be answered personally - preferably with a phone call. Others can be sent a letter. N omatter what, though, everything should go out of your office within two weeks. Many companies overnightor email the leads back to someone in the home office so response can take place during the show.No matter what, this database should be kept for one year and contacted throughout that time period - untilthe next show. People attend trade shows for two primary reasons: buying needs for this year; andlearning needs to make purchases next year. If its the latter, then they should become solid prospects atnext years show. It is your job to re-qualify these people and verify that you are still on the list of vendorswhen the time comes for these companies to make purchases.This also explains the cyclical nature of trade shows. They dont end until the leads close or they go off thelist.Some guidelines for follow-up are: Pre-set follow-up procedures: write cover letters, assign data input responsibility. Letters should go out within ten days. Mark calendars for follow-up phone calls. Calls to hot prospects and existing customers should be made within a week of return from show. Have a form for reporting back results of follow-ups along with a deadline for returning the information.Note: If you did a good job on your pre-show promotion, you can deliver the `gift to customers andprospects after the show noting you missed seeing them at the booth. This makes your sales call `warminstead of `cold - a good excuse to drop by and chat.Step 11: Involve and Train Your Staff?...formalized trade show training is necessary to achieve even adequate booth performance.?Jeff Tanner and Marjorie Cooper of Baylor University did a study of exhibit staff performance and theresults were downright scary.In preparing for the study, they divided the attending audience into three categories: Aggressive ? people who were really interested in the product or service and came into the booth, across the invisible divider between the aisle carpet and the exhibit space, eager and ready; Curious ? those who stayed at the edge of the carpet but evinced interest; Passive ? aisle walkers who sort of stopped and looked.The exhibit staff closed (for ?close? read interacted and qualified) passive visitors at the same rate asaggressive visitors! In other words, the staff really didn?t engage these aggressive visitors, people whowere really, truly interested, almost at all.
Another result was that informal training was actually worse than none at all, usually because the people infront weren?t credible. Outside experts are perceived differently. Your staff knows that person is being pai dthe big bucks so they tend to pay attention.When you provide training ? any training - for your staff, you create a team that buys into your reasons forexhibiting and you eliminate what could become a tug-of-war. This tug-of-war occurs because, withoutguidance and direction, your staff people develop their own agendas, decide for themselves what theyshould be doing at the show without regard to your expectations. The end result is a more consistentpresentation by everyone at the show and no surprises.Staff updates should be sent out prior to each event. They should include the following information: Duty Roster and Shift Schedule General Show Data (hours, days, set-up) Show Goals/ Objectives Booth Attire (if you?re doing uniforms, ask for shirt sizes) Pre-Show/At-Show Promo (provide samples) Advertising Plan Seminars presented at the show for visitors, especially ones that address situations for which you have a product or service solution Competitive Analysis assignments and the form they?ll complete Booth Layout Lead Form Sample Press Information VIP Attendance Pre-Show Meeting InformationGenerally, you?ll send out a minimum of two updates, one about six weeks prior to the show so you canorder uniforms and make adjustments to duty schedules, and one about two weeks prior that also listshotel and contact information.When you do the training, the agenda should include the following: VIP Introductions (this gives the participants a heads up that they should listen and learn. (Use the highest ranking corporate person you can find.) Business Unit Information (focus on the benefits, not the specifications) Seminar Information (if you can get your staff into them, even better) Training Badge/Uniform Distribution Booth Visit (walk through and show everyone where things are stored and the location of various demo stations).When I do a training session, the biggest problem is getting the staff to learn to listen first and presentsecond. An excellent dialogue in a booth consists of learning first what brought the visitor in, why s/he isthere, and his/her needs or objectives for the product or service. You also want to find out if the person is adecision maker, influencer, specifier, or initiator. By getting answers to these questions before yourpresentation, you are then able to position anything you say so as to be relevant to the person in front ofyou. You?ve also done a good deed. People love to talk about themselves. You are letting them,. Allyou?ve done is gotten them to talk about stuff you want to hear.
When you create your in-booth dialogue, your objective is to learn at the same time as selling andinforming. Start by writing down what would you like to know both to qualify potential customers and learnenough to make a sensible proposal. Opening questions might include geographic location, job title andfunctions, applications needed, market served, and future plans?Next, write open?ended questions that solicit the information. These are questions that get your visitorstalking. They can not be answered using a simple "yes" or "no." (Most of these questions include one ofthe following words: who, what, where, when, how, why.)Select the questions that qualify prospects. Use these at the start of your conversation and then elect to goon or close out the contact quickly. Way too often, booth staffers spend time with people who don?t have aneed for your products/services. You?re looking for the princes among a whole slew of frogs ? and yourjob at the show is to meet as many frogs as possible to find the princes. (At a recent training session,everyone started referring to the frogs with a sound - rrbbt. It carried over the next day in the booth.)Now, list the benefits or applications of what you are offering. These should be a series of shortstatements. People buy what something does for them; the product is what gets them there. And you reall yhave to answer the implied question by the visitor: ?What?s in it for me?? Practice blending yourbenefit/application statements with the open-ended questions that solicit information. Make a statementfollowed by the next question.Once you?ve got this opening sequence written, use role play with other booth staff members to practice.This whole process sounds simple; in practice, it is far more difficult and needs to be rehearsed a fewtimes so it becomes second nature. By the way, once you?re at the show and use this, you?ll find after thesixth or seventh person, it gets easier.Now you?re ready for the closing. Ask for an expression of interest within five minutes. You also wantotget an agreement: ?What is the next step, after the show, that youd like see happen?? or ?What wouldyou like me to do next?? or ?Where do we go from here?? Don?t be afraid to ask.In short, you want to: Identify the attendee. Does the prospect have a need? Does prospect have an application? Does prospect have authority? Are there resources/budget to make a purchase? Is there a time table and for purchase?Your lead form should reflect these questions. Even though we tend to use some sort of scanningequipment at shows, there is little or no room for comments or information specific to your company. Myclients attach the printout to their own lead form and also verify the little piece of paper has correct data onit. (A bunch of times the phone numbers had digits that were reversed ? real hard to make a telephone calllater if the number is wrong!)To hire an effective, professional staff trainer requires an allocation of money, something that might not bea line item in your current budget. And if you do more than a few major shows, it requires a correspondinginvestment. You?ll have to finagle the first time. Results, a noticeable difference in staff behavior, will ge tyou the money afterwards. Your justification for doing a seminar is that ?We don?t do business the way wedid only three years ago, so why don?t we bring our trade show skills up to date as well??
Start with using a trainer for the biggest show you do with the largest number of staff in order to reach thegreatest number of people with the correct message. Set up, as a condition of getting the contract, a timefor you to be trained - or walked through - how to do training on your own, and have the person provide anagenda you can follow. You will rarely be as effective as the professional, but if your sessions arereminders of what the speaker taught, reinforcements of skills already learned, they will suffice.Another option is to provide training at a national sales meeting. The structure of that program will varydepending on whether or not your company allows people to do local or regional shows on their own.Instead of focusing on a specific event, that presentation should also include information on goal settingand post-show evaluations.For both, make sure that they understand the benefits of exhibit marketing. Someone actually complainedto me that he hated doing shows when he could be out meeting with customers. He didn?t realize thatthose same customers would come to him at the booth (with the proper preparation) and he could seemore of them in a shorter time. Even old dogs can learn new tricks. And if they can?t, you will be betterable to decide who works your shows in the future. Changing your corporate culture takes time, and don?texpect all this to happen overnight. But the sooner you get the process of a top-notch exhibit staff going,the sooner you?ll see results.Some guidelines for staff training are: If possible, hire a professional for your first time Ask to be trained so you can do other programs Set a time for a pre-show meeting Require attendanceStep 12: Measure Results and Make MoneyAnd speaking of results?Without some form of tracking system in place, how do you know whether or notthe show benefited the company? Trade shows dont end until the follow-up is done.There is an adage about follow-up: "You are only as good as your last contact." So if you make a promis eor a commitment at a show - and never do anything - your credibility is down the tubes.As the aisle carpet is rolled up, what did you do with all those leads you collected over the course of theshow? Did you stick them in the packing case with the booth, never to be found again, or did you gothrough and review them each evening and make additional notes as the show closed before rushing outto party?For the best follow up, you need to start with an effective way to trap the information you collect at theshow, one that details information rather than relying on a scrap of paper. Weve all seen the salespeoplewho take your business card, make a few scribbled notes on the back and then stick the card in his or herpocket. Who knows what happens with those cards after that?Another experience involved those imprinters now in use at so many trade shows. My zip code wasincorrectly scanned on to the magnetic stripe of those plastic cards we all carry, so I never received asingle catalogue or sample ordered at that show.Given the costs invested in exhibiting, its incredible that more exhibitors dont take the time to create acustomized lead form for their own personal use. The expense involved in doing this is insignificant - mostcan be done easily with any computer word processing program - and the value indisputable. In addition,
this lead form acts as a guide to asking the right questions before doing a presentation. Its also a reminderfor those who work the booth to listen first, and then position the response in terms that relate to theprospect or customer.Creating this form is simplicity itself. The difficulty lies in determining beforehand what information isnecessary for productive follow-up. Certain requisites are elementary to every version - such as name,company, title, address, and other contact information. A business card can be collected and attached, orthe form can be completed by hand. I prefer business cards because you ensure that the data you get isaccurate. No one -ever lets a business card out of his or her hand without it being exact. Weve all gott encards from contacts with a line scratched out and updated information written in. "My extension ischanged." "Ive got a new phone number." "Weve moved." "My new cards havent arrived" are ll acomments that accompany a business card modification. One other benefit is that it precludes somethinglike what happened to me vis-à-vis an incorrect zip code from taking place.After contact information, you next have to decide what you need to learn about a prospect or customer.One supplier only wants to work with distributors who operate within a five-state region. Others might havenational reps or customer service personnel and want to code the information so it can be easily passed onand tracked by the appropriate person. Some have minimum purchase requirements. That might lead to aquestion on how much business is done with products of the type the supplier manufactures. Still othersmight prefer to work with distributors who have lots of sales people. Your requirements are yours alone.?At one training session, after working with the staff on their interactive dialogue, we decided the existinglead form didnt really support the order in which questions were asked making the form unworkable. Sowe redesigned the form. No problem.If you have several product lines, youll also need information as to which ones were of interest to theprospect. Are sample kits available? Did they order one? Or several? Or specific samples? Or spec ialliterature? Is there a case study you need to send? Lines for all of this should be allowed for somewhereon the form.After you have compiled this list, the form you make up should have areas to check off the information,boxes or spaces so that a lot of time is not spent on writing, but rather on listening.One other thing is critical: somewhere near the bottom, have a place to rank the contact. Dont write it outusing letters such as A, B, C, and D. Any idiot can figure that out. The same goes for excellent, good, fair,and poor. All you need is a space which, during the pre-show meeting, is designated as the spot in whic hto write a grade. After the show, this will let you separate the leads into piles of those that need immediateattention - within 24 hours - versus those that can wait a few days.Probably the most important area is the space for `comments. Here is where you trap information thatdoesnt fit any category, but might be the make or break difference. Some exhibitors print their forms onhalf-sheets of paper and use the back for this area. Others use full size sheets and make sure nothing ison the back because it might get overlooked. You have to do what works for you.Last, put in an area that details what actually happened after the show. For instance, on what date was theinformation sent? Or when was the phone call made? Or was an appointment scheduled? And wh atresulted? Remember, you are only as good as your last contact. The more you care about your customers,the more theyll care about you. Take a look at your best vendors. They have all invested in top-notchcustomer service because they understand the importance of follow-up. Their staff cares about theirclients, and makes sure the clients know. If you want to grow a great business, make sure your trade show
contact is a seedling that sprouts.When all is said and done, only about 20% of your contact goal should produce a qualified lead. Of those,half should close within 12 months following the event. If your results are different, it might warrant taking anew look at the show (back to step 1!). There are, of course, anomalies; for instance, a company with anaverage sale of several million dollars will not collect new leads amounting to 20%. But then again, thatshouldnt be their objective. They should aim towards maintaining contact and moving the sale forward bysolidifying the relationship with the prospect or customer.Some guidelines for measuring results are: Have a procedure for reporting back to management. Compare results to objectives. Re-evaluate your show participation.We are now back at Step 1 defining the situation. You?ve got something to track, something to measure,your staff is performing at an acceptable level. Time flies when you?re having fun. And this should be fun.TSEA members can earn one tenth of one CEU (.1 CEU) credit is provided to each registrant who readsthe applicable article and who takes and passes the post-article exam with a score of .80% or higher. Gootthe TSEA/UNLV-Accredited Trade Show Study Program  and click the link to access the exam.About the Author Margit B. Weisgal, CME is President and CEOTrade Show Exhibitors Association Copyright 2012 Trade Show Exhibitors Association Designed, Developed and Maintained by Fantail Consulting & Technologies