We’ve all read the many articles that offer tips and strategies for taking advantage of conferences or trade shows. Newsflash - most of this information is either inaccurate or just plain wrong. These obvious strategies can range from recommending, “Use a Prize Draw or Contest” to, “Make sure you’re your booth is staffed at all times.”
While some of these tips can be useful if you are just getting started, they remain very basic and do little to differentiate you from your competitors. Trade shows and conferences will often have displays lined up, aisle after aisle; each jammed into a small space; each with its own colours. It can all be very confusing to visitors. For many of us the cost of registration, creating a display, allocating the time from a busy schedule, delivery and set-up and the cost of marketing before and after the trade show can be overwhelming.
As a result we don’t take the time to understand why people are attending, what they want to learn, and what attracts them to one display versus another. The psychology of trade shows and conference attendees crosses many boundaries and there are as many reasons for visiting as there are visitors; but one factor that is common to all attendees …the Human Factor. In the final analysis, a trade show or conference display is still primarily about…one-to-one selling with a focus on your USF!
Your Unique Selling Feature (USF) is the inalienable truth about your product or service that creates demand. This is what separates you from your competitors; and it helps create a focused message and profile for your company or product. One clear message, sparse text in large fonts and dramatic images that tell a story can bring a clear focus to your message.
Preparing a focused message means research before you attend the trade show or conference. It means taking the time to understand your customer’s challenges and distilling them down into a single statement on your display that engages them as they walk by. This lets them know that you understand their need and are not just trying to push product. If you’ve done everything right, the customer stops at your display - now what?
Having experienced, knowledgeable staff at the display that are passionate about the products and services is extremely important. Perhaps even more important is ensuring that the people you have at your display know how to listen. As David Ogilvy (Advertising Icon) once said “we are not selling ¾" drill bits . . .we are selling holes.” What he meant was that it is our responsibility to sell solutions and to do this we need to listen and ask probing questions that will help us understand a potential customer's challenges. Once we understand the challenges we can then propose solutions from our products and services that are tailored to overcoming challenges for each customer.
Taking notes while speaking with prospective clients can be an asset but it often leaves them feeling left out. Making good eye contact and engaging one customer at a time in a meaningful discussion can be far more effective than having many visitors flowing through your display, picking up trinkets. Staff who are attending a display should be able to provide notes for follow up at the end of the day. It is always a good idea to debrief after a trade show session and discuss each encounter and their prospective potential for your company. Often a gut feeling about a client can be just as dynamic as detailed notes. In a recent book, entitled “Blink”, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the concept of choices that are made in an instant. He brings together a number of research studies to help define the strength of the gut reaction in the decision making process. Make sure the trade show booth is staffed with experienced people – not just junior stand-ins!
Another fallacy in trade shows and conferences is that the displays with the most traffic are perceived as more effective. The total number of potential visitors does not often support effective strategies at a trade show because it is not about the quantity of visitors to your display but the quality. You may go to a show and only get several visitors but if they are the right visitors they may help increase your sales significantly.
Consistent and timely follow up will help determine the ROI on your trade show. This, along with a marketing strategy that combines a well-maintained web site, professional collateral materials and frequent if not strategic ad placement make all the difference. A large client is always harder to bring to the table and takes much longer to do business with you as their business cycle can often take 1 – 2 years and so needs to be exposed to your consistent message over a longer period of time through a variety of mediums.
Is it luck when you finally land that large client – perhaps not – remember that luck is the combination of preparation and opportunity!