A trade show is a high-traffic venue where targeted prospects come to you and, in effect, ask you to pitch them your product or service. But attracting attendees takes work, and having your exhibit stand out from the rest can give your company a much needed boost.
The exhibition hall can be an especially fruitful environment for high-ticket, complex products that benefit from live demonstrations and an “educated sell.” At the same time, the exhibition floor presents the challenge of winning the attention of targeted, yet over-stimulated and distracted, prospects. In other words, how do you get the most value out of a time-limited but expensive marketing venue; and most of all, how do you stand out from the competition?
Alexis Exhibits, which designs custom trade-show exhibits, recommends a strategic approach to planning your display. This means understanding the audience — who the attendees are and “which ones represent prospects for you.” The show’s sponsors should be able to provide you with a detailed media kit with extensive statistics about previous attendees at the show.
Remember the value of corporate identification – thinking in advance about the attendee experience and how visitors will find you and know who you are. How will the design of your booth and even your sales staff’s apparel influence attendees’ ability to recognize your company’s presence?
Alexis Exhibits encourages companies to visualize the prospect’s approach to the exhibit: “Imagine an important prospect approaching your booth: What will they see? How will they be greeted? How much time will they want to spend with you? How will you record their information for follow up?”
Kevin England, CEO of trade-show marketing agency Vonazon, stresses that a trade show booth must deliver a message. The most basic elements of that message are your company’s brand and what it offers its customers. England suggests that if your company is showcasing a particular product at the show, you should put that product front and center. One valuable tip the agency gives is to “create an authentic environment” for the product; show it being used in a real-life setting, so the prospect gets an immediate sense of the customer experience.
The most effective exhibitors, England says, are those who design their trade show booths as three-dimensional displays rather than flat presentations. Why block visitors off by sticking a big table right out front? Make good use of your exhibit space by opening it up and inviting prospects to walk in, interact with your product and talk with your sales staff. England calls this strategy “going deep.”
Besides doing a better job engaging with visitors, this approach also keeps them out of the aisle. “The more time your prospects spend in the aisles,” he asserts, “the more likely they are to move to something else.”
Trade-show coach Susan Friedman warns that one of the most neglected aspects of trade show exhibiting is staff preparation. While companies often spend big bucks on space rental and booth design, “the people chosen to represent the entire image of the organization are often left to fend for themselves,” she says. Make these staffers your “ambassadors,” Friedman advises. Present a unified image to make sure attendees know “why you are exhibiting, what you are exhibiting and what you expect from them.”
Pre-show training can go a long way toward making sure your trade show staff engage well with prospects and develop qualified sales leads at the event, Friedman adds. Research suggests that promotional products can increase booth traffic and customer goodwill. However, just giving out literature and prizes isn’t enough – help your staff interact, ask questions and probe for customers’ needs, Friedman urges. Make sure staff understand any presentations and demonstrations ahead of time and know how to handle any necessary equipment. Use rehearsals and role-playing to improve skills and increase confidence.
As with all selling, trade show activities need to focus on identifying qualified prospects. While you obviously never want to be rude, you should also try to avoid wasting time with less-promising prospects.
Marketing consultant Kevin Brown recommends a tactical plan that allows for quick qualification:
“As quickly as is possible and appropriate, ask a series of pre-planned qualifying questions, both closed and open-ended, to help you determine if the visitor is a qualified prospect. Don’t beat around the bush – be candid. It should be obvious to both parties if they have a need and you have a product or service that might meet that need.”
If it’s evident that there’s a basis for doing business, then move forward, identify the decision-maker and purchasing process, and make a follow-up appointment.
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