The first steps in developing effective trade show strategies are very similar to the first steps in most business activities. The success of your exhibit may have as much to do with the interpersonal side of your company’s presence at the show as it does with the dash of the display itself.
- Know exactly what you want your display to accomplish. Do you want brand awareness? Are you going for leads? Are you out to improve customer relations? Are you campaigning for market leadership? Know what success at the show looks like to your business and make sure that you put a strategy in place that matches your goal.
- Train your staff ahead of time. Prepare the staff attending the show to be ready to stand up and greet people who enter your space. Make sure your staff understands that the trade show attendance is expensive and has to pay off.
- Always plan to use the most assertive media. Plan the space to leave lots of room for face-to-face discussion. Try to bridge people from passive media (like videos) to assertive media, such as meetings and discussions.
- Location matters. Grab a good location at the show to make your exhibit stand out. Use a unique color scheme or an outstanding design. You don’t need to overwhelm the show with loud music or obstreperousness but you want to be noticed.
- Create a specific offer or incentive for tracking. Give something away that really grips memory, but only give it away to people who are qualified to buy what you have. Be careful here. This could be costly and wasteful or very valuable for establishing friendships. Make the offer relevant to your service and designed for people who are qualified to work with you.
- Invite people specifically. Make telephone appointments with high valued prospects for them to meet you at the show. Define whom you want to meet by title and function. Search of them on your database or from lists established in past trade shows. Advertise your presence in appropriate trade media.
- Appointment times are key. This is a hint: make appointments not on the hour or half-hour, but at “weird times.” Experts know that people are less likely to forget appointments at unusual times, and that they are more likely to be perceived as real appointments.
- Prepare talking points and questions. Plan a consistent message among your representatives. Know the key questions that your staff will be asked at your exhibit. Summarize answers or “talking points” for everyone who works at the booth or meeting rooms.
- Collecting cards. If you choose to collect cards, keep an orderly filing of business cards. Hand out your own business card and ask for their business card. Make notes on the back of business cards to qualify them or staple them to a note sheet. Explore creative options such as tablets and electronic sign-ups for an offer or promotion that can keep digital records.
- Be very clear. Try to make your message very specific. Tell people exactly what you do. Avoid metaphors and slogans until after you have put your message across. Specificity and precision can be very dramatic, hold attention, and exude confidence.
- Present data that sounds like data. Avoid phrases like “we improve your contact rates by half.” People don’t believe that. Give the numbers as exactly as possible, even to one decimal place.
- Plan to optimize traffic. Set up the booth in such a way that a staff member can divert traffic into it. Do not set up a behind-the-desk treatment where you have to use a carnival barker approach to bring in crowds.
- Don’t forget to follow up. Finally, equip your staff to immediately follow-up on qualified contacts made at the booth. If possible the follow-up should happen within one or two days. Be pleasant and persistent. One or two follow-up calls may not be enough. Some suggest that the more effective number should be between 6 and 9. But limit your follow-up e-mails to 3.
- Debrief with your team. Following the show, go through a debriefing to find out what went wrong and right. The debriefing should be frank. Try to keep it completely libertarian, and non-threatening. Someone should take very good notes.
- Plan in advance well ahead of the next show. Use the notes from previous debriefings to improve on the trade show appearance from the last show. The important thing is to attract the people who can help to build your business.
Trade shows are fun. Many consider them the most fun of all business activities. This can be true and it is also important that they are cost-effective and produce the right mix of leads, return, and long-term brand awareness that the company is striving to achieve.