The bad news is that after a lousy 2001, trade show attendance fell by another 8% in 2002 and so far 2003 does not look to be much better. However, more and more exhibitors are deciding to tough it out and continue investing in booths.
According to Julia O'Connor, President Trade Show Training, "Some shows are actually selling more space even though they have fewer attendees, because attendees are all 'good' attendees. Instead of sending 20 people, companies are sending five people, but they're all decision makers."
Here are some useful tips for you from O'Connor, who helps clients such as Dow Chemical, JP Morgan, and Pactiv to make the most of their trade show marketing:
a. Divide and conquer: Separate show attendees
b. Tips on Improving Booth Staffing
c. Tips on booth design, signage, and gifts
d. Rules for staff behavior outside the booth
e. Gain invaluable marketplace insight with a booth survey
f. Post-show follow-up: How to handle leads
-> a. Divide and conquer: Separate show attendees
O'Connor says the biggest mistake marketers make is to treat all attendees alike. Instead of using the pre-show list to send out a "see our booth" postcard (which rarely does much good), she suggests you go over that list with a fine tooth comb to identify exactly who's going to be at the show, and how you will treat them.
Her recommendations for the major groups:
o Current clients
Do not just invite them to your client-dinner and otherwise ignore them. "You want them in your booth instead of your competitors' booths."
Ask clients to stop by your booth, and then introduce them to your staff while thanking them publicly for being a client. "They feel a little bigger that way."
Pre-assign someone at the booth as the person who can handle any client complaints, and make sure you have had customer service or sales warn you about any possible problems ahead of time.
Clients often stop by your booth to voice a concern, and you want to be able to handle it smoothly and unobtrusively. "Get them out of the booth," advises O'Connor. Take a quick walk to the refreshment stand with the client instead.
o Former clients
Your booth staff should know the names of former clients who are at the show so they can treat them specially. Also forewarn staff of any potential problems or complaints that may come up from these people too so they can head them off at the pass.
"At least acknowledge that former clients were important to you, even if you can't get them back. You don't want them going around badmouthing you on the show floor."
o Perfect prospects
Ask sales to identify exactly who amongst the attendees, either by name or by type of company, are the most qualified prospects, because generally everyone at the show will not be perfect.
That way you can spend your energies on the prospects who may matter most.
o Imperfect prospects
Vice versa. You never know where an attendee's next job will be, so you want to be polite to all. Do not waste time and tchotchkes on people who will never buy from you in their current position.
-> b. Tips on Improving Booth Staffing
You should have two staffers on duty for every 10x10 feet of actively used booth space in order to handle average traffic flow. You will need to bring extra staff so everyone can take breaks every two hours or they will start wearing out.
If you are even a bit tired or bored at a booth, your body language telegraphs that fact loudly to passers by (even though you probably do not realize it). The result is far less traffic stopping.
O'Connor notes, "People in booths think they're only responsible for the 10 feet in front of them, but attendees see body language from 50-60 feet away as they come down the aisle." Booth staff should be forbidden to read, talk on a cell phone, eat, check their PDAs, etc. or anything else that might telegraph boredom to the sales prospects walking toward them.
Would you allow your Web site's home page to have a big huge typo in the headline? Do not allow these booth staffer "typos" in public either.
O'Connor also recommends *against* staffing entirely with sales reps because they do not normally like shows, feeling they could close more sales without the interruption. Instead, she says, "You need a qualifier and a decision maker. If you go to a large show, you need a hostess to check you in, and sales people or VPs to make the deal."
You can save money and raise moral by asking for volunteers from your local distributorships and/or from your customer service or telemarketing departments. They are often thrilled to attend a show, and work well as a team funneling the cream of attendees to your VP or other decision maker.
-> c. Tips on booth design, signage, and gifts
All too often O'Connor says she sees companies spending a lot of money on fancy new booths that do not suit them. "Too many are designed for design's sake and not for people so they feel comfortable. Your booth is really your office at the show. It should also reflect your current brand - people should not go 'Wow, that's not their image.'"
If you have got a current advertising campaign, make the most of it. For example AFLAC insurance booths all feature a large stuffed duck. "They have a 93% recognition rate for their duck. People see it and know who they are. It's a brand extension."
O'Connor's other signage tips:
o Light and motion attract the eye, neon signs and signs with moving words work well.
o Keep your message short and simple. A few words in very big type. "Your booth signage is basically a billboard. We've all seen unreadable signs with mission statements and everything the company's ever done in six point type. Use your name and a tagline if you have one." That is about it.
o As with email, sign humor is "iffy."
When it comes to prizes, O'Connor says try to be more creative than the same-old, same-old Palm giveaway seen at way too many shows. Instead, consider spending your schwag/tchotchke budget on "something fun, small and simple that can sit on a desk and has your name and Web site or phone number on it."
O'Connor has tested paper airplanes, squirt guns and yo-yos with success at "serious" business shows.
Avoid the big mistake of handing these out to everyone who asks for them. All too often attendees stuff these into bags and then throw them away. (O'Connor estimates at least 50% are tossed.)
Instead offer to mail the schwag to qualified attendees' offices for them. It is more convenient for them, plus it gives you a great excuse to follow-up with a potential sales lead.
What if someone is not qualified or they want a bunch of extras for their kids? "You can say politely, 'We are low on them, and these are really only for business clients', and they go 'ok.'"
-> d. Rules for staff behavior outside the booth
Too many booth staffers think the big show is their big chance to party.
O'Connor suggests you have a staff-only private party after the show if you want to reward people. Otherwise everyone should be on their best "office-style" behavior at all times even at cocktail and dinner parties.
"Don't let your staff get schnockered. Always one or two people will overindulge. You definitely don't want them there - ask them to leave a party immediately."
Remember that many attendees are not at the show to blow off steam, they are there to conduct serious business. And some of your sales prospects and clients will remain sober throughout.
Also, if you throw or sponsor a cocktail or dinner party, instruct your staff beforehand to consider personally themselves the hosts of every guest that attends. This means speaking to guests, introducing them to each other, and generally making them welcome, no matter who's sales territory that guest belongs to or how shy you may be feeling.
Too often booth staff clump together and ignore their party guests.
-> e. Gain invaluable marketplace insight with a survey
You can get a lot more marketing mileage from shows than just sales leads. O'Connor says shows are your best chance to learn more about your marketplace so you can refocus your future marketing to be more powerful.
She suggests you ask booth visitors to take a brief survey Tell people, "We're conducting a quick survey to find out how we can help this industry in the next six months, do you mind helping out? (About 10% will say yes if you make it quick and easy.) Tips:
o Only ask 3-5 questions
o No open ended questions (such as "how" questions) because nobody has time to write an essay.
o Questions should be industry-specific, such as rating possible business concerns or pain points. "Don't ask for demographics, ask what do you see as your greatest impediment to growth? Do you foresee next quarter being better than this one? Are you seeing more competitors from a certain sector?"
o The survey should be anonymous. Do not try to hit two birds with one stone and also collect contact data; attendees will see through that maneuver and resent you for it. However, you can offer to email or mail results to anyone who would like them if they give you their card separately.
o Offer a low-cost thank you present for taking the survey. O'Connor has had success with low denomination Amazon, Starbucks and McDonalds' gift certificates.
Example: O'Connor used a show survey to discover that a major law firm's clients and prospects were far less interested in Superfund issues than other concerns. The law firm immediately changed their marketing communications.
-> f. Post-show follow-up: How to handle leads
According to O'Connor as many as 80% of sales leads generated from trade shows are not followed up on after the show.
And even the lucky 20% that are contacted again are often bungled because the marketing department dumps them into a single pot as "sales leads from the show" assuming they are all at the same spot in the sales cycle and require the same exact follow-up.
Which means you are turning the nascent one-to-one relationship you began at the show into far less powerful mass-marketing one.
Her advice: Try to mark collected cards with quick codes or notes, reflecting how they should be followed up with, as you collect them (you will never remember by the time you get back to the office). At a bigger show, run the list of attendees against your own internal sales database to sort out which are already in the midst of your sales process.
Be sure to check with show organizers that the final list they give you is a corrected list, and not who signed up to attend earlier. Attendees often switch at the last minute, and nothing's stupider than sending a personal "nice to have met you at the show" note to someone who did not attend.
Also, do not assume that those brand-new sales leads you got at the show are interested in getting a big fat packet full of all your marketing materials, especially if you sell more than one product or service. Instead, O'Connor recommends sending them a written thank you note that says, "Thanks for stopping by our booth, I'll be calling you (or the information you requested is on its way)."
Then carefully follow-up and insert each lead into the part of your sales cycle where they belong.
Instead of using company letterhead for this task, consider printing up low-cost cards with your logo and the show logo on them. "A lot of people don't remember who you were, but they see the card and go, 'oh yeah, I remember that.'"
Last but not least, remember your show badge should go on the right side of your body so people can read it easily as they reach to shake your hand.
Trade Show Training: