In a recent posting, Mark Mitchell indirectly explains why the results we achieved at Construct Canada by “doing nothing” and essentially breaking all the trade show rules were nearly the same as when we pulled out all the stops (with one key exception, see below).
He asserts the reason so little happens so often at trade shows is that your booth really is the most unimportant aspect of the show visitors’ objectives.
I have interviewed quite a few trade show attendees, the answer became clear: they attend trade shows to learn how to be more successful and to find solutions to problems. To achieve this, they have to prioritize and carefully manage their time.
- Their idea of where to find solutions? Classes for new and relevant information, followed by the opportunity to network and learn from other attendees. Their first priority is not the show floor and your booth.
What does that mean for you? The show floor booths are a low priority for them. When they finally get there, here’s what tends to happen:
- They will gravitate to the companies they already know and buy from—unless they have had a problem with one of those products.
If they buy products like yours from a different company and have had zero problems with that manufacturer, they tend not to see a reason to spend time at your booth. Remember, they see themselves as being there to solve problems.
These observations meld with practical experience. Much if not most business conducted at trade shows occurs between people who already know each other, with established relationships. Old customers renew acquaintances (and sometimes purchase more) and sometimes sales leads developed before the show materialize into new or extended business. Rarely will someone you don’t know walk up to your booth and purchase anything, or even be a suitable potential future client.
This doesn’t mean that trade shows lack value — we indeed picked up some new business at Construct Canada. The two files I have: Our next door booth neighbours, who have reason to do business with us; and a referral from a well-established trade association relationship.
But can the booth part of the experience be made more effective? Maybe. Mitchell writes with his suggestions:
Give me a reason to stop at your booth. Too many booths have very lame messages like here’s our logo, the product name and some silly headline like “Built for Tomorrow” or “The Quality Brand.” These are easy to walk by. Who cares? Use your signage at the show to immediately communicate how your product solves a problem for a builder. Give me something strong like, “Why More Builders Use Our Products” or “Build it Faster.”
Make everyone who stops by your booth feel special and important. Don’t just make your existing customers feel special.
Demonstrate that you are a product expert. Teach them something about your category of products and not just your company. If you are in the lighting business, tell them about trends in lighting.
Do your own preparation before you get to the trade show. Come prepared with a handful of potential targeted customers. Reach out to them personally before the show and encourage them to drop by your booth because you may have just the solution they will be looking for.
Finally and most importantly, follow-up after the show. Be patient and stick with it as they may not be ready to buy for several months. Most companies give up too soon.
If you put yourselves in the shoes of your prospect at a show and follow these steps, you will gain more new customers from your investment in trade shows.
My sense, however, is all these measures will provide at best incremental gain. You’ll probably achieve much better results by building your story into the speaking agenda at the relevant conference. You can then draw people who have heard your story to the booth — and do some real business.