Trade shows: Finish strong or don’t show up

Strictly Sail Chicago, 2013

Strictly Sail Chicago 2013. Overheard an exhibitor – slouched in a chair – complaining that things were slow. Just down the aisle, other exhibitors had long lines.

There’s nothing quite like the misery experienced in the final moments of a trade show: Your feet hurt, your mind is numb, and your senses offended by the obnoxious booth two aisles down. Walk through an exhibition in its death throes, and you’re likely to find a collection of burnt-out sales and marketing reps slumped in chairs or tearing down early.

While we all feel miserable after a long exhibit, let your competition look miserable. This is your opportunity to shine with an enthusiastic final push to the show’s close.

The best contacts you make may well be in the final moments of an exhibit, perhaps even after the official close. These last-minute people often are there on a mission. They’ve been fully engaged in breakout sessions, maybe as a speaker or event organizer. You’ve been on their list for days, but they’re just now getting the opportunity to find you and your competitors. What impression will you make?

If the sad sacks hired by your competition finish with a whimper, odds are they’ve been slackers for the whole event. And, it doesn’t matter if they’ve got a fancier, much more expensive display than yours.

Not so long ago I attended a healthcare trade show and was disappointed to find the organizers had placed me in a space directly next to that of a larger, better-funded competitor.

I needn’t have worried. The competitor’s staff showed up late, set up after the show began, then sat behind a table and chatted on cell phones. At the close of the event (they tore down early), we talked. They felt the show was a waste of time as they had not made meaningful contacts. They blamed the organizers. I didn’t tell them I’d had a great event including interaction with current customers and a pocket full of new business cards.

The bottom line: Trade shows can be a significant commitment of marketing dollars and staff time: Finish strong or don’t bother showing up.

Below are some tips to beat the competition at your next trade show or exhibit:

Give away information, not trinkets. Vast sums of money are spent on freebies only because sales and marketing reps feel naked without them. Unless you’re selling groceries, a chip clip with your logo is a waste of money. Hand out useful, well-presented information such as decision guides and the like.

Have a simple, well-designed display. An expensive display jammed with poorly designed, unreadable information does nothing. Think billboard. If you can’t understand it with a passing glance, it is too complicated.

No barriers. I can’t tell you how often I see tables loaded with freebies and literature placed between sales and marketing staff and their prospects. Get the table out of the way, and engage your guests face-to-face.

No chairs. Get on your feet! You are not a receptionist. Stay on your feet and engage every prospect. There is nothing more unwelcoming than someone slouched in a chair. You’ll find you speak to twice as many people and the day will go quicker.

Save your feet. Have good carpet on the floor and keep your feet moving. If you’re staffing with a colleague, take a few minutes every hour to walk around.

No food: Keep your food and water bottles out of sight. Don’t let your prospects catch you with a mouthful of pizza or water.

Breath mints: Really, this should need no explanation.

What are your event or trade show tips or questions? Leave a comment.

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