7 Tips for Losing The War in your Trade Show Booth

Several years ago, a well-known computer company announced they were no longer going to attend the major trade shows in their industry. These shows had grown larger and the company’s press release stated they were getting “too many leads” and visitors to their trade show booths. They further claimed that their staff was unable to follow up on so many prospects, so they stopped exhibiting.tf-5201 visionary designs hybrid exhibit with pillowcase graphics and mod-1331 workstation

To make a long—and not very interesting—story shorter, that well-known computer company has almost disappeared from the marketplace.

Perhaps their problem was that they didn’t have an effective system for determining which leads were worth following up on, and thus got overwhelmed by a tidal wave of contacts that weren’t separated into hot prospects and tire kickers.

It’s hard to believe that a major company could achieve such an epic fail—and I’d hazard a guess that their ineptitude inside their trade show display wasn’t their only (or even their biggest) organizational problem. But if the mighty can fall like this, what does that say about smaller exhibitors everywhere?

The most likely challenge that company faced (which may be facing your company, too) was developing a system that would help their sales team ferret out the most promising prospects and get them followed up with in a timely manner. While no one can be sure just how such a large company’s trade show marketing program went so dramatically off the rails, you can imagine that without such a system, after the show, the sales staff would have been hit by a barrage of confusing lead forms or just a pile of business cards.

Worse, those lead forms probably had no notations as to where that prospect was in the sales cycle, what product or service they were interested in, what commitments the booth staffer had made (if any) during the visit to their trade show booth, or how the prospect wanted to be followed up with—receiving a brochure or other literature, an invitation to a seminar or webinar, a sales call, a facility tour, or other specific actions. As a result, whoever was responsible for doing follow up (if anyone was) would have no idea what to do.

It’s also likely that salespeople at a company like this simply used the show to connect with current customers—and there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s an expensive way to keep up with existing clients. Some exhibit booth staffers may have simply cherry-picked leads they dealt with personally and only followed up with those where they knew they had a good chance of writing an order. Good for that salesperson, but bad for the organization.

“Picking the low hanging fruit” is a common trade show activity; it’s just counter productive for the company as a whole. When booth staffers approach a trade show as if it’s “every man for himself,” the whole team suffers. In fact, there ceases to be a team. And succeeding in a trade show is truly a team sport.

Here’s how you lose the trade show war:vk-0001 visionary designs hybrid table top with plex shelves

1) Go into it without a plan for effective, timely follow-up.

2) Let every member of your sales staff do things his or her own way.

3) Forget about creating a system for determining which leads have the greatest potential for immediate action, which need nurturing over time, and which aren’t really prospects at all.

4) Go back to your office after the show and carry on with business as usual.

5) Save money by not investing in training your staff on how to make the most of the unique and unusual selling environment of the show floor.

6) Staff your trade show booth with any warm body who’s willing to show up.

7) Don’t bother with scheduling time for staffers to manage their workflow back at the office; they’ll make time for those calls somehow.

When you think about it, trade shows really are a battle: a battle for the attention of show visitors, battling it out with competitors for market share, a battle for prominence in your industry, and more. As any military person will tell you, you don’t want to face a battle unprepared. You want to win hearts and minds first if you want to win the war.

You’ll get the greatest results—and the greatest ROI—by putting in the work ahead of time to function as a well-trained unit at the show, then having your plans in place to accomplish your follow-up immediately after the show.

Clearly, the point here isn’t to lose the trade show war. I’ve tried to present the opposite side of how to do things right, just to have a little fun with it. But I’m not being funny when I talk about trade shows being a war. And you’ve got to be well prepared to go into battle.

In addition to having a plan in place to succeed on the show floor, you’ll need trade show supplies that promote your organization well and help tell your story. For help with that, call or email me at [email protected]. I’d be delighted to help you get your armor (I mean your exhibit) together for the battle ahead!

For more tips, learn how to not shoot your trade show displays in the foot or check out our article on trade show pitfalls to avoid.

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