Tips for Selling Products AND Solutions in your Trade Show Booth

Proper messaging is one of the most important aspects of a successful trade show display…  but what messages should you use?Custom Rental Exhibit Design Setup for Hotel Ballroom

After all, putting your trade show booth investment to work is going to be one of your biggest and most important pieces of public outreach in a given year.  You won’t just be interacting with hundreds of people within the show – good Internet marketing will keep those messages alive for months to come.  You need to find a proper pitch for your services that’s going to resonate with people over a longer period.

And right now, one of the biggest questions in marketing is “Are we selling a product, or are we selling a solution?”  This seemingly-inconsequential bit of word choice can ultimately make big differences in how you push your company, and the sort of outreach you engage in.

So today, we wanted to take a look at this issue, and especially try to understand under which circumstances is it better to use a product-based approach, or solution-based pitches, in your trade show booths.

A Product By Any Other Name…

In my view, the word “solution” is already close to being overused in business copy, since a lot of business people seem to think that referring to everything as a “solution” rather than a “product” will somehow make people forget that they’re trying to sell stuff.

 It’s faux friendliness that most buyers can see through.

However, there are still cases where talking in terms of “solutions” can be effective, because a solution-based approach is also a Big Picture approach.

As an easy example, let’s consider at a company in the business of providing networking and telecommunications services.  When it comes down to it, most executives (and anyone else NOT in the IT department) aren’t going to have the slightest clue what the differences are between Cisco, Netgear, and ADTRAN.

In fact, they might not even care, as long as the final installed system worked to spec.

Such a company would then be wise to adopt a solution-based approach because what they’re selling in this situation is a vision of the future,rather than specific products.  When a client says “I want a new network!” they’re going to be aware this involves multiple purchases, and they want someone who takes over that decision-making process so they don’t have to worry about technical details.Arise 10ft Velcro Receptive Pop Up Merchandising Trade Show Display

That’s a solution-based approach.   You’re selling them on the Big Picture outcomes.

Now, conversely, if that telecom provider was expecting heavy traffic from IT Admins at an exhibition, they’d want to focus on a product-based approach.  An IT Admin would be well aware of the differences between the brands, and would be comparing on a product-by-product basis.

So, whether you call something a “Solution” or a “Product” at your trade show appearance is largely a matter of psychology, not objective fact.  Depending on the buyer, an item could be either…  but picking the wrong approach can easily cost you sales and leads.

Knowing When To Use Products vs Solutions In Your Trade Show Pitch

This is a judgment call that will ultimately require a bit of guesswork, since we’re just playing games with definitions here.  However, broadly speaking, there are a few questions you can ask yourself (or clients you’re chatting with) that should help you determine which approach is likely to work better:

1 – Is the product self-contained?

When an item has a clear purpose that it fulfills, without the need for other purchases, it’s generally better to pitch it as a product.  After all, you never hear a bicycle being pitched as a “dual-wheel personal transportation solution.”

It’s a bike.

If someone has a need for a bike, they’ll buy one.  They don’t (usually) need to be sold on some hypothetical cheery vision of “Your Life With Your New Bicycle.”

Similarly, unlike complex systems like assembly lines or networks, a bicycle virtually always comes in an all-in-one package.  It’s not necessary to, for example, buy the frame from one vendor and the wheels from another.  This “total package” aspect is another clue that a product-based approach will work better for your trade show display.

2 – Is your buying audience well-informed about individual products?

This is where those buyer personas and conversations with your existing leads and clients can come in useful.Perfect 10 Hybrid Tension Fabric Trade Show Exhibit - On sale May 2014

Generally speaking, is a visitor to your trade show booth display likely to have better-than-lay knowledge of your industry or area of specialization?  The more informed your visitors are going to be, the more likely it is you’ll want to use a product-based approach.

Otherwise, as illustrated above, the solution-based approach pitches the outcome rather than the specifics, and avoids scaring off less-informed visitors with complex details they don’t understand.

3 – Do your trade show visitors have actual purchasing power? 

If the answer is “no,” it’s probably a waste of time to focus too heavily on the individual products.  If someone has sent an underling to do research for them, that person is unlikely to be too concerned about specific makes and models.

Such discussions virtually always boil down to the visitor asking, “Well, what can you DO for us?”  That’s pretty much an open invitation for a solution-based approach.  You talk to them about their  needs, and attempt to describe how your systems will meet those needs.

In these cases, specific product discussions will happen further down the line, when your sales team starts working on the leads you pick up.  There’s no reason to jump the gun on this – let the “hard sell” happen in its own time, when you’re talking to someone who is actively searching for your solution and can actually sign a check.

4 – Are They Asking “Why?” or “How?”

This is another case where the language your visitors use can give you a big clue as to which approaches to deploy.

Simply put, if a visitor’s questions center on “Why should I choose you?” then that’s a call for a solution-based approach.  It’s the opportunity for your best Big Picture spiel and to paint that picture of a glorious future that includes your product line.

On the other hand, if the questions are more pragmatic, along the lines of “How do your products deliver on these promises?” then that’s your clue to start pitching specific items.  If a buyer is asking about implementation and mechanics, in all likelihood, they don’t need to be sold on a grand vision.

They need to be sold on a specific implementation, and that means talking product.

Consider Your Buyer Psychology Going Forward At Trade Shows

Obviously, this isn’t an all-or-nothing situation.  A good trade show display will have a mix of big- and little-picture messaging, but it can definitely be tilted in one direction or the other based on what you expect from your expo booth visitors.

Online hosting – like “virtual” trade show displays – also expand your options here.  For example, you might put the product-heavy literature online, while keeping the fluffier materials in the physical trade show display.   This is often a good “best of both worlds” solution, if you’re unsure as to your direction.

However, if you keep building good buyer personas and keep in touch with your customers, you should be able to start quickly deciding for yourself whether a product- or solution-based pitch is more likely to resonate with them.

For more, read how to measure your ROI or how to engage your trade show booth customers.


American Image Displays represents all the major display manufacturers, and we can get you just what you need to make your best impression. Call us at (425) 556-9511 or email [email protected].

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