In a previous blog post, I addressed 10 different mistakes that exhibitors make while presenting at a trade show. If you have not read “How to Lose A Trade Show in 10 Ways Part 1” check it out!
In this post I break down each point and go over how to fix each mistake. The following list will give exhibitors advice on planning and preparation for their booth, employee training and tricks to know before a show. Here’s how to win back a trade show in 10 ways!
- Disengaged booth staff
Disengagement takes on many forms. Mobile devices seem to be a growing problem. Whether its checking email, texting, or perusing Instagram, nothing kills a potential lead generating opportunity faster than when a show attendee approaches a booth only to encounter staff with heads bowed, paying devotion to personal devices. Even if the exhibit team thinks there is a break in the action and a little “check in” with the office is innocent enough, you never know when a qualified lead and potential client is walking by. Unless that attendee is shouting “I’m coming and I’m in a buying mood…get ready” the opportunity will be lost without the booth team even knowing. Disengagement can also look like booth staff more interested in talking with each other or spending too much time engaged with current clients than talking to new people or even chowing down food in the booth.
A better approach would be to set expectations with booth staff prior to show. A little training with the booth staff often gets overlooked. If a member of the booth team needs to do some work on a mobile device, it should be away from the booth or after show hours.
- Too few booth staff
This tends to be more an issue for smaller exhibitors who only bring one or two people to work the booth. Even a two-person booth team often means some rotation resulting in one person in the booth. If you are the only person at the booth, it can be difficult when you need to get something to eat or nature calls. Attendees have short attention spans, they won’t wait forever to talk to someone, they’ll move on.
I usually recommend a three-member booth team as a minimum as that takes care of most issues, but I know individual circumstances can’t always accommodate that. If the team is only one or two people, I recommend at a minimum you make a plan to never leave the booth unattended. If that means packing a protein bar and eating it in the booth (not a best practice), I’d take that over vacating the booth to get food elsewhere.
- Early dismantle
I hear this complaint a lot from show organizers. Booth teams who, not so subtly (they always think they are sneaky) start taking apart the booth and packing up materials send a clear signal to show attendees that they are no longer interested in engagement. Again, let us mourn the loss of a lead! Sometimes decision maker attendees cannot make day one of the trade show. I recently experienced this on a show that I could only make for the last 5 hours of a three-day show. I flew to Vegas in part for this show, ready to engage in meaningful dialogue…begging to be someone’s lead only to find most of the staff “over it”, and already making plans for a quick getaway. This behavior hurts the credibility of the show and the exhibiting company.
If a booth team can’t commit to staying fully engaged through the end of the show due to scheduling or exhaustion, another approach might be to have a new exhibiting team come in part way through the show to stave off trade show fatigue. Either that or energy drinks and planning! Most show organizers have clear rules against this behavior and reasonable consequences should be applied in order to protect the credibility of the show.
- Not enough technical sellers
This can be especially problematic on shows heavy with technology, machinery, industrial or other technical offerings. I’ve often encountered, where technical selling is required, that there may be only one or two members of the booth team that can answer some of the attendee inquires. Often a bottleneck occurs while multiple members of the exhibiting team are waiting on one or two individuals to assist with the attendee engagement, risking the lead altogether.
A better way to help with this other than being better prepared with a higher percentage of the booth team having expertise is to have literature or even digital applications on the ready that go deeper into the technical aspects of the product or service. If a conversation with the tech team still needs to happen, rather than making the attendee wait, I’d suggest a system by which booth staff can offer to schedule a time for the attendee to return when they can be assured to have audience with a member of the booth team with expertise. This is akin to not having to be left on hold while calling customer service but having the option for them to call you when best equipped.
- No holding engagement during high traffic
No matter how well-planned the staffing is in the booth there is a natural ebb and flow to an event and it is difficult to staff for the peaks. When traffic to the booth is high and there isn’t anything to keep a potential lead engaged long enough for a team member to get to them, attendees will walk away feeling like they weren’t seen as important enough to engage with.
Some small and simple things here can make a big difference. Even, at the very least, booth staff should acknowledge waiting attendees with brief eye contact and a nod. This tells the attendee that they’ve been acknowledged and buys the exhibitor some time to finish up engagement. Even better is to have a kiosk, monitor, or application with content meant to hold attendee attention while waiting to talk with booth staff. This is obviously a great problem to have, but too many exhibitors don’t have a plan for this.
- Physical barriers
Admittedly, this probably has more to do with preshow design efforts, but the show site team can often call audibles to make needed changes. Unless the overall exhibiting strategy is built around creating a super secure, private, and exclusive feel, then the booth design and layout of the furniture ought to be inviting. Too many counters, kiosks, signage, plants, and the like around all perimeters or on the aisle side of an inline booth creates another obstacle between potential leads and the booth team.
The show site team can help mitigate this by either moving furniture or mobile elements of the exhibit to open the flow up a bit or even move some staff to outside of the booth to help oversee traffic.
- Poorly prepared hooks and asking the wrong questions
How many times as an attendee have you been asked by an exhibitor “how’s the show going for you?” or my favorite, “how can I help you?”? I don’t know, you tell me! In Mike Moyer’s book, Trade Show Samurai, Moyer states, “the first thing you say to the attendee will have more impact on your success than anything else. Say the wrong thing and the attendee is gone faster than you can say ‘buh-bye’”.
A better approach is to create and rehearse a script that includes initial questions that are both closed and open-ended with the purpose of getting the information needed to move into the interest generating part of the pitch or the hook. Good questions may include, “Have you heard of (name the new product or service)”, “Do you carry (name the product), or “What types of products do you specialize in?”. This should then be followed by a hook. Mike Moyer defines the hook as, “a short blurb about your business that is designed to solidify their interest in what you have to say. It is short – a one-liner.” If I were representing a shoe manufacturer my hook might be “we have a shoe that massages your foot and increases circulation by 30%”. The key is to find a hook that everyone would find interesting and draw them into the booth space.
- Not qualifying the leads or no follow up at all
This might be the most costly mistake on the list, but unfortunately all too common. In the rush to collect leads, meaningful information is often not captured to help those who will make and execute plans to follow up after the show ends. Most modern lead capture technology allow for note taking and pre-programmed questions to help gather information about the lead. FernLeads, Fern’s lead capture app, even allows for picture taking and voice capture if desired.
No matter how well intended the booth staff, memory will not be enough when it comes time to either follow up or pass on information to those who will. A better approach is to take time after each lead to record the information needed. Even handwritten notes are better than no plan at all.
- No plan on how to handle different types of attendees
As we all know, not all attendees on the exhibit floor represent any promise of a meaningful lead in the short term. This isn’t to say that all types of attendees don’t have some value to offer, but nothing should prevent certain members of the exhibit team from being fully focused on engagement opportunities with qualified leads. All too often however, exhibitors are stuck in conversations with attendees looking to be a supplier or for partnership opportunities. Influencers, students, competitors, and others, though still very valuable attendees, are not decision makers. These time intensive engagements cause exhibitors to potentially miss other more promising opportunities to be realized in a shorter window. With that said, I am an advocate of talking with everyone and not blowing off any opportunity. An attendee may be a student now, but influencer or even a decision maker down the road. I believe we all have the responsibility to make sure attendees don’t feel snubbed or ignored. This is for the good of the industry since we want all attendees to see the value of exhibitions, making regular attendance and exhibiting a part of their professional life from here on out.
The best way to deal with this professionally is to designate a booth staff member to handle all engagements that fall into any category outside of a traditional lead. I’ve often been in this role and have successfully kept our sales team focused on lead procurement while simultaneously finding some meaningful engagements of my own that have resulted in vendor relationships, partnerships, and an expanded professional network.
- Ineffective Gimmicks
The body paint fiasco falls into this category. I once attended a trade show on St. Patrick’s Day and one exhibitor hired several little people, dressed as leprechauns, as a way to attract attendees to the booth. This too feels a bit exploitative and probably offensive to many.
I’m not a member of the PC police, but it does make business sense on the exhibit floor to avoid anything offensive so as not to chase away any potential lead before giving the opportunity to engage. An alternative would be to think of an attention getter that actually ties to your brand, product or service. For example, if part of a brand’s strategic image is fun, then a DJ set up at your booth may be an attention getter as well as moves the exhibiting company’s message forward.
To wrap up this two-part explanation of common trade show violations, it’s important to remember your goals for any face-to-face marketing event. When you address mistakes early, and prepare for each event like it’s the first, you will be shocked at how positive the outcome could be.
If there are any other trade show exhibitor mistakes that you see often, and are curious how to avoid them, let us know and we’ll be sure to address them in a future piece.