It’s that time of year; no, not pre-Christmas but trade shows and events. At Sandler we sometimes get asked how to make sure investing time, money and resources is not wasted effort.
If you are an exhibitor, what do you expect to gain from a whole day (or more) out of the office, your money, hiring the space and goodness knows what marketing effort in making your space sell? Typically we hear “leads, promoting ourselves and making sure our existing contacts see us.” These seem noble aims. Nothing wrong with these, surely?
But supposing our goals were subtly different, would we approach the show and our investment differently? The real value in exhibiting has very little to do with our stand, our pitch, our marketing. Ideally we want to have prospects identify themselves as interested by finding what problems and challenges they have that we can fix. So that means asking a whole load of questions about them and their business. Suddenly our stuff recedes into the background, the spotlight is firmly on them.
This also answers the inevitable dilemma of how we approach visitors to the show. Being vacant on the stand is not a good strategy. Pouncing on them also does not work. Being welcoming and interested in why they have attended is far more likely to result in a constructive conversation.
Once we are talking, we want to identify if they are a decision maker, or at least an influencer. And if it looks like they might be able to pay for our product and service, better still.
If we have somebody on our stand who apparently has a problem we can fix, they can at least highly influence the decision to engage with us, and potentially have some budget they could spend on those issues, we have a qualified lead.
Only now can we give them something to walk away with. Maybe that is just a business card. If relevant, and they have really convinced us they qualify, we might even give them some marketing material. At the very least they should go with a promise from us to phone them in the next few days. Even better if they go with a date in our diary for a proper meeting.
Supposing they don’t meet all these criteria? We do not need to spend time with them. Not today at least. The best way to politely disengage with people who are visiting and not buying is quite simply tell them something. Anything, really, just so long as it is precisely correct and full of all our benefits presented as technically accurately as we can. The first few words of technical language will allow them to realise they are in the wrong place and they will happily take their leave.
Exhibitors are often keen to do draws and competitions to get just one more business card. Those cards are worth nothing to you if you cannot use them or you do not use them. Adding random data to your database adds nothing to your pipeline of business. There are plenty of those names and numbers available without spending a day out of the office to collect them. Competitions for those who qualify to enter are much better. Great way to build rapport. Maybe in those circumstances all entrants deserve to win a prize.
If you are exhibiting, that gives you the right to talk to other exhibitors. So when, all the public you were after goes off to listen to the next great seminar, and it all goes quiet, this is when you can make money. Often your best prospects or at least best introducers are the other exhibitors. You have immediate point of similarity, standing all day on your feet, and natural conversation flows.
There is nothing more annoying than being sold to by visitors to your stand when you have invested to get clients for yourself. However, some report having made the best contacts by being a visitor. “What do you do?” “I help businesses like yours with XYZ problem, but look, you are busy exhibiting today so not the right time to talk about that…” “No, no, go on, tell me….” If invited to explain, it would be rude not to.
In summary, when we have spent money on an exhibition we should be slow in giving out our stuff, quick to disqualify them and quick to follow up. That means we probably will end up with a handful of highly qualified leads and not a pile of business cards that we have no intention of following up. It does also mean we know we have correctly invested our time money and resources. We might even end up with some new clients.
So you did not waste your money on a trade show, did you?