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Trade Show Sales Success

Exhibiting can be either a great opportunity or a great waste of money. Prepare well.

Exhibiting at an industry trade show is the best marketing vehicle to physically obtain access to potential and existing customers. It is an excellent opportunity to display your product or service to the largest number of people at any single event. In fact, it can generate more leads than you can obtain in the field during a whole year. Exhibiting also provides an excellent opportunity to learn more about your industry, obtain ideas, form strategic alliances, attend educational seminars, develop relationships, and check out your competition.

On the other hand, exhibiting at a trade show can also be a great waste of money if you don’t know how to promote and sell on the trade show floor. Here are some techniques that can make the difference between success or failure in your trade show endeavors.

PRIOR TO THE SHOW . . .
Gather your Troops
“Everyone is in sales!” Gather your troops to share ideas and discuss what has and has not worked for you when you have exhibited in the past. Be sure you involve not only your sales and marketing people, but everyone who has customer contact. Involving your people in the planning process can generate ideas and build enthusiasm for the show. Discuss ways you can get your best customers and potential customers to visit. Strategize about what you can do to make it special for them to visit your booth. Also, consider whether you want to hold a special event in conjunction with your show or host a dinner at a great restaurant.


You can and should close business on the trade show floor.


Give some thought before you spend money on common giveaways. Many companies experience success with small giveaways at their booth. However, I’ve seen too many “souvenir-seekers” and “just-lookers” who take up valuable selling time collecting these small items simply because they’re FREE.

You just might get a bigger bang for your buck by purchasing usable specialty items and nice gifts for your important customers and those you are hoping to obtain. You don’t need a huge budget to do this—you just need a smart strategy. Besides, since you’ll already be spending a great deal of money on exhibit space and related expenses, why not spend a little more to ensure you get results?

Bait the Hook so You Can Catch the Fish
Purchase moderately priced but usable gifts such as a Walkman (always usable), a unique toy (Monsters, Inc. is HOT right now), funny T-shirt (I’ve seen buyers stand in lines to receive funny T-shirts), or a great novelty item (i.e., smokeless ashtray) to use to help with your pre-show promotion that will entice buyers to visit your booth. Be creative when selecting what you buy.

Invite your best customers and those you wish to obtain to your exhibit; let them know a personally addressed gift is waiting for them in your booth. Here’s something even more effective: Send them half of the gift. For example, send just the earphones to a Walkman with a note that says, “What goes with this is in a personally addressed box in Booth Number 108. (Be sure these gifts are discreetly wrapped, so as not to offend anyone who may not have received one.)


Your main purpose for exhibiting at a trade show is to generate qualified leads and gain commitment for action from interested buyers.


Talk It Up
Spread the word that you are exhibiting and promote the show. Many companies make the mistake of relying only on show management to bring buyers in. Trade show management’s job is to sell booth space and invite the industry to the trade show. You need the assistance of not only your sales and marketing people, but everyone in your organization who has customer contact to “talk up” the show. For example, when your receptionist answers the phone and recognizes the customer, before switching the call he or she can say, “Hi, Mr. Johnson. You’ll be visiting us at the show I hope. We’re expecting to see you there.”

Make sure your credit people, customer service and technicians help you to promote the show whenever they are interacting with customers in the weeks prior. Of course, your sales force should make as many appointments as possible with customers and prospects before the show begins. Sending them a creative invitation to your booth with a notification about a nice gift makes it easier for them.

Train Booth Personnel on Trade Show Selling Skills
Your sales force must help all booth personnel learn about the products or services being displayed to help them generate leads. Brainstorm every conceivable question attendees might ask on the show floor. Carefully formulate the questions you want them to ask to qualify visitors and the sales message you want to convey. Then have them PRACTICE how to deliver information and answer questions concisely and powerfully. This is especially important for technicians, service people or receptionists who may be part of your booth staff, but have not had any sales training. You will need their help during peak hours when your sales force may be occupied. Make sure they know a little about your competitors’ product(s) and are able to state with confidence and tact why yours is better. Be sure you have a lead-handling plan and that everyone knows how it will work.

AT THE SHOW . . .
Greet, Qualify and Interest People Fast
Never wait. Initiate! Extend your hand and greet the visitor. “Hi, I’m John.” (This is by far, the best way to get people who hesitate and look at your booth to come in.) Small talk for a few seconds, then ask a question to qualify the person before discussing your products or services, i.e., “What are your needs?” “What’s your application?” “Have you heard about our company and our new…?” During peak hours, try not to spend more than five minutes with any one prospect unless they are genuinely interested. Get their contact information! As you know, most trade shows have sophisticated lead systems that are highly effective, just be sure to record the customers’ level of interest, purchasing influence, budget, specific application, time frames and phone number.

Make Visitors Feel Important
Be sure to shake hands, maintain eye-contact, and direct questions to all individuals who come in from one company as a group. Don’t make the mistake of paying more attention only to the decision maker. You need to make a positive impression on everyone.


Practice with booth personnel how to deliver information and answer questions concisely and powerfully.


If you are expecting an important customer or potential customer, placing a sign on an easel that says “Welcome… Joe Smith, XYZ Company,” can be a nice touch. Introducing interested prospects to upper-level management, service people and other key people in your company helps to build relationships and demonstrates class and professionalism. Remember the old adage: You may never get a second chance to make a positive first impression.

Deliver an Enthusiastic Presentation
You must make buyers feel the same enthusiasm for your product or service as you do. Be clear, concise, brief and confident. Be sensitive and “in tune” with how your customer is reacting. Know when to talk, know when to listen. Know when to shift gears! Visitors’ attention spans will be limited. They may be jet-lagged and fatigued. Also, they will want to visit other booths at the show. Remember, your main purpose for exhibiting in a trade show is to generate qualified leads and gain commitment for action from interested buyers.

Get Some Type of Commitment
Bring your calendar and set up appointments with customers while they are at the show. If, however, you have a customer who is ready to buy, ask for the business! Most salespeople don’t do this, which is a mistake, but in many instances you can and should close business on the trade show floor. Sound confident and relaxed and ASK for the sale.

AFTER THE SHOW . . .
The Trade Show’s Over, Now What?
Your feet are aching and you are likely feeling as if your get up and go got up and went. But if your pre-show marketing and promotion strategies and selling skills on the trade show floor were effective, your end result should be a substantial amount of qualified leads. But if you go back to “business as usual” or if you become overwhelmed with to-dos, phone calls, back-mail, etc. and don’t follow up fast, you may miss the boat. Worse, you may not acquire business your company hoped to obtain from its trade show investment.

Don’t Wait. Initiate.
Phone prospects immediately to demonstrate your professionalism and dependability. Follow up within three days, while you are still fresh in the customers’ minds. If you did a good job at the booth and they have not done business with you prior to the show, they should remember you. But if you wait, they may forget you and their interest in buying may diminish.

When you follow up, don’t bother to send mail without speaking to your prospect first, unless you want to end up in a big literature pile with everyone else. Fax a brief letter with a recap of what you discussed and the key benefits of your product/service. Then keep calling until you set up an appointment or demo. You also may wish to send an e-mail with a link to your website once or twice as well, but do keep calling.

After a trade show, and anytime you interact with customers, remember this: If you say the same things your competitors say, and use the same approach, how will you ever stand out in the mind of the customer? So use a different approach with your selling style; and be sure that you effectively communicate why your company can meet their needs, how your company can help them increase their profitability, and why you are better than your competitors.

Read More Online

In the Spring 2001 issue, Julie Duvall explained how Atlas Equipment Company won “Best of Show” for local trade show exhibit. Click here to read.

Exhibiting at a trade show can be a costly and labor-intensive venture when you consider booth space, displays, marketing materials, travel expenses, etc. Despite the costs, if you properly plan for the event, are creative with your sales and marketing strategy, are efficient and make a positive impression on the trade show floor and do a fast follow-up afterwards, your results will far surpass the investment.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association
Christine Corelli Meet the Author
Christine Corelli, author of Wake Up and Smell the Competition, is president of Christine Corelli & Associates, Inc. in Morton Grove, Illinois.


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