Trade Show Strategy: Who Cares?

July 27th, 2009 by Frank Damelio

shruggingThe little guy cares. In the hundreds of trade shows that I’ve attended, here is my general sense: the budding entrepreneur who invests anywhere from $300 at a chamber event to $10,000 at a national convention is going to work his booth.  He cares about converting leads to sales, and he acts like it. Usually he is excited to be there and welcoming attendees into his booth. He is engaging and follows up on all leads.

Conversely, the salespeople from big companies tend to view the process not as an opportunity, but rather “BOOTH DUTY”. They use that word all the time in phrases such as “Ohhh, I got BOOTH DUTY . . . hey Jay, when do we get out of here?”  A trade show is more of a sentence to serve than it is a privilege to network.

Granted, there are many exceptions to this, but nevertheless the generalization holds true.

Just walk down the aisle at your next national show to see how many salespeople are sitting, have their arms crossed, talking amongst themselves, on their cells, eating, or looking like the alive dead. You’ll notice these signs of “poor booth behavior” are less prevalent at a home show, where entrepreneurs are trying to build their business.

Why is this?

Human nature. People respond to incentives. Entrepreneurs know they are there to put money in their pockets, and it is easy for them to see the process: 1) stop traffic; 2) qualify leads; 3) follow-up; 4) make the sale. Sales reps at big companies don’t believe that trade shows will lead to direct benefit to them; therefore it is a duty.

If they believe there is no direct benefit, it is probably because, as things are, there isn’t. Bigger companies tend to have a more convoluted system that may include territories, longer sales cycles, sophisticated distribution etc. In addition, the show may be obligatory for branding but not so effective for sales prospects.

While the salespeople may have a hundred better things to do that day, the leadership of the company usually does care, just like the entrepreneur. But the CEO is usually too far removed to get involved, and so the show goes on to help branding and market presence, but sales? Not so much.

Any leader of a larger organization would cringe at the wasted sales opportunity. Marketing is important, but sales keeps the organization breathing.

What to do?

Here are three solutions:

1) Give those on “BOOTH DUTY” goals and rewards. Plus make it competitive with teams. Competition always fuels active participation and peer pressure to produce. Don’t be stingy with the rewards – how much money are you investing in exhibit, space, giveaways, opportunity cost of exhibit team, travel, food, entertainment, etc? Cash is king, gift certificates work well, or simply ask them what they want. Believe me, they’ll tell you.

2) Bring in a trade show trainer who understands techniques to stop traffic. A trainer will also show you how to qualify leads and get attendees to agree to an appointment or follow-up call.

3) Stop doing trade shows. If your show doesn’t generate a measurable ROI, and you don’t want to try the solutions above, consider saving thousands of dollars by dumping it, and invest a bit in inbound marketing for your sales people.  They’ll never see that as a “duty”.

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2 Responses to “Trade Show Strategy: Who Cares?”

  1. Jason Kallio Says:

    I agree with you so much that I put out a challenge to the big companies: http://tinyurl.com/ExpoVantage-challenge. Anyone accepting my challenge will have the incentive needed to produce results. They will never look at it as “duty” ever again.

    Shame on leadership for not explaining the value of the show to the company’s overall picture.

  2. Werbegeschenke Says:

    I agree with you as well, I’ve been to trade shows as part of a big company as well as a smaller company and, without really realising it, there was a far different atmosphere to the smaller one where everyone was totally keen to sell at every opportunity. The larger one was so stale it almost didnt seem worth it as people were just looking out for free gifts they knew would be expensive!

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