March 20, 2017

How to optimize your trade show investment

The Rainmaker BY KEN COOK

Trade shows are an integral part of the marketing strategy for some industries and companies. Frequently though, I hear unhappy comments about the return on the investment for exhibiting in a trade show.

And there's the challenge: It's a show you need to be at, yet you worry about the expense. Let me offer some guidelines to improve the return on your show investment.

1. Have clear goals and measure them. Don't go to the show to merely make some contacts. Rather, be specific on what you want your results to be. These can be sales leads, closed pieces of business, new partners or re-established relationships with existing customers. Build a metric or measurement spreadsheet for the show and track how you do.

2. Think of the show as a concentrated opportunity to connect with existing customers and prospective new relationships. Smart exhibitors benefit the most from trade shows by thinking of them as 1:1 selling opportunities, in a very intense and compressed timeframe.

Part of each day should be a series of get-togethers with pre-selected target customers, prospects, other exhibitors and influencers, all in an environment where the focus is, by nature of the show, on business and doing deals. Think about setting up a meeting room, often available in large halls, or set up your booth so there's a relatively quiet space with chairs. Visitors love to sit and rest.

3. Entice people to stop at your booth. Think of booth visitors as a form of speed dating. This means putting your best foot forward. Here are six easy things to do to help with that first impression.

• It's worth the extra money to get carpeting and padding. Visitors feel the difference as soon as they step into your booth, and they then hate to move back onto the concrete.

• Have an attraction that generates interest. This could be demos or interactions with your products, either real-time or online. Hold a raffle with an attractive prize. Offer massages, food or some other item that provides a moment of respite for visitors.

• Develop and staff your booth with ambassadors, not placeholders. Take the time to go over with show personnel what you expect them to cover with visitors. It's not necessary for staff to memorize a script and repeat it back to you. Rather, have them paraphrase, in their own words the central message you want to communicate. This message should focus on your unique value or benefit to the customer. In other words, it should be about the customer's experience from their point of view; it should not be just a sales pitch. Once the staff internalizes your key message, then they will communicate with authentic enthusiasm.

• Develop relationships with visitors. Visitors to trades shows know that the people staffing the booths are there to sell to them. So, they naturally put up their guard as soon as they enter the door of the exhibit hall. Employees staffing the booth should engage the visitor, ask engaging questions, and most importantly, listen. Learning about someone enables conversation and the beginning of a relationship. Selling someone raises barriers and shuts down interaction.

• Capture each moment as it happens. Make notes on salient points from the discussion, and any promises or commitments made immediately after a conversation is over. Note any insights or observations that could help with the customer relationship. After a full day of greeting people, conversations will blend. The notes will be valuable.

• Be generous and diligent with your follow-up. After the show, reconnect as promised in a timely manner. Offer something of value related to the conversation you had with someone. What you offer does not have to be tied to your product or service. It needs to be relevant to the prospect or customer. They'll remember that a lot longer than anything else.

Remember that everyone with whom your team connects is an existing or potential relationship with the person and the company. Connect to the person first before you explore opportunities.

And, measure your results. A trade show is the same as any other marketing tactic. Its purpose is to generate results. Don't guess as to whether the show was successful. Know for sure.

Ken Cook is the co-founder of How to Who, an organization focused on helping people effectively build relationships and building business through those relationships. Learn more at


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