10 SMB Trade Show Do's and 10 Don'ts

Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Posted by John Beagle

Photo: Ask.com Trade Show booth features open spaces, plasma display for demonstrating their product, literature stand and small LCD Display for additional demos.

By John Beagle and Corbin Ball

Trade shows are great ways to target a market. Trade shows help your market find you. Trade shows can increase company visibility by putting your target in an environment that facilitates direct contact with your manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, retailers, value-added resellers and your customers.

Trade shows are a Big Expense for most SMBs Trade shows are very expensive if you're not properly prepared, especially to a small and medium-sized business. Costs include travel, printing handouts, and shipping your supplies and equipment to the convention center. Businesses also have to bear the added expense of having employees away from the office. Other costs include obtaining plasma flat screens, sound, dvd and other 'high tech' equipment for your trade show booth.

ROI is Key
Your  ROI, return on investment, is the top consideration. After all, properly done, a trade show can be the less costly way to get your brand in front of most of your targeted audience.  For the average SMB trade shows are generally less expensive at reaching your customers than newspaper and magazine advertising, billboards, television and radio especially if you have a small non-consumer oriented market.

Trade shows are Targeted Marketing
Trade shows can be the best 'target' marketing an SMB can do. In general Terms, for most products and services marketing I would put trade shows on par with direct mail and Google Pay-Per-Click advertising in terms of reaching your target audience.

Trade Show Exhibitor Tips by a Professional and an Exhibitor As a professional speaker and former meeting planner Corbin Ball has attended hundreds of trade shows over his lifetime. He has observed and interviewed tens of thousands of exhibitors in their trade show booths.
As an exhibitor I have worked from inside the trade show booth. With over 22 years of exhibitor experience I have seen some companies' trade- show sales flourish while others fail in marketing their product at trade shows.  Together, Corbin Ball and I have put together these tips to help make your next trade show exhibit a worthwhile endeavor.

Here is a check list of dos and don'ts:

Do List

1. Pick a good spot for your Trade Show Booth. Sign up early to get the best spots. Some parts of an exhibit hall will often get better traffic than others. High traffic areas include trade show perimeters, front and center areas. Areas near food or major brands are usually good too.

2. Invite your clients to stop by your booth. Use blogs, postcard mailings, e-mail, company web sites, Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.  Invitations to your friends, partners, vendors and clients will increase traffic at your trade show booth.

3. Be alert and inviting.  Stand near the front of your booth.  Greet and engage as people walk by. Be friendly and smile.  You need to establish some sort of common ground to start a conversation.

4.  Survey your prospect: Ask about their needs - what do they want and or need.  Assume nothing as you ask questions to gauge your prospect's desires.

5. Have a Sales Spiel: Be able to state what your unique selling proposition is within ten or twenty seconds. Focus on what your product or service can do for the prospect rather than technical specifications or features.

6. Booth Layout is Important! No matter the size of your trade show booth design your booth to bring people into your carpeted area. You have about five seconds to capture the trade show attendee's attention before they are gone.  Have a featured discussion display or plasma flat screen with a presentation in an easily accessible area where several people can hear and see what you are presenting. Tip: Extra carpet padding is a subtle way of adding a welcoming quality to your booth. 

7. Lead Follow-up: Work out a system for capturing, qualifying and following up on leads. In a large show use the lead retrieval system provided by the show manager. In a small show it will be worth it to use a business card scanner (costs less than $100) to get the prospect into a computerized follow up system. 

8. Properly Staff your Booth. Have sufficient staffing to allow for rest and eating breaks. Your booth should always be staffed with fresh staff ready to put their best foot forward.  I have worked many smaller shows by myself. By the end of the show, usually 2 or 3 days, I didn't want to talk to anyone. 

9. Make a Lasting Impression: Make prospects glad that they stopped by and met you and your company. Give them a novelty item such as a pen or screen saver along with your business card.  For some prospects this is the start of your sales process. Thank each visitor for stopping by, even if they aren't a good fit. They may just send someone else your way.

10. Dress appropriately for your company and the target of the show. Work boots are fine if you are at a construction show and your company sells tools. A suit and tie is more appropriate for trade show with corporate buyers.

Don't List

1. Don't sit at your booth when prospects are present. Stand, be ready to engage all potential customers.

2. Don't eat, read or otherwise be distracted at your booth.
Avoid anything that inhibits your ability to engage the potential client.

3. Do not engage in conversation with your fellow booth sales person whenever there is a possibility to engage in conversation with a potential client. The customer should in all cases be the focus of your attention.

4. Do not stand with your arms crossed at the booth (the palace guard position). This position is unwelcoming and tends to drive potential engagement away. Do not stand with your hands folded low in front of you (the "fig leaf" position) or behind you (the military "at ease" position) for the same reasons as above.

5. Do not use the phrase "Can I help you?" -- The nearly automatic response to this question is "No thanks, just looking."  Refer to Do Tip #3 for what to do.

6. Do not hand out brochures to everyone. Until you have qualified the lead and they have expressed an interest, keep the marketing material in your own hands. Handing out brochures at initial contact may inhibit a deeper conversation. Often, it is a conversation stopper -- the potential lead will say thank you and move on. Instead, wait until you have engaged and qualified the lead before handing out information as the last point of contact.  Make your information important in your prospect's eyes. Your information is too valuable to just toss out to anyone.  Plus it is a cost waster.

7. Do not fail to assess the client's needs before providing a solution.

8. Do not fail to be impeccably dressed and groomed. You only have one chance to make a first impression.  Refer to Do Tip #10

9. Do not leave the booth unattended and do not take your stand down before the exhibit ends. You have made the commitment for the time. Often attendees will make a last minute rush of the hall and dismantling the stand shows a lack of this commitment.  Refer to Do Tip #8

10. Do not fail to follow up on requests for information. It is imperative that you do what you commit to in the booth. Refer to Do Tip #7

Well, there you have the 10 SMB Trade Show Do's and Don'ts..

Photo: The Google Booth was well manned and had 6 LCD displays for demonstrating their product. This photo was taken at the same time as the ASK booth above.

About the Authors
Corbin Ball, CMP, CSP is a professional speaker and consultant focusing on meetings technology. With 20 years of experience running international citywide technology meetings he now helps clients worldwide use technology to save time and improve productivity He can be contacted at his extensive web site: www.corbinball.com.

John Beagle is President of Xponex Media and has attended and worked computer and technology trade shows for over 20 years.

For further information regarding trade shows, I recommend:
The Computer Rental Blog for Corporate Events
The Tech Army Corporate Event Setup and Installation of Trade Show Hardware
Trade Show Displays
Exhibits, Kiosks, Digital Signs, Staging Multimedia, Sound and Video Walls
Plasma Flat Panel Rentals Are Popular with Exhibitors
Event Audio Visual Rentals