Trade shows are pivotal events for your business. They create a steady stream of customers perusing and passing your booth. A captive audience, almost. You get to encounter massive amounts of people who are interested in your exact product line. Consequently, you’ve dedicated money and talent and manpower hours to preparing and manning the booth. However, you might inadvertently be making some key errors as you go along. Are you planning well? Do you and your staff have staying power? Are you following through? You’ve got a tremendous investment, not only in money, but also in time, training, and team-building in marketing your business at trade shows. Pay attention to these classic mistakes exhibitors make to ensure you don’t get in the way of your own success!
Before The Event:
1. Failing to train booth staff and discussing proper expectations: Don’t assume that because you bring sales professionals to a trade show that they will understand the nuances of working the event. Make sure you train your staff so that they have the proper expectations and know-how beforehand. Role-play some common situations and likely problems. Show them how to engage with prospects. Caution them against playing games, texting, eating, or chatting away while prospects stroll by your booth. Coach them to stand at the ready to greet visitors. Help them see the importance of the event and that input equals output in sales. Most of all, staff your booth with people who are as good or better than you!
2. Hauling too much literature to your booth: Most of the literature handed out at trade shows doesn’t make it past the garbage can in your prospects’ hotel room. Instead of paying to print and ship loads of cumbersome, heavy literature, print and ship ONE copy of it and write “Show Sample” on it. Display it at the show, and then get your prospect’s contact information to email or mail the info to them after the show. Not only will it save you the expense of hassle of paper literature, it gives you a great call to action to follow up with your prospect after the show. You can also investigate various technology to get information in your prospects’ hands, such as QR codes and mobile marketing platforms. If you really want to get your information to prospects quickly, find a system that sends it to them as soon as their contact information is entered (even if it’s someone physically doing this at the end of each show day).
3. Hoping (but not planning) for trade show success: We don’t plan to fail, we fail to plan! A good plan is the cornerstone of good results. If you talk to people who haven’t seen the results they were expecting, you will usually hear that they just didn’t have a plan or they “didn’t plan for THAT.” The reason people fail to plan is because it’s just plain hard work – it takes buckling down and figuring out TODAY what you’ll need NEXT MONTH. It takes a good number of brain cells to think that far out and imagine the challenges a trade show might bring when you’ve got 1,000 other things to think about between now and then. However, if you don’t have a good plan in place you will inevitably run into problems you (wait for it!) hadn’t planned for! And since you won’t be able to show an ROI to justify future shows, all you’ve really done is waste a lot of time, energy, and money. Discuss timelines with your trade show marketing consultant, get feedback from industry peers, do your homework, and start planning.
4. Keeping your exhibit service partner in the dark: Your exhibit service partner is the grease that makes the wheels turn smoothly. Don’t slack on grease! Make sure that the service/I&D crews handling the logistics of your booth understand what’s going on with your booth. Get them a list of shows for the year so that your booth gets from one show to the next, deciding which shows you have time to ship to the advanced warehouse and which events you may have to ship direct to the show. Discuss any unique items such as products in the booth, monitors, height limitations, etc. They are there to service you, but you have to give them the information they need to serve you best.
5. Underestimating your presence at trade shows: So you’ve got a great looking booth and you’re all ready to go. So where is everyone? Why don’t you have any traffic coming into your booth? Well, what have you done to promote your presence at the show? Did you make the critical but all-too-common mistake of spending all your time and energy on the actual display but none on promotion? Realizing that on show day is a kick in the gut. To avoid that sinking feeling, be sure to let your clients and prospects know about your trade show appearances by using an e-newsletter and social media. Blitz social media as the show draws near. Plan the launch of a new product/service around a show to create a buzz. Send invites directly to those prospects that you may not have connected with in the past. While forgetting to make your presence know is an easy mistake to make, it’s also an easy mistake to correct.
During The Event:
6. Underselling your company with bad graphics: Just don’t do this. Just don’t. There’s an “ick” factor to seeing businesses erect shabby displays. It just makes one wonder what else they do shabbily. All too often I’ve seen companies represent themselves at trade shows with a patchwork of a “display.” I’ve seen vinyl banners wrapped around foam board, dented or dinged up displays, and a variety of hodgepodge displays. Represent your company in the best light possible. A less-than-professional appearance does not give your prospect confidence in you or your products and services. This type of display will send prospects running to the competition.
7. Putting too much text on your exhibit: You’ve got literally seconds to get someone’s attention as they stroll around the show floor. No one will stop to read a lot of text. Statistically speaking, the more text you have, the less people are going to read. It’s overwhelming and so they move on. You cannot tell your entire company story on your tradeshow display, so pick a few, carefully chosen and crafted words to DRAW IN your audience. Once they are in the booth, you can use a few more words (along with your awesome product and winning personality!) to tell them more and fill in the gaps.
8. Ignoring your prospects’ needs: Don’t be so excited to get your message across and sell your product that you miss out on important info about your client’s needs. Pay attention to how they answer your inquiries about their needs. Also, be sure to be aware of body language and visual cues that may help you understand your clients’ needs even better. Oftentimes, you can tell how serious or anxious or causal a prospect is by how they move around the booth, the questions they ask, and the stance they assume. Take advantage of everything that a face-to-face interaction has to offer.
9. Depending on a fishbowl to bring in qualified leads: Lose the fishbowl! Every business person who has a stack of business cards is going to drop one in your drawing. And studies show that the better the giveaway, the more cards you’ll gather. Is that what you want? A stack of cards from moochers hoping to win something? Is this your customer base? Is this type of giveaway really providing you the qualified leads you are seeking? If instead, you will be an expert provider of solutions, you won’t need a generic giveaway contest to drive traffic to your booth.
10. Packing up early: This makes no sense to me, but I have observed exhibitors packing up before a show is over. This spreads from exhibitor to exhibitor and before you know it, an exhibit hall is a mess of cleanup/breakdown chaos. Half a day of fees to exhibit is lost because attendees stop coming into the hall because some early bird exhibitors decided to pack up before the published end time for the exhibit hall. Not only is it a bad business move to quit early, it’s disrespectful to customers and is very disruptive to the exhibitors. If prospects see exhibitors leaving early, they get the message that the show is over, and they move on as well. This hurts EVERYONE’S business. Most shows have rules that prevent exhibitors from dismantling before the show is over, to encourage professionalism and safety. However, if you notice this faux pas in action, alert the management.
After The Event:
11. Letting leads grow cold: Though this seems like a no-brainer, you might be surprised how often leads grow cold. For whatever reason, it happens. However, after the hype of the event and a stellar showing at your booth, prospects need to hear from you. Strike while the iron is hot, so they say. Call on prospects while they are still in the decision-making stage, while they have your company’s brand in mind, while they remember you. You need to make sure that your leads are called on in a timely fashion. Discuss next steps, quoting, future meetings, and provide any additional information they need. At the show, you were excited to speak to them, to get their business, to hear what they needed. It’s time to deliver on the promises and the expectations that you have set at the show.