So you’ve got a great booth. You’ve done a fair amount of pre-show planning and marketing. The products are terrific. Yet at the end of the show, your results fell flat. Not sure why, you say, you just can’t put your finger on it!
What about your BOOTH STAFF? Is there a chance you don’t have the right people? Or that you don’t have people that are properly trained in working a tradeshow?
It’s entirely possible that the success of your show depends on your booth staff. And if your staff is under-educated, ill-informed or simply not prepared, your results will show that.
So what do you do?
First, make sure you have the right people. A booth staffer should be outgoing, intelligent, approachable, friendly, knowledgeable – and trained in exactly what the company’s goals are for this show.
Which means that many of the people that you send to the show are not a good fit. Salespeople? Well, you’d think so. But if you have a salesperson that is used to a typical sales situation, they may not be prepared for a tradeshow floor, which is by its very nature, chaotic, fast and distracting. A ‘typical’ sales situation may mean that the salesperson has set up an appointment, makes an office visit and the prospect has scheduled 30 minutes, an hour or more for a meeting.
That won’t work on a showroom floor, and any salesperson who thinks it will work should be dissuaded of that attitude. Instead, a tradeshow booth staffer must learn to quick qualify or disqualify a visitor and move them on to the next step in a few moments. This doesn’t mean that the staffer must hurry someone along that is clearly a prospect, it’s that they must learn to recognize who to spend time with (and still limit that time), who to pleasantly thank and move on from, and how to steer prospects to the right people if appropriate.
This means that every tradeshow booth staffer can probably use a good training session. A good trainer will help a staffer to ask the right questions, and do a little role playing. It might mean that the staffer needs to be educated more fully on the company’s products and/or services.
At the bottom line, it means that the staffers – as well as anyone in the company involved in the tradeshow marketing effort – must expand their KNOWLEDGE BASE. The more information that people have, the more understanding they have and the more effective they’ll be on the tradeshow floor.
Another significant part of training will help inform staffers of the top no-no’s in a booth: eating, talking on a cell phone, standing with arms folded (which is body language for ‘don’t talk to me!’), and more.
Research has been done for years in the exhibiting industry, and multiple surveys and studies show that the more ‘buy-in’ a staffer has, the more effective they’ll be. The better-informed that all parties are, the more they’re able to work outside of their normal areas, which means that when a visitor shows up at the booth, the chances go up that they’ll be able to get an answer to their question, no matter what.
So: is your booth staff prepared? Do they understand the products and services? Are they capable of discussing them with visitors? Do they have qualifying questions ready for visitors? Are they able to greet people with a smile?
I would wager that no matter how good your staff is, they can be better at the next show by undergoing a training session. It’ll show in your bottom line.
Let’s tackle the BIGGEST part of your tradeshow strategy – at least in terms of potential cost.
We can agree that booths come in all shapes and sizes. We can also agree that they usually cost a LOT MORE than you anticipated, right?
Let’s leave the cost and size up to your particular company’s available budget, goals and marketing presence. For some companies, a 20×30 booth would be a huge investment, more than they could possibly justify. For others, a 70×100 might be smaller than they’re used to. So for now we’ll dispense with the actual size and cost and focus on other important elements.
Let’s start with the BRAND. Your booth should convey, at a glance, the look and feel of your brand. For some, that’s a natural wood look. For others, it means a high-tech look straight out of Star Trek. That doesn’t mean that a rootsy, earth-mama brand couldn’t get away with an aluminum structure with fabric graphics. Those decisions are typically made through long and detailed conversations with a 3D booth designer, the company’s marketing team and a booth fabricator. But still, the goal should be that when a visitor sees the booth and the company’s name, it evokes a FEELING that is in congruence with what the company wants the visitor to feel. If not, somebody messed up.
Secondly, your GRAPHICS MESSAGING should be planned so that a visitor’s eyeballs will follow it to its proper conclusion. Usually this means the hierarchy works like this:
Company Name or Logo
Positioning Statement or Bold Challenge
However, if your company is not well know, this typical hierarchy might change a bit:
Bold Statement or Challenging Question
Company Name or Logo
And on somewhat rare occasions, the company name might drop all the way to third place, if it’s an unknown company or if the company name is really insignificant:
Bold Statement of Challenging Question
Company Name or Logo
If your company name is unimportant in the sense that a product or brand is important or more recognizable than the company name, that might go first:
Tagline or Positioning Statement
There is no one-size-fits-all approach for graphics on tradeshow booths that covers all companies or situations. Instead, your goals, products and objectives should help determine how the graphic hierarchy is displayed. The main thing to keep in mind is that visitors pass by booths quickly and they all become a blur. Imagine your booth is a freeway billboard and you have 2 – 3 seconds to catch someone’s attention.
Next up: BOOTH FUNCTION.
From a 10×10 booth to the larger island booths, the function of a booth must be carefully thought out and discussed, and it will be determined largely by your show goals and objectives, the number of booth staff and how you want to interact with visitors. If you’re doing product demonstrations, for example, you’ll need to make sure the booth is big enough to accommodate the presenter or demonstrator and a small audience. If you’re sampling edibles, perhaps all you need is an easy-to-reach sampling table.
Every booth is different, every show is different and every company’s goals and objectives are different. Other questions to settle: Do you have enough storage? How many meeting areas do you need? Should the meeting areas be completely private or only semi-private? What products and/or services are you promoting at this show? Do you need video monitors, or an iPad kiosk to help visitors interact?
Take the time to address all of the functions that your booth needs. Those needs can be determined by the experience you’ve had at past shows as well as conversations with company staff that are involved.
And no matter what functions you detail and prepare for in your booth, chances are good that once you’ve lived in the booth for a few days, you’ll notice things that need to be changed for the next time. For example, one of our clients wanted a meeting space for their clients in a 20×30 booth, so one end of the booth – about a 10×20 space – was covered and mostly inaccessible to the casual visitor. However, after 2 – 3 times exhibiting in the booth, it became apparent that client meetings didn’t happen as often as they thought, and booth staffers found it to be a quick and easy place to hide out. So the covered meeting space was removed and the space was better utilized as product display and visitor interaction.
Of course BOOTH FUNCTION also includes things such as storage, meeting areas and traffic flow. While planning a booth you’ll want to take into account these three critical things. Not to say that they’re often – or ever – overlooked, but it’s not out of the ordinary for them to be miscalculated. For instance, traffic flow: do visitors have easy access to the booth? Or do you even want them to have easy access? Some companies design booths so that only desired visitors are allowed inside, limiting access to casual passers-by. Others want any and all visitors to step inside the line.
Storage needs to be considered: personal items (coats, purses, laptops, briefcases, etc.), products so samples can be replenished and more. Do you have enough space? Make sure you have enough, but try not to overdo it: space is at a premium at tradeshows and every cubic inch needs to be considered.
Finally: meeting areas. How many staffers will be meeting with clients or media types at the booth? How often? How many meetings are already scheduled ahead of time? How many do you anticipate to happen randomly?
Truthfully, it’s quite possible that the needs of each show will shift slightly from previous shows. The best approach seems to be to pay attention to how the booth is used at each show and make adjustments as budget and goals shift.
Finally, let’s touch on LOGISTICS, SET-UP AND DISMANTLE. In recent talks with a new client, they first mentioned the most important aspect of their new booth: it HAS to ship in a case small enough to go by UPS of FedEx. The large 4x4x8 wooden crates were a big NO-NO. So every possibility that came up from then on had to ultimately meet that objective.
To them, set up meant having a couple of booth staffers arrive a day or two early at the show, set it up with a minimum of fuss and tools, and avoid the double-whammy costs of pre-show staging and arrival at the advance warehouse, and having to hire show help to set up the booth.
Other companies don’t mind the extra cost – they try to minimize it, of course – but it’s more important to show their audience a great booth. Even if it means the booth is a 40×40 that requires a day to set up with hired help, and takes a dozen crates to ship.
Any good company will be aware of your desires in these areas, and determine what’s most important.
Best Case Scenario: having a booth that a) immediately conveys your company’s BRAND, 2) your GRAPHIC MESSAGING is clear and relates to this show’s goals and objectives, 3) is built to FUNCTION properly with room for meetings, storage, product/service display and 4) meets your company’s objectives when it comes to SET-UP and DISMANTLE.
A couple of weeks ago I posted a one-question survey which asked tradeshow marketers to identify their BIGGEST challenge when it came to creating a successful experience. To me, success means coming away form the show with more leads than last time, having a booth staff that’s on top of their game, a booth that really shows your company’s brand and identity and in general leaves you wanting to get back and do it again!
The survey went out via our tradeshow marketing list twice and was posted a handful of times on a few social media sites. In other words, it wasn’t scientific but was instead mean to capture a snapshot in time of what people were thinking when they clicked through to the survey.
The question read like this:
What is your biggest challenge in using tradeshows to market successfully?
The question was designed to be as straightforward as possible without trying to steer anyone to a specific answer or topic. There were eight answers possible. These came from the general topics under which all tradeshow marketing elements would likely fall:
Determining your show objectives
Pre-show marketing and preparation
Creating an awesome booth that represents your company’s brand and image
Booth staff training
Post-show follow up
Keeping track of everything from show to show
The survey was designed to let respondents to choose only one answer. I’m not sure if it would have been better or worse if respondents could have chosen more than one. My thought was it forced people to settle on just a single choice, no matter how many challenges they had in tradeshow marketing. Besides, the question asked respondents to tell us their ‘biggest challenge,’ not their two or three biggest challenges.
As responses to the survey came in, there were two answers that stood out as being the most challenging to the respondents: post-show follow up and creating an awesome booth. For a time it was neck and neck, but in the end, ‘post show follow up’ edged out ‘creating an awesome booth that represents your company’s brand and image’ but not by much.
Bottom Line: the answers don’t surprise me much. In my experience, some of the biggest challenges in tradeshow marketing that people recognize revolve around having a great booth, and taking care with all of those leads that come back to the office with you once the show is over. Booths can be expensive to create and maintain, and leads are often difficult to shepherd through a follow up process. About 80% of all tradeshow leads do NOT get followed up on, so that result is not surprising.
What was interesting to me is that booth staff training didn’t get a single hit among the three dozen or so survey respondents. Staff training is often one of the most overlooked and neglected areas that can influence a company’s tradeshow marketing success.
The fact that about 16% of respondents chose ‘pre-show marketing’ and ‘lead generation’ also indicates some challenging problems in identifying what is the best approach to driving traffic to your booth and, once they’re there, to capture leads in an effective manner.
Tradeshow marketing isn’t easy, nor is it cheap. If it was, everybody would be doing it and growing their businesses faster than they could keep up with. However, done right, it is one of the most effective ways of promoting new products and reaching new markets.