Yes, we know that your tradeshow exhibit tells a story.
Often, a great exhibit design will capture the brand so accurately that the
design is often all that is needed. But frankly, that’s the exception more than
the rule. But even without an iconic design that broadcasts what your company
is about, your tradeshow exhibit tells a story anyway.
Design: even an average design can be executed well
and tell a big part of your story. But a compelling story can come to life.
Tell the story of how you created the soft drink because your Grandma used to
make something similar when you were a kid. Or how you invented something to
help a friend. Doesn’t really matter, your product or service likely came from
some inspiration. Can you tell the story of that inspiration in a concise way
using graphics and 3D elements?
Graphics: here’s where most of the story is told, and
the weight of this rests on your graphic designer and marketing team that is
communicating the correct message to the designer. Get it right and you’ve done
better than most of your competitors. Get it wrong…?
Craftsmanship: not all exhibits are built from
scratch. Depending on where you purchase your exhibit, it may be something
that’s designed and built from scratch in the USA. Or it may be from an
overseas manufacturer and it came direct from a catalog showing thousands of
similar designs. With an overseas manufacturer involved, you will be
hard-pressed to know the quality of the materials used for the exhibit.
Cleanliness: at least this is something you have
quite a bit of control over during the show. But a clean booth tells a story.
So does a dirty booth.
People: the booth staffers are your front line. Are they
well-trained in how to engage with visitors? How to ask the right questions?
How to politely disengage? How to act in a booth (stay off their phone, don’t
eat, etc.)? Whether you like it or not, visitors will forget a lot of things.
But they’re very likely to remember an unpleasant or below-average encounter
with a booth staffer. Just like they’d probably remember an encounter that
Stories are told with every piece of your marketing and your
prospect’s interaction with your company. What story are your prospects being
told, and what are they remembering? And is that story in line with your goals?
You may think the difference between a competitor and a collaborator
is easy. Pretty cut and dried. But is it?
In tradeshows you can meet all sorts of other companies. As
an exhibitor, you can probably identify the direct competitors pretty easily.
They’re selling either the exact same thing you are with a different name, or something
that’s so similar that most people couldn’t tell them apart.
Coke vs. Pepsi. Nike vs. Adidas. Ford vs. Chevy. Classic competitors all.
There are a number of ways to work with competitors, as there are many ways in which you can identify potential partners for tradeshow promotions.
Collaborate with a Competitor
As competitors, one easy way to team up is to both promote a
non-profit that is important to your industry. For example, if two outdoor clothing
makers partnered up to help raise awareness for a non-profit that was working
for, say, public access to forest lands, that would be a good way to position
both companies as aligned and working toward similar goals.
Similarly, competing companies could team up at a tradeshow to fight for attendees’ rights. Bigger voices can have a bigger impact, especially if those voices came from well-known companies.
Create a Partner
When it comes to collaboration, it’s a bit easier to dream
up ways to work with other companies that will be exhibiting at the same show.
You can come up with joint promotions (you sell coffee, they sell pastries; you
sell cars, they sell high-end floor mats) that are a good natural fit.
Before the show, get together with the other exhibitor and brainstorm ways you can move traffic around, or benefit from each other’s booth visitors. For example, you may have a newsletter sign-up sheet: on the paper, give people the option to sign up for your collaborator’s newsletter, too. Spell out the benefits of doing so.
However you approach collaboration with a competitor or a partner that’s not a direct competitors, realize that it will take more time and energy to make it happen, and likely a sign-off from managers to move forward. But the right collaboration can help raise brand awareness for both companies.
Pool Your Resources
If both companies are small but want to make a bigger impression, consider pooling your resources to grab a bigger booth space. Instead of 20 10x20s, share a booth and make it a 20×20. Of course, in this instance you’d want to really be ready to show visitors that you’re working together in a very significant way. But by doing this, the booth can show off more of each company’s strengths, and since it’s probably going to be a one-time appearance, it would make sense to save even more and just rent a booth instead of having a new custom booth created.
Come up with contests, or ways to involve more than one exhibitor that moves attendees from one booth location to another. Invite visitors to pick up a Bingo-like sheet with a handful of companies on it. If they go to all booths mentioned and have the sheet stamped, they can have the completed sheet submitted for a chance to win a prize package from all the companies involved.
Beyond the Show Floor
Off the show floor, you could throw a dinner or party and
invite both (or more) company’s customers. By doing so, the underlying and unstated
message is “We’re proud to be associated with this company and stand by their
services and products.” It shows visitors something new about one company that
that they may not have known before and raises the level of trust and integrity
Client relations is an important key to creating a successful
project and a successful business.
Over the years in both radio, where I spent 25+ years
dealing with radio advertisers, and in the tradeshow world, where I’ve spent 17
years working with companies that are looking to buy or upgrade exhibits, I
have picked up a few useful things along the way. At least, one would hope!
Clients come in all shapes. Every client approaches a project, big or small, in their own unique way.
Some are extremely hands-on, asking tons of questions about
detail after detail. Others are quite hands-off, not too concerned about the
details but just looking for a good outcome.
During my years in radio, I would work with clients who either wanted to voice their own commercials or be involved in the minute details of the production of a radio commercial. As a (mostly) patient man, it was interesting to note how many details some clients wanted to control and obsess over. They’d criticize the speed of the speaker, or the level of the music. Most clients, though, just handed in an order and wait for the result. When they listened to the end result, they’d usually just sign off and let it go.
It’s not that different from the tradeshow world. Clients are clients, and some chime in on every detail they possibly can. Others just want to make sure that the broad strokes are handled from their perspective, and delegate others to take care of the details.
And bottom line, outcomes are important. The hands-off client knows that we’re all professionals, and we’re used to obsessing over the details ourselves. The hands-on client knows this as well, but for reasons of their own its important to be an integral part of the process.
Neither approach is wrong, and both can be effective. Most clients I’ve dealt with are somewhere in between: they want to get involved at some level of detail but would rather understand the big picture of how it is all going, and make sure things happen to meet deadlines.
One thing I’ve picked up is that the more questions a client asks, it’s usually a good thing. As a salesperson, knowing that a prospect (and perhaps eventual client) is asking a lot of questions means they’re interested. No questions, little to no interest; lots of questions, high interest.
Many clients want to add more to the scope of work as time goes on, and some of the more delicate conversations revolve around how much those extras will cost. Some companies are ready and willing to spend what it takes to get what they want, and others are doing their best to adhere to a strict budget – and still get as much as they can for the dollars. Flexibility on both sides during those discussions is critical to moving the project forward while deadlines loom.
Bottom line: clients are great to have, whether they’re extraordinarily detail-oriented or whether they’re looking at the bigger picture.
Another thing that I keep in mind: whether I have 2 projects or 5 big ones and 8 small ones going on, that doesn’t matter to the client you’re currently on the phone with. As far as they’re concerned, they’re the only one you should care about and focus on. Nobody exists except them. That’s not really the case, but if you can make them feel like they are, that feeling will go a long way!
As an exhibitor, you’ve got most of the moving parts handled: logistics, schedules, booth staff up to speed on how to handle prospects, ask opening questions and so on.
But what’s the last thing you should do once you have converted a prospect into a lead? It’s a step that a lot of people in sales, especially newer ones, tend to overlook. And it’s easy to let this critical piece slip by quickly.
At the beginning of the visit, you clarify if the visitor is interested in your product or service by asking good questions. During the conversation with them, you’re asking more clarifying and confirmation questions.
But what about the very last step?
Confirming everything before they leave. Make sure that their business card or scanned badge info is accurate down to the email address and phone number. If you can’t get back to them easily, they’re lost. Confirm the next step: when you’ll call (or write, or visit), what that next step entails (more product information, order sheet, longer product demo, etc.), what you might need to send them prior to the call or visit (sell sheets, white paper, etc.).
In every sales meeting – and let’s be clear that a tradeshow visit that gets this far and turns a prospect into lead is definitely a sales meeting – the last step before parting is to confirm what the next step is.
The challenge that comes up if you don’t clarify the next step is that you may forget. Or your lead may be unclear what to expect from you and when. Better to take an extra minute so that there is no mutual mystification. Make sure you both know what’s coming next and when.
Magician and professional tradeshow presenter Robert Strong discusses how to draw a crowd, how he works with clients, and what makes a good opening line – and a lot more – in this enlightening interview.
Robert also shared a list of Best Booth Behaviors:
1. Remove bad behaviors: No eating, drinking, cell phones, sitting, booth huddles, etc.
2. Add good behaviors: Stand, face the aisles, smile, make eye contact, initiate conversation, etc.
3. If you are not getting rejected a hundred times an hour, you are not initiating enough conversations.
4. Have a strong opener: What do you do at your company? What is the most interesting thing you have seen at this show? What is your (companies) biggest pain point?
5. Make the current attendee you are talking with the most popular person at the show.
6. Be able to do the overview (elevator pitch) in 10 seconds, 30 seconds, and 90 seconds.
7. Understand and communicate concisely the giveaways and raffles.
8. Be able to scan badges and do it quickly.
9. Qualify leads quickly, make introductions, and end conversations quickly.
10.Have three case studies (success stories) rehearsed and ready to go.
11.When doing a demo, scale. When you see someone else starting a demo, help them scale.
12.You are on stage. High five each other, fist bump each other, enthusiastically cheer for your fellow booth staff, and let the attendees see that you really like each other and are having fun.
13.Treat the attendees exactly how you would want to be treated if you were in someone else’s booth.
14.Make a follow-up plan and take notes.
And finally, this week’s ONE GOOD THING: the Bag Man Podcast about Vice President Spiro Agnew.
It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, no doubt you’d like to have great clients. Wouldn’t we all? Which isn’t to say that any of my clients are not good clients – they are. In fact, most are great clients.
So what does it take to be a great client?
Before I address that, let me say that people I know have been known to fire clients.
Excuse me? Fire a client? Why would you do that?
A friend of mine ran a small business doing voiceovers. At one point several years ago one of his clients happened to be nearly half of his business, so he felt obligated to keep working with them because they brought in a significant amount of money. But the downside of that was that the client also brought the most headaches: late payments, lack of communication, downright verbal abuse at times.
Which made it hard to continue to do good work for them. One day he fired his client. “I can’t work with you anymore. Please find someone else. I quit.”
As you might imagine, the client was shocked. But had no choice. They were no longer a client.
Which freed up my friend, both timewise and having to deal with someone so bad. It didn’t take long to replace the business, either.
We should all have nothing but great clients, but I’m sure it’s no surprise that it doesn’t always work that way.
Here’s my shortlist of how to be a good client:
Good communication: this is the most important item of all. Be responsive to questions. Give clear answers. When you have to ask a question, make it as clear as possible. Respond in a timely manner. Whether discussing details of an exhibit design or working out upgrades to graphics or finalizing shipping, clear communication in both directions makes everyone much more satisfied with the final result.
Be aware of all deadlines: Understanding deadlines goes both ways. The exhibit house knows how long it takes to design, fabricate and ship an exhibit. They should clearly communicate that to the client how long items take, and give out reasonable deadlines for graphic submission, shipping dates and so on. The client should take responsibility to adhere to the deadlines and communicate to the exhibit house any challenges they face along the way.
No mutual mystification: back to communication. If a question doesn’t get asked it won’t get answered. This goes both ways. Share everything in detail.
Clearly Understood Expectations Regarding Money: When entering into an arrangement with an exhibit house, one item that should be understood from the beginning is how the project will be paid for. This starts with the exhibit house but must be reciprocated by the client. Most exhibit houses are flexible (we are) which means that whatever terms are worked out will be to the satisfaction of both parties. If a significant down payment is expected within a certain amount of time, that should be clearly communicated to the client. If that agreement is reached, the expectation is that it will be adhered to. Having to chase money is one of the worst parts of anyone’s job. As a service provider, you hate to be put in the position of doing that, and as a client, you hate to be reminded that it’s time to pay the invoice.
Sharing Good and Bad News: I once had a boss that told me, “I want to hear good news as soon as possible. I want to hear bad news sooner than that.” No matter what the bad news, let your exhibit house know immediately so they can respond. It could be anything (and anything can and does happen in the tradeshow world), but it can’t be dealt with until the bad news is passed along in detail. As exhibit house managers, we don’t like to get bad news, no matter who’s fault it is, but it would be worse to NOT get the bad news and have the client internalize it and hold a grudge. As for good news, if you had a great experience at a show and the exhibit (and anything else coordinated by your exhibit house) was a big part of your success, make sure you share that with them. In fact, you might offer to write a testimonial or make a referral.
Finally, Be Friendly: The best clients are those that become friends. Even if you don’t see them frequently, having a client that looks forward to seeing you, and vice versa, makes it all that much better. Talking about kids, sports, vacations and more helps build the relationship from a client/service provider to an actual friendship. And makes it harder to move elsewhere.
Being a great client goes hand in hand with a being a great exhibit house, working with an organization that understands your needs and not only meets but surpasses them.
Once you have that, it’s a lot easier to be a great client.
“Write a book!” they said, so I did. Two, in fact. Here’s the short version of how it unfolded.
As a kid I thought the best job ever was to be a Beatle. The second-best job would be a comic book artist. But the third-best job? Being an author. A novelist! Reading those great science fiction novels by Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke and others, I dreamed of creating a life in the stars (on paper). I tried my hand at a number of stories but was never satisfied. So with my love of music I gravitated to a job that was more fun: being a radio announcer.
After 26+ years of radio, I arrived in the tradeshow world. I wanted to do something to differentiate myself that involved my love of writing and creativity (which I never really gave up). Hence, I blogged. Quite a bit, in fact. This blog, the TradeshowGuy Blog, published its first article in November of 2008. Ten years!
Along the way I published a pretty popular e-book called “101 Rules of Tradeshow Marketing” which was downloaded over 5000 times (I obsessed about the stats back then – I don’t obsess on stats any more).
The First Book
But a real book? One that you could hold in your hand and give away or sell? That seemed like a big challenge. My thought was to write a book to use as a heavy business card that thudded when it hit someone’s desk. To differentiate myself from others. To be, well, an author!
In 2010 I started. And fizzled. Tried again a year or two later. That fizzled as well. Long-term focus on this goal was difficult with lots of distractions.
But in early 2015 I started again with renewed focus determination, and was not willing to take no for an answer. After about six months I came up with a first draft. I reached out to Mel White at Classic Exhibits, who has been very supportive of me and my business over the years. He offered to go over the manuscript and offer his comments. This was critical to keeping the project moving forward.
In the meantime, I’d been reviewing a number of self-publishing platforms and kept seeing and hearing about CreateSpace, which was by then an arm of Amazon. It seemed easy-peasy to be able to submit a manuscript in almost any shape and by choosing a specific package you could have yet another editor or two or three do their magic. CreateSpace also handles the registration of an ISBN number, and since they are owned by Amazon, the seamlessness of having your book appear on Amazon for sale as both a print-on-demand paperback or Kindle download. CreateSpace also wrote marketing copy based on your outline.
Based mostly on budget, I picked one of their mid-range packages which meant they would have two editors look at it. One would do “line editing,” which is where a professional editor helps “strengthen your manuscript’s content with one round of feedback and connections to structure, plot, characterization, dialogue, and tone from a reader’s point of view.” Then a copyeditor goes over the manuscript with a fine-tooth comb, picking it apart grammatically and with an eye to classic punctuation and editing standards: “includes an average of 10-15 typographical, spelling, and punctuation revisions per page that your readers will notice – but your word-processing software won’t.”
The whole process of editing was eye-opening, and a learning experience. I disagreed with a few of the suggestions made but kept most of what the pros advised. I figured the best thing was to humbly submit to the process and do what was necessary to make the manuscript better.
Something I really wanted in the book to break up the big blocks of text was a series of cute black and white line drawings that supported and enhances the “fun and educational” feel of the book I was going for. I looked first on Fiverr.com but didn’t find any style of drawing that I liked that much. Eventually I landed at Thumbtack.com, asked for some examples and ended up choosing an artist named Jesse Stark. His drawings were exactly what I had envisioned, and his price was reasonable and fair.
Now for the cover. Not being a graphic designer, but wanting to at least give it a try, I mocked up a handful of potential covers. I didn’t really like any of them (did I mention I’m not trained in graphic design?), and asked Jesse if he would be interested in doing a cover. He was, and after some discussion, came back with a mockup. I wasn’t crazy about it, and thought it needed a photo of a tradeshow floor that showed dozens of booths from a high vantage point. I finally tracked down a photo I had taken at Expo East in the early 2000s from that angle, and had him use that to complete the cover. (Side note: Jesse also designed the TradeshowGuy silhouette that I use in the company logo).
As you might imagine, the hardest thing to do when assembling all of the pieces of a book project is what to name the damn book? I rejected a handful, but only debated a few over the nearly year-long project:
Deconstructing Tradeshows: 14 Steps to Tradeshow Mastery
Create a KickA$$ Tradeshow Experience: 14 Steps to Tradeshow Success
The book made it to Amazon on late October 2015, and I officially launched it the next month with a video series, a flurry of press releases and some giveaways. My view on publishing a book, though, wasn’t to sell as many copies as I could. It was to have something that no other tradeshow project manager had: a book.
The book was mentioned in some local business publications, and I’ve showed it off at networking meetings (who else has their own book?!), but the most notable mention came when Exhibitor Magazine published a multi-page article on the book and me. As one LinkedIn colleague said, “It doesn’t get any better than that!” So true.
The Second Book
Time passes. After the initial excitement of having a book to promote and giveaway fades, thoughts turn to what to do as a follow-up. It’s been said that one of the best ways to sell and promote your first book is to write a second book. But what would that second book be when I felt I put all I knew into the first book. And I knew I wanted a second book to follow up the first one.
It took a while, but I came to settle on the idea of taking the dozens and dozens of list blog posts I’d written for the blog. It took some time assembling all of the posts – many covered similar topics and had to be combined and edited – but once that was accomplished, I reached out to Mel again for help.
This book didn’t write itself, but since the content had already been created it was a matter of grouping the lists into specific topics was the main task. And of course I wanted the same illustrator so I emailed Jesse to see if he was interested. He said yes, so we moved forward.
The second book, still untitled, was a lower budgeted affair. I enlisted Mel again, and he also had his English professor wife, Mary Christine Delea, go through it as well. Once their two edits were done, I uploaded to CreateSpace, agreed on the more modest single line edit requested before going to print.
Now…what to title the book of lists? I had a couple of lists that referenced zombies, and one that referenced superheroes, so I played around with them for awhile:
Quirky Interactive Activities, Exhibiting Zombies, and Tradeshow Superheroes: A By-The-Numbers Guide on How to Take Advantage of the Most Effective Marketing Vehicle the World Has Ever Seen (I think this won a record of some sort for longest proposed title!)
Exhibiting Zombies, Tradeshow Superheroes and Quirky In-Booth Activities:
A List Manual on How to Take Advantage of the Most Effective Marketing Vehicle the World Has Ever Seen
Exhibiting Zombies, Tradeshow Superheroes and Delighted Visitors:
Exhibiting Zombies, Tradeshow Superheroes and Elated Customers:
Exhibiting Zombies, Tradeshow Superheroes and Delighted Customers: etc…
For publicity, I did a little, including sending out copies of books to tradeshow publications and press releases to local business publications. I also spent a very modest amount of money on a Twitter book-promotion platform that promised tens of thousands of views of promotional tweets. Modest: less than a hundred bucks. Nothing came of it. Again, the point was to have another book to give to prospects to differentiate myself, and if a few copies sell, well, great!
Interestingly enough, sales have picked up in the past few months with no further promotion. Maybe having both books out there and easily found on Amazon is working!
If you have an idea for a book, should you self-publish, or should you pursue the traditional route through a publishing house? Both have their pros and cons, but to me having complete control over the look and feel of the books and getting a much higher royalty rate made sense for my approach. Yes, the distribution at this point is ONLY online, but to me that’s sufficient. I didn’t write to sell a trainload of books, I wrote to differentiate myself from other exhibit houses and project managers. And to that end, I feel I’ve succeeded.
Now my main thing is making sure that potential clients have a copy of one or both books. That, and thinking about what I might write for a third book in the next couple of years.
Yes, these are actual conversations with clients. No, they are not from surreptitious recordings, but rather, from memory, which is probably not as accurate as I’d like. But nonetheless, these are the types of things our exhibiting clients at TradeshowGuy Exhibits are asking about.
“We need a 10×10 pop-up. Do you have a few options that you can show us with pricing?”
This is an easy one. I popped over to our Exhibit Design Search and assembled a gallery of about 15 10×20 exhibits, with a price range of about $1,500 to about $6,000.
A week goes by.
“Here’s one we want. We need it in three weeks. Can you send art specs?”
Can do in both cases. Let her know. She placed the order and it was delivered a week ahead of schedule.
“We’re going to expand our exhibit for the upcoming Natural Products Expo. Where do we start?”
“Best thing is to schedule a conference call with our designer, so we can get your input and ask questions.” We did. The call was fruitful and resulted in a handful of revised renderings of their booth, which was being expanded from a 10×20 to a 10×30.
“One more thing. We don’t want to have to set up the booth this time, since we’re expanding. We’re kind of at our limit for doing that with the 10×20. Can you help?”
“Of course, let me get you some options and pricing for review.”
They settled on the redesign and makeover of the exhibit, signed on board to have an I&D company take care of the setup and dismantle, which we coordinated. The show went off without a hitch, the owners and investors were pleased; they came home with more leads than they had expected.
“Our carpet didn’t show up,” I was told by the I&D leader from the show floor. Exactly. Why not. I was in another hall on the show floor, so I hustled over to see first hand what was happening. This started a long and twisting tale of a missing carpet that had actually been delivered to the advance warehouse but failed to make it to the booth space.
“I’ll speak with show services,” I said.
I let the client know. “We have an issue. The carpet didn’t show up and we’re working to find a solution.”
“Well, crap.” It was probably not the exact word. “What now?”
“We’re working on it. We’ll figure something out!”
With a little help from our I&D rep, we were able to make the show come off with very little problem, although the carpet in question still has not turned up months later, and a claim is pending. Things do go wrong sometimes, and it’s really nobody’s fault. Stuff happens. What’s important is how you deal with it. In my experience it is always a team effort to track down replacement items, make do with what you have or any number of other things to pull off a good experience at the show. You gotta have a good team, and you gotta work with pros.
One more. Client D.
“We would like pricing on changing out graphics for our booth for an upcoming show,” said the client. “I’ll send the specs,” he said, which arrived shortly in an email. The show was less than two months away, so while there was indeed time to make the changes, but with that timeline it meant that no time could be wasted.
Got the pricing, sent it over. “Looks good! I’ll get artwork soon!” Knowing that I’m working with a good client that has consistently worked to upgrade their exhibit, I start the process to create a new job number and add in the potential project to the job tally. A few days go by.
“Looks like this project is on hold for the time being,” he writes. “We’ll get to it for another show soon. Keep you posted.”
Ooops! Make the changes, remove the new job number, took a breath. Don’t count your chickens, etc. Hate to get ahead of yourself. Just want to make sure the client is happy.
This is all very typical, I’m sure, to anyone who works in the industry. Upgrades, expansions, challenges, decisions made and then changed. Part of the great game we call tradeshows.
What conversations have you had with your exhibit house lately?
Selling anything, whether in a clothing store, a car dealer showroom, or a tradeshow, means in some sense you have to understand your buyer. You must have empathy for what they’re going through or the sale will be much more difficult.
When you put yourself in the shoes of your potential buyer, you feel what they feel. You understand what they understand. You know what problems they are facing. You know what it would feel like to have a solution to the problem that your product or service would provide. You must know what makes them feel good, what makes them feel hurt.
Your marketing strategy should include efforts to understand those potential clients or customers. Ask yourself these questions:
Do you really understand how they feel prior to learning about your product or service?
What is the perspective of your customer in regard to your product or service?
How do your prospects view the world?
What challenges do they face?
How do they view companies such as yours?
There are other related questions that will come up, but the goal is to see the world from their perspective as best as you can. The more you’re able to do this – and the better you’re able to communicate that understanding back to them – the higher your chances of converting them from a prospect to a client.
A year ago, our new client Schmidt’s Naturals debuted a new custom 10×20 at the Natural Products Expo West. It was a custom exhibit designed by Classic Exhibits‘ designer Kim DiStefano. The design was submitted to Exhibitor Magazine’s annual Portable/Modular Awards, which honor design excellence in portable, modular and system exhibits. Here’s what it looked like on the floor of Expo West:
A couple of years ago, one of our clients, SoYoung, was a winner in the competition. We’re glad that Schmidt’s Naturals got the nomination and we wish them the best when the winners are announced in late winter at ExhibitorLIVE!
We’d like to invite you to see all of the entrants in the Exhibitor Portable/Modular Awards – take a look here and vote your favorite. And remember, you can vote once per day until the competition closes.