When it comes to tradeshow exhibiting, is it wrong thing to think, “Well, there’s always next time!”?
Maybe your most recent tradeshow didn’t go as well as it could have. You didn’t meet all the people you had hoped to and didn’t bring home as many leads as you were thinking you should have. Your staff’s interactions with visitors weren’t as good as they could have been.
In other words, you’re thinking that it may have been a waste of time.
If you think that, spend some time to identify WHY it might have been a waste of time.
Was it the wrong show? Maybe your expectations of the show itself were unrealistic. The show organizers might not have been as clear as you’d have liked on the state of the show. They could have assumed more people would show up, but the audience just wasn’t there.
Was it the wrong audience? Each show has a specific audience. If the audience isn’t a good fit for your products or services, it could be that you didn’t assess the show well enough.
Was your booth staff lacking in training? A well-trained booth staff can lift you above mediocre or average expectations. After all, they’re the front line in your interactions with the attendees. If the staff hasn’t been properly trained on that interaction, your results will reflect that.
Were your products or services either “blah” or not properly represented in your market? Your competition may have similar products and services, but if you staff was not fully engaged and the presentation of your products was indistinct, or fuzzy, or unclear, you won’t catch attendees’ eyes. Was your exhibit not up to the task? An old or poorly designed exhibit might save you money to ship and set up, and put off another capital investment, but if it doesn’t look good, or have the functional elements that you need to properly execute your tradeshow, it’ll cost you money in the long run, not save you money.
On the other hand, if you’re saying “Well, there’s always
another tradeshow” and you’re at least modestly pleased with the results, take
a hard look at what worked and what didn’t. Maybe your booth staff was good but
could be better. That’s a pretty easy fix.
Or maybe your exhibit is decent, and only needs a few minor
upgrades to make it really good. Another easy fix.
Other things to look at: pre-show marketing, post-show follow-up, cutting costs for shipping or logistics, and so on. Individually, they may not have a big impact, but executing each element better than last time can have a cumulative impact that’s hard to ignore.
At the end of the show, when everybody has had a chance to
review from their perspective what worked and what didn’t, and why, do a debrief.
But don’t wait too long – do it the first or second day you’re back in the
office. That will give a little time for reflection from all participants, but
not so much time that they’ll forget important feedback.
Based on what comes out of that debrief, make decisions that will better prepare you for the next show. Because there’s always another tradeshow.
As an exhibitor, try to schedule some time to talk to other exhibitors. Depending on how many other people you have on the booth staff, that may be easy or difficult. But give it a try. And I mean more than just the pleasantries with your neighbors that you’ll exchange when setting up and exhibiting. It’s easy enough to just show up, do your thing, and leave. But you’ll learn a lot when gathering information about other exhibitors’ experiences.
What to talk about and what information to look for?
At a recent show, I was curious to speak to exhibitors to get their sense of the show itself, and how they have fared. As a result, I spoke with quite a few exhibitors and got a broad look at the show. One exhibitor said she had exhibited at the show two years previously, and had written over $200,000 of business as a direct result of the show.
“Yes, indeed. Last year, we wrote about $50,000 worth of business from the show. A big drop, but considering our minimal investment, still a great return.”
Another exhibitor told me that he thought that the show had shrunk each year for the last couple of years, and there was even a chance it might have been cancelled.
“Why do you think it’s shrunk?” I asked (I was not sure it had shrunk or expanded; I was just playing along to see where he was going with this).
“There are a lot of shows in the industry,” he said, as if that explained things.
I also asked exhibitors if they went to any of the various breakout sessions. Most said no, but one or two said yes. Those seemed to be aimed mainly at attendees.
I asked several exhibitors if this was the only show they went to. Many said they do other shows, but not necessarily in this industry. Their company’s products and services can be pitched to other industries as well.
And finally, I asked if they were planning to come back to the same show next year as an exhibitor. A mixed bag: some said yes, others were noncommittal. But no one gave me a definitive NO.
Other things you can ask: how is job hiring going in your industry or your company? How well is your company doing against your direct competitors? Are there any companies here you would consider partnering with on any project or task? Are you looking to hire any positions soon? How many other shows do you plan on exhibiting at in the next year? Is this the only exhibit property you own, or do you have other elements you can set up to exhibit in a smaller or larger space?
When you find time to talk to other exhibitors, you’ll take away a larger sense of the show overall and how your fellow exhibitors feel about their place in the show and in the industry.
And you may make some good connections along the way!
Just got back from the Cannabis Collaborative Conference 6.0 at the Portland Expo Center last week, and put together a podcast-slash-video blog about the event. Got a chance to interview half a dozen exhibitors about what they see as big challenges and best opportunities in the cannabis industry.
Also be sure to check the photo album I put up from the show, and my most recent advance look at the show here.
Thanks to the following folks for allowing me to put them on video and add them to the show!
Here at TradeshowGuy Exhibits, we’re doing a little planning for 2019, but frankly, not much will change. Over the years I’ve recognized that some things work better than others, so I tend to focus on the things that work and not spend much time on things that haven’t proven to be successful in the past.
Having said that, in a way a lot of it is unpredictable. So much of marketing and business is a crap shoot, especially when you’re a small business. In a sense, you have to keep doing the things that got you this far.
When it comes to generating new business, the two most consistent things I can do are to attend tradeshows and meet people and keep in touch with them over time. They say that a potential client needs to see or hear from you at least seven times before they might become a client. In this business, in my experience it’s usually more, so I keep in touch as best as I can with phone calls, email and the occasional snail mail. Of course, having a book or two to send to potential clients is a good advantage to have, too. Maybe I’ll write another one this year, who knows!
We’ll continue to work with Classic Exhibits out of thePortland area for the bulk of our exhibit design and fabrication. They’ve gotten better over the years and their skills at designing and customizing exhibits is continually improving. Having them essentially in my back yard (we’re about 45 minutes away from their shop) makes things easier.And having them as an extremely supportive partner makes it easy to work with them.
We also work with a number of manufacturers for differentitems such as banner stands, lights and other things, and will continue to workwith them. Foremost among those companies is Orbus, which has been a dependable partner for years.
We also work with Eagle Management for client installation and dismantle, TransGroup Global Logistics for shipping, Cort Events for furniture rental. Over the years we’ve tried other companies, many of which are dependable, but in the past couple of years these companies have been steady partners and will likely continue to be.
If we’re staying the course, going steady as she goes as the saying goes, what does that mean and are any new things planned?
First, you’ll continue to see weekly postings of a video and audio version of TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee. As an old radio guy, sitting in front of a microphone (and laptop camera) is natural and easy and frankly fun. Guests are always great to have, and I strive to have them on the show more often than not, but if not, I typically find a topic to muse on for awhile. The objective, as I see it, is to share some personal and business observations, and great information as it comes. Guests and topics are generally event and tradeshow-oriented, but not exclusively. The idea is to attract non-event people if possible.
I’ll continue to post on the blog at least a couple of times
a week. Guest posts are always welcome as guests typically bring a different
perspective on a topic.
I’ll attend a handful of tradeshows, including NaturalProducts Expo West in March in Anaheim, where TradeshowGuy Exhibits has several clients. Other shows include the Northwest Food Service Show that bounces between Seattle and Portland year over year, and the Cannabis Collaborative Conference, where TradeshowGuy Exhibits will be exhibiting for the first time. There are a number of non-cannabis exhibitors there that support the industry and we hope to become a partner to companies in that space. Stay tuned to see how that goes – and find us in Space #420 at the Portland Expo on January 23rdand 24th, 2019.
As far as new things, I keep looking to work with strategic partners, such as branding agencies and graphic designers when it’s a good fit. You never know where projects come from, so I try to keep networking. And although I’m not a natural networker like some people, I do get better at it as time goes by. I currently belong to the Wilsonville, Oregon Tip Club, a B2B networking group that meets every month.
What about social media? So much time can be spent on social media – and so much can be wasted. I think there is a use for it – but as faras bring in business, it’s limited. My usage of social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn has decreased ever-so-slightly over the years because – as much as I’d love to have a consistent presence on those outlets –it comes down to a choice of how to spend my time. And most of the time it’s more important to work with clients and seek new ones. No doubt you face that choice, too. I’ll continue to be there when it makes sense.
Running a small business is challenging. But it’s fun. There’s almost nothing else I’d rather be doing (maybe skiing and playing the drums, but so far no one’s offering to pay me much for those skills!). So I’ll keep doing it, keep serving our current clients as well as I can, and keep searching for new exhibitors that want to work with someone who’s focused and dedicated to their success.
Best wishes for a great 2019! And…steady as she goes!
You might think that when I mention “tradeshow awareness” that I’m thinking of how you make visitors aware of your tradeshow booth, so you can draw people in. Sure, that’s important, but that’s not what I’m getting at here.
Let’s look at the other side: the awareness you as a tradeshow exhibitor has. What do I mean?
There are a number of things that, if you’re aware of, can help increase your success.
Let’s give an example that’s not related to tradeshows. For example, let’s say you want to lose 10 or 15 pounds. Not an unreasonable goal, right? But how does awareness come into play and how does it affect your efforts to lose that weight?
The most obvious way is to be aware of how much we’re eating and how much we’re exercising. And thankfully in today’s digital world, there are a lot of apps that can help you be more aware. One app I’ve used, Lose It!, lets you track calorie consumption, water consumption, and your daily exercise habits. After using it for over a year, not only did I lose the 15-20 pounds I was aiming for, but I realized that the very fact of being aware of my calorie intake and my exercise habits was a big contributor to the success of reaching my goal.
When you eat a cookie, let’s say, if you want to track the calories, you have to know how many calories it contains. Which means you have to look it up. If it’s a package of store-bought cookies, as opposed to home-cooked, the calories per cookie are listed on the package. If a cookie is 150 calories, log it when you eat it.
Same with breakfast, lunch, dinner and any other snacks you have. Once you’ve inputted your data (age, weight, sex, goals, etc.) the app calculates a daily calorie regimen. Stay under the daily allowance, and you’re likely to see your weight slowly drop. Go over the allowance consistently, and you won’t! Easy enough, right?
Then when you exercise, such as take a bike ride or go for a walk, enter that data, and the app calculates the amount of calories you’ve burned. Which means you can either increase your calorie intake or not. You get a visual reminder of everything. It works great.
But the key is awareness. If you weren’t aware of how many calories that cookie contains, you might not care. But now that you’re aware, you realize that each and every bite you take adds to your calorie count. Given that an adult needs approximately 2000 calories a day to maintain an even weight, it’s easy to go over that amount if you don’t count calories. If you’re not AWARE.
How does awareness play into your tradeshow success? Same principle. If you’re not aware of certain things, you won’t be impacted. If you are aware, the simple fact of being aware can likely make a positive impact.
What to Be Aware Of
What things are important to be aware of on the tradeshow floor?
Traffic: I would wager that most people don’t count the number of visitors in the booth at any given tradeshow. They may have a sense that the visitor count in their booth goes up or down year over year, but without an actual count, it’s just a feeling, and not actual data. Imagine if you could know exactly, or within a reasonable number, how many people visit your booth per day, or per hour, or per show.
Engagement: this might be a metric that is a little harder to measure, but if you are aware of what a good engagement with a visitor is, and you work to create better engagement through staff training, demonstrations or sampling, you’ll have a good idea of what outcomes those engagements lead to. Remember, you can’t control the outcomes, but you can control the behaviors that lead to outcomes. If your lack of engagement with visitors keeps your lead generation and engagement low, figure out what it takes to increase visitor engagement.
Leads: lead count is important. But so is the quality of leads. If you collect 300 leads at a show, but haven’t graded them as to hot, warm or cool, your follow-up will not be as good. But if out of those 300 leads, you know that 75 are HOT and need to be called within two days of returning from the show, and that 155 are warm and should be followed up within three weeks, and that the final 70 are COOL and need only be put on a tickler file or an email-later list, then the follow-up is going to be more consistent and likely more fruitful.
Booth staff: if you have a booth staff that is trained on how to interact with visitors, and how to be more aware of who’s in the booth, your results can only improve. Booth staff training is one of the key factors to success. Do you have a booth staff that is aware of what they need to do, how they need to do it and, how to engage with visitors?
Competition: awareness of competition may seem secondary to your company’s immediate success at any given tradeshow. But look at it this way: you have a lot of competitors at a show. The more aware of who they are, how they present themselves, what products they have (what’s new and what’s not) and the way those products are branded, the more well-informed you’ll be about the state of your competition. In a sense it can be a bit of a SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) from the floor of a tradeshow. If you’re good at gabbing, you can pick up all sorts of insights about competitors: personnel changes, strength of company, management moves, new products and so on. After all, every exhibitor is showing off their best and latest, and if you’re not aware of your competition, don’t you think its time you paid more attention?
Finally, awareness of how your actual exhibit looks compared to your competition. Gotta say it: everyone compares their exhibits to their neighbors and competitors. How does yours stack up? Is it normal, staid, complacent, expected? Or is it sparkling, engaging, new and different than others?
Awareness is critical to success in so many areas of our lives. Being aware of how things are working on a tradeshow floor is one of those things. Awareness will naturally help you make better decisions and as a result, show more success for your efforts.
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.
There are a lot of people in the tradeshow industry who are well-travelled and highly experienced, and I love chatting with them about tradeshow marketing. In this episode I sat with Michael Thimmesch, long time Skyline marketer, now a consultant with his own company. We covered a lot of bases of tradeshow marketing, including his approach of the FIVE LEVELS of tradeshow marketing. Where are you? Take a look:
As in any discipline, we can all end up very focused on just a few aspects of the overall skills needed to be a well-rounded and talented worked. For instance, in baseball, a pinch-hitter is great at hitting a pitch but may not be that great at fielding or running.
In the digital world, someone may be very good at engaging on Twitter or Instagram, but just doesn’t get LinkedIn or spend any time on Facebook.
A photographer may be an expert at photographing weddings but would have a difficult time to find a great landscape photo or have the patience to take a good night photo.
You’ve probably heard that it’s better to be focused on just one skill and become really, really good at that skill instead of being a Jack or Jill-of-all-trades.
I don’t agree. The more skills you have the better off you’ll be, even if those skills are only average or slightly above.
Take a writer. Some writers can be a great author but suck at promotion, social media engagement, public speaking and at other skills that would help them be more successful. There are lot of “average” authors that are very successful because they have learned how to engage on social media, speak in public, put together a solid promotion.
When it comes to the well-rounded tradeshow marketer, what skills should you have? Not necessarily be the greatest at, or extremely skilled, but all of the various skills to make you rise above the pack? Let’s take a look:
Organization: there are a lot of bouncing balls in the tradeshow world. Your ability to keep track of the many parts of tradeshow marketing is probably one of the most important skills.
Communication: whether it’s having a conversation or communicating with people via email, being able to understand, and be understood, is critical.
Social Media: you don’t have to have the most followers or engage with everyone that “likes” one of your posts, but you do need to know the basics of creating, writing, posting and engaging with those followers.
Scheduling: tradeshow dates on the calendar don’t move. Which means you’ll have to coordinate things such as logistics (shipping, travel, installation/dismantle), booth staff scheduling, updates to your exhibit (modifications, graphic printing, etc.) and more.
Photographer: maybe not the most important skill, but since you carry a camera around in your pocket, you’ll need to learn to take good photographs of the exhibit, and visitors in your booth. Learn how to frame people, get the lighting right, try not to let unwanted guests photobomb your photo, and more.
Labor: you may hire show labor to set up and dismantle your exhibit, or you may have to set it up with fellow staff members. Either way, knowing how everything goes together is a useful skill.
Networking: back to the communication and interpersonal skills. But networking on it’s own is critical to building a network of people you can call on when needed.
Finally, how to MacGyver things: you may not have to actually make your own parachute using a canvas and tie-downs, but being naturally resourceful is a gift. Don’t let it go to waste.
Trying to find some new and different posts the next time you’re on the road at a tradeshow? Try a few of these and see what you get:
Clients and Customers in Your Booth: Click a quick photo or if they’re up for it, videotape a brief testimonial.
Your Staff: You should make sure that you show off how much fun your staffers are having, even in the midst of a busy day. Nothing communicates your company’s brand more than your people having a good time.
Demos of Products: A series of stills, or a brief video works here.
Have a great exhibit? Show it off!
The Hall You’re In – Include Your Booth Number: Share your location at the beginning of each day (at least) so that people can find you.
Educational: Inform your audience how your product or service can help them. A picture with a useful description goes a long way.
Questions or a Short Quiz: People will respond to questions if they’re interesting and engaging.
Promotional: Give something away. Try offering a prize for show-goers to get them to come to your booth. And offer a prize for people watching from afar that can’t make it.
Dinner out with Client (or not): Okay, food photos are usually boring unless it’s really a stunning photo. But if you’re out with a client or friend, post a photo and include the hashtag.
Local Tourist Stops: Making a few side trips during your busy show? Snap photos and share.
In this week’s vlog/podcast, I got a chance to learn quite a bit about something with which I’m not very familiar with: international tradeshow exhibiting. I’m guessing that a lot of us don’t get a chance for much exhibiting in Dubai, France, Spain, England, China or Japan or any of a number of countries. That’s why this week’s interview with exhibit designer and international tradeshow exhibiting expert Larry Kulchawik is such a treat. Loads of great information – and you should pick up his book if you do any international exhibiting. Check it out: