How do you get people to attend shows? And once they attend, what’s the best strategy to keep them coming? That’s the topic and TradeshowGuy Tim Patterson and Trade Show Ready’s Nick McCallion tackle in this wide-ranging interview. Plus: Tradeshow Tip of the Week and ONE GOOD THING!
Is there an inside game of tradeshow marketing success? Hey, it could be just a catch phrase designed to get you read.
But let’s explore for a moment.
If you’re a baseball fan, you might be familiar with the phrase “inside baseball.” It’s a term used mostly in the United States, that refers to detailed knowledge about a subject that outsiders are usually not privy to. Deep knowledge about any subject down to the minutiae often means that unless you have spent years doing whatever it is, you are not going to understand a lot of the talk. Hence, “inside baseball.”
Even though the term was around since the 19th century, by the mid-1950s the term was being used outside of baseball, particularly it was used in politics. To use the term in another field, such as business, technology or science is not unusual.
In using the term as applied to tradeshow marketing, let’s think about what that means.
Knowledge. You have the knowledge of what it takes to go from Point A to Point Z with all of the twists and turns.
Discipline. Not only do you have the knowledge, you have the discipline that it takes in the event industry to organize all of those moving parts in a coherent and effective way.
Skill. Skill comes with doing something over and over again, learning what works and what doesn’t, ironing out the rough spots and then learning some more so that you know what to expect, you know how to deal with issues as they come up because – hey! – they’re not that much of a surprise.
Networking. The event industry – like most industries – is a people industry. People make it run. People know how things work. People ask for and offer help. And face it – the events / tradeshow / exhibiting industry is built on getting far-flung people together under one roof face-to-face to do business. Networking skills are at their highest level and their most useful in this industry.
Inside baseball means you know why a pitcher is throwing a curve ball when the count is 3 and 2. You know that between pitches, players and coaches communicate strategy by pulling on an earlobe, brushing their thigh or arm, and of course keeping an eye on the opposing team’s silent communication to try and suss out the essence of the message.
Inside tradeshow marketing has to do with, for example, knowing how to position your brand in the marketplace, how to talk to booth visitors, when to book travel and hotel rooms, what restaurants are the best near any given conference venue, how to take advantage of those three or four days when the exhibit is set up in a competitive marketplace where thousands of potential clients are roaming the aisles. Having the right graphics and messaging can mean the difference between 250 and 350 leads. Having a booth staff that knows how to ask the right questions of visitors can mean the difference between and ROI of 10% and 100%. It all makes a difference.
And if you’ve done this for years, you know what works and what doesn’t. You know what companies are putting up a great exhibit and have a fantastically enthusiastic and well-trained staff and which competitors are just showing up because they think they should.
If you know all of that stuff, you know inside baseball. In the tradeshow world.
I spent a lot of time as a youth on the baseball diamond and the basketball court. One coach always stressed the importance of GAME DAY. Put on your game face! Be ready for the big game! In other words, bring even more focus and attitude to the game. When you are done practicing, and you’re facing an opponent, it counts. It’s Game Day.
You could say the same thing about just about anything. But when it comes to tradeshows, bringing your Game Face and knowing that you’re competing with some very challenging companies means it’s you vs. the rest of the hall. Your competitors are (assumedly) going to bring their game faces. Simple: they want to talk to all the people they can. They want to talk to all the people you want to talk to.
So even though it’s a friendly event, the competition is toe-to-toe, and if you want to come out on top, that means bring your game face as soon as the clock starts.
Booth staffers should know their products and services. They should know how to engage an attendee in a meaningful fashion. If a visitor turns out to be a genuine lead, they should know how to capture all of the pertinent information that is required at that step, and how that information will be sent back to the sales team.
Your exhibit should be clean. Even if it means hiring the show services cleaners to vacuum the booth space every morning and take the trash away. Personal items should be out of site. If at all possible, don’t store things behind your exhibit. Some people will see the clutter and even though they understand the reason for it, it does reflect on their overall impression.
The first thing a visitor sees is your exhibit. The second thing they see is a person standing in the booth space. What they see from that person is critical to how they will respond. If the person is ready and wearing their tradeshow game face, the visitor will engage at a higher rate and be more responsive to the staffer. If the staffer is standing there looking bored, or staring at his phone, or worst of all, eating, the visitor will likely keep on moving. And there goes your lead. Simply because someone in your booth was not ready to be in the game. In a sports situation, if the coach puts someone into the game and they’re not ready, points will be scored against them. Or they’ll fail to respond when they should. It’s an easy way to let your competition beat you.
You don’t want to let the competition beat you because you’re not wearing your game face, do you? If they beat you, it should be fair and square: because they had a product or service that better suited the visitor. But if they beat you because you’re not mentally in the game, that’s an easy way to give up points. And the game.
So yeah, put on your game face at all times in the booth!
Babies – lots of babies – along with young kids, the occasional dog, lots of mascots/costumes, and a few weirdly dressed people. Typical Expo West!
Saturday night – Day Three of Expo West – was spent hanging out with Oregon Business folks at their annual soiree at McCormick and Schmicks, and later, producing Monday Morning’s vlog/podcast. Now let me see if I can manage a recap of the final two days of Expo West.
Dozens of people I spoke with agreed that the show was somewhere between amazing and fantastic, or perhaps crazy-busy and overwhelming. Just saw the press release this morning from New Hope which showed that there were over 85,000 attendees, and 3,521 exhibiting companies, including more than 600 first-time exhibitors.
I mentioned in my vlog/podcast that I was impressed by the great detail that exhibit designers go to to capture a brand’s essence. I also got into a conversation with one booth staffer about the wild colors that are everywhere in the show. “Can you imagine what this show would be like without all of those colors?” he asked. Agreed. Bright and bold colors everywhere.
There were also a lot of BIG hanging signs, from 40’x40’ aluminum structures/fabric graphics to wooden panels and what looked like carved wooden signs. Does anybody look up these days at shows?
There were a lot of clever interactive things going on at booths, offering people an opportunity to walk into the booth space and do something. It’s always a great way to capture attention. I counted at least a dozen “selfie” stations, with some including a circular light where you can take a selfie where you’re fully and evenly lit, and some stations where they’ll take a photo and then email it to you. One of the most fascinating and eye-catching interactives was a Rube Goldberg contraption in the KIND Snacks booth, showing how KIND snacks are made from start to finish.
There were many opportunities to tweet a hashtag with a photo for a chance to win something, so it was good to see the social media tie-in as well. Although, frankly, it almost seems run-of-the-mill, when six or seven years ago social media was all so new!
Another thing I noticed in booth fabrication was the use of see-through printed fabric. Everywhere I turned there was another example. See-through fabric is very useful in creating a barrier, but the see-through aspect gives you a view of what’s beyond it, without intruding on people that might be in a meeting room for example.
This was my sixteenth consecutive time I’ve attended Expo West in support of clients, for years, the halls have been set up in a specific configuration: foods, manufacturing, supplements, new products and more all have had their own areas. That didn’t change this year, but the layout changed – drastically – and it was interesting to see how the whole layout was essentially flopped from one end to the other. Lots of comments from people who weren’t sure how it worked, but from my view it worked just fine. Took a little getting used to.
Sunday – Day Four – started off much slower, in terms of visitors roaming the aisles. I was there at opening of ten o’clock, and the back reaches of the halls were lightly travelled. it didn’t take long for that to pick up. By late morning, it seemed almost as busy as previous days. It did give me a chance to speak to more people without feeling rushed. By 2:30 to 3 o’clock, exhibitors were offering all of their samples to attendees so they wouldn’t have to transport them back to HQ. And of course, some folks were pulling down banner stands and packing up suitcases by 3 o’clock. Ya ain’t s’posed to do that, but it happens anyway. Planes to catch.
And finally, I know of no other show where, frankly, you never need to eat a meal offsite for ate least three days. Virtually every company is sampling the goods, from sausage, bagels, bread, toast and eggs to energy bars, drinks, coffee, teas, juices and other goodies. It’s easy to consume a couple of thousand calories without even batting an eye. Even if you try to avoid eating much, you’ll end up taking bite-sized samples here and there.
And don’t get me started on the varieties of chocolates.
Random thoughts, observations and photos from walking the floor, test-tasting the products, and chatting with people on day two of the Natural Products Expo West show in Anaheim:
It’s a mental thing. But as much as I feel I should restrain myself from eating too many samples, you seriously can’t hold back. There are so damn many good foods on display for test-tasting that you just can’t not try them. I’m a sucker for great chocolates, sweets, and similar concoctions. Frankly, it’s overwhelming. Having said that, I’m getting tired of energy bars. I stopped eating them on a regular basis a couple of years ago (too many calories for my diet!), and it’s hard to find ones that I really want. There are also a lot of prepared foods that I bypass. We don’t eat microwave foods at my house, and none of those types of foods really appeal to me after so much good home-cooking.
Non-food items – skin care, hair care, supplements and the like – all are very popular, and many caught my eye. One of our clients, Wedderspoon, added to their line of New Zealand Manuka Honey tasty treats by introducing cleansers, hand creams, body lotion and more – all very good stuff.
This is also the first year that I paid much attention to pet products. It’s because, for the first time in decades, I’m able to live with a pet (say Hi, Scruffy!). So yes, I grabbed a couple of samples for the four-legged member of our household. We’ll see how he likes them!
Speaking of our clients at TradeshowGuy Exhibits, we love supporting them and showing them off. Bob’s Red Mill, Schmidt’s Naturals, Wedderspoon Manuka Honey, Dave’s Killer Bread/Alpine Valley, and Hyland’s are all off to a great show. So many of the companies we’ve worked with are at an interesting spot in their growth: new products, growing bottom line, expanding exhibits means an expanding and more mature presence at Expo West. It also means, in a sense, moving out of their comfort zone. It means hiring installation/dismantle crews now to set up the exhibit when a previous smaller exhibit was set up by company employees. More complexity also means a more powerful presence and impact. But the end result in all cases has been a client that’s pleased with how the exhibit looks to their customers – which is the most important things to us.
Also got a chance to meet and chat with Nicky Omoundro of Little Family Adventure who is one of the official Expo West bloggers – and who will be on the TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee vlog/podcast in the not too distant future to talk about her experiences here!
Ready for Day Three! Thanks, but I’ll bypass the yoga in the plaza this morning (I already did my ten minutes upon arising) and head straight for the coffee.
More or less a quick diary of Natural Products Expo West 2018 Day One:
After some twists and turns, we finished setting up the final client booth – Dave’s Killer Bread/Alpine Valley Bread – late morning. Thanks to Stacy and her crew at Eagle Management. Another job well done. They also set up Wedderspoon Manuka Honey. Photos of the booths to come once the main halls open on Friday.
Then it was off to the new North Halls until about five o’clock. A cacophony of noise, mascots, exhibits, and thousands of people. I recall last year that I saw a lot of new bone broth products. Not so much this year. But my eyes did light on a lot of flavored butters: walnut, almonds, peanuts, etc., mixed with fruit berry flavors, making your mouth go OMG that’s good! over and over again.
Posted several photos on Instagram and Twitter of mascots and exhibitors, including a shot of a creative cardboard back wall place-holder which made their case while the real backdrop arrived. Do what ya gotta do!
From early-morning yoga (I did my own yoga in the Airbnb I’m staying) to later afternoon and evening live music and drinks, everyone here seems to be having a great time. All the exhibitors are under pressure to make their exhibits look good, and attendees are chomping at the bit to get in and mingle, sample and converse. I’ll put together another exhibit awards post next week once everyone is back home and getting foot rubs to help alleviate the soreness from the miles and miles of walking!
Seriously, you could compile a list of 50 tradeshow best practices and still add to the list. For the sake of brevity, let’s whittle it down to a reasonable number and see what we get.
Create your marketing plan based on the specific event where you’re going to set up your exhibit. Different audiences, different competitors, different goals will all help steer you to a marketing plan that fits the situation. One size does not fit all.
Your promotion item should be a natural fit with your product or service. Give away an embossed flash drive if you’re in the tech industry and want people to remember what you do. Give away a letter opener if you pitch direct marketing via mail. Things like that.
Try to have some activity in your booth space. People are drawn to movement, or things they can get personally involved with. And when you have lots of people playing with something in your booth that relates to your product, that crowd draws a crowd.
Prior to show floors opening, have a brief meeting with your staff. Remind them of the show goals, hand out kudos for work well done, and gently remind those who are perhaps coming up a bit short what they should work on.
Graphic messaging on your exhibit should be clear as a bell. The fewer the words, the more distinct your message. The message should be enhanced with an appropriate image that supports the message.
Follow up on leads in a timely manner. Your lead generation and follow up system should be something that you continually work to improve. Warm leads that are followed up on right after the show will produce more results than those that are weeks old.
Qualify and disqualify your visitors quickly. Unqualified visitors should be invited to refer a colleague and be politely disengaged. Qualified visitors earn more time to dig deeper into their needs, including the time frame they need the solution your product can solve, their contact information and an agreed-upon follow up schedule.
The power of a professional presenter cannot be understated. Some products and shows lend themselves more to presenters than others, but a good presenter will make it work in any situation and will bring in more leads than not using them. Caveat: if you hire a presenter, you must have a staff that understands and is prepared to deal with the additional leads generated. If not, most of the leads the presenter generates will slip away.
Tradeshows are a marathon. Be alert, but pace yourself so you can make it to the end of the last day still upright and able to fully engage with visitors.
Spring for carpet padding / wear comfortable shoes. You can never say this enough!
And a bonus number 11:
Spend more time on pre-show marketing than you think you should, or more than you’ve done in the past. It costs less and is easier to sell to current customers than it is to sell to new customers. Create a list of current customers, or those who have raised a hand by downloading a white paper, subscribing to a newsletter, or inquired about your services or products over the past year or so. Finally, check with show organizers to see if they can rent the attendee list to you prior to the show.
Natural Products Expo West has got to be the biggest natural products show in the world, amiright? Seventy-thousand or more attendees. Thirty-five hundred odd exhibitors. Thousands of new products that will appear on grocery shelves in the near future. It’s a smorgasbord of food, organics, body care products, supporting businesses and more. Frankly, it can be overwhelming.
This year – 2018 – will be my 16th straight time attending the show, assisting and attending to exhibiting clients such as Bob’s Red Mill, Schmidt’s Naturals, Wedderspoon, Dave’s Killer Bread, Hyland’s and more. In a decade and a half, I’ve seen the show continue to grow to supersize, although it was already very large when I first attended in 2003. I missed the days of the ‘mom and pop’ approach, but I do know people that were there for some of the early days.
How does one prepare for such a large show spread out over acres of exhibit space?
In my pre-game planning, I know for certain that I’ll be walking a LOT, so need comfortable shoes without a doubt. I know that I’ll probably be invited to a function or two. I’ll take a little time to visit a friend or two in the LA area. I also know that I’ll graze a lot while walking the show floor. So many exhibitors offer samples of excellent products – you can’t say no to everything! I do make a point every morning of tracking down the really good coffee (and there’s a lot!).
I’m not selling anything at the show. I meet people. Lots of people. I offer a copy of my book to some folks (my new one is still a month or so away, so it’ll go out sometime in April). I make notes on the style and size of the thousands of exhibits. I see what companies are expanding, which ones are downsizing. With over a decade and a half of seeing the show, it’s not hard to spot those types of exhibiting trends.
I take plenty of business cards, a few branded shirts, my trademark TradeshowGuy hat, and a list of exhibitors I plan to say hello to. I’m always with my trusty 2011 Macbook Pro, an iPhone, a mini iPad 2, and a couple of books, a yellow legal pad (although I rarely use it).
I used to regard being on the road as a time to eat out at restaurants frequently – which I enjoy since it’s a rare event – but have found over time that’s a good way to add a few pounds over just a few days. So, it’s the occasional meal out and lots of snacks. Heck, with all of the samples on the floor at Expo, one meal a day is plenty.
In spite of all of the prep I do – and the ongoing work to help clients refurbish exhibits – it still feels like I’m caught unprepared in some sense, like there’s something left undone.
A few months prior to the show, say around December, I start to feel the show coming. It’s like hearing the echo of a faraway freight train that’s still ten miles away. As the weeks tick by, the whistle gets louder, and the train gets closer. You can’t stop it, you can’t ignore it, you have to welcome it. And I do.
Thanks to my trusty Fitbit, I know from past experience that I’ll walk six to eight miles each day, and I’ll get back to my Airbnb room with aching muscles, ready to chillax as much as I can.
One of the observations I’ve made over the years: people my age, while not rare at the show, are dwindling. It seems that a majority of the attendees and exhibit staff are in the 20 – 40 age bracket. It’s always interesting to chat with people who were born a generation later than me. I have kids about that age, so I understand they’re at a very different part in their lives. But it’s not hard to make connections. People are quite friendly at the show and are eager and willing to talk about their company and products.
Methinks my plan is sound: I’ll meet lots of exhibitors, snap photos and post on Instagram and Twitter (maybe the occasional video), check in on clients, say hello to previous clients and connections. It’s all a crazy wonderful wacky tasty sprint from start to finish that leaves me exhausted.
So, no, I wouldn’t say I have Natural Products Expo West Pre-Game Jitters. All in all, I love the show and look forward to going again. But I admit I let out a small sigh of relief when it’s in the rearview mirror.
What do ya mean, reverse engineering tradeshow success? If you ask Wikipedia, you get this: “Reverse engineering, also called back engineering, is the processes of extracting knowledge or design information from a product and reproducing it or reproducing anything based on the extracted information.”
Or: disassemble something and analyze the components to see how it works.
Or make it simpler yet: start with the end in mind. Know what you want when all is said and done and then figure out what steps are required to get there.
Let’s take a look at one of the main purposes of tradeshow marketing: generating leads. Want 300 leads at the end of three days? You’ll need on average, 100 a day. If it’s a 7 hour-a-day show, you’ll want to generate just over 14 leads per hour, or about one ever four minutes. Give or take.
If, in your experience based on tracking numbers at a particular show, you know that about 1 in 5 booth visitors is a good candidate for your product of service. And out of those 20% of visitors, one-third are judged to be strong or “A” leads, worthy of following up on in the first few days after the show.
Given that, about 1 in 15 booth visitors is an “A” lead. Do the math, and you see you need 4,500 booth visitors, or 1,500 per day.
When you examine that number, do you think it’s realistic that you’ll see enough people at your booth to get a true, qualified lead ever four or five minutes? Is that assumption based on past experience, or is it just a wild guess?
Let’s take another perspective. If you know that there are going to be about 70,000 visitors to the show (it’s a pretty big show!), and you want just 300 leads in three days, you need about one out of every 233 visitors to stop by and do your thing to qualify them.
That’s one way to reverse engineer the math.
Now it gets a little more difficult. How do you reverse engineer tradeshow success on other things, such as your exhibit, your people, your giveaways?
As far as your exhibit, if you need to accommodate 1500 visitors a day, that’s about 200 an hour. If you need about 5 minutes with each visitor to determine if they’re a qualified lead, that’s 1000 minutes. That means a total of 16 2/3 hours of actual time during each hour of the show. Rough math means you need about 20 people in your booth to be there for each hour. Which (doing the math again), you’ll need a sizeable booth space to accommodate 40 people at any given time.
If that’s not reasonable given your budget and space, you’ll want to spend time examining your overall realistic expectations for how many leads you’ll generate during the show.
Of course, real life doesn’t work just like the math we just walked through. Some visitors are disqualified instantly. Some people will take longer to qualify, especially when it comes to your follow up.
My advice? If you haven’t done so, set a baseline at your next show. Do your best to count booth visitors, track leads daily if not hourly, and add everything up once the show is over. Do it for each different show to see how they compare. Then when the same shows roll around next year, you have a starting point. Put practices into place that allow you to better engage visitors, create pre-show marketing strategies that bring more targeted folks to your booth, and make sure that your post-show follow-up system is solid.
Reverse engineering tradeshow success may be an odd way to look at how you get from Point A to Point B, but it’s as good as any, and better than many.
As a tradeshow manager, your job is never done. Is that a bit daunting? Not every tradeshow manager job is the same, but I would hazard a guess that many of the duties are similar from person to person.
You count the number of shows your company will exhibit at during a year. Some shows require that you ship the large island booth, some require the uber-cool inline booth and lots of products. Others require just a table top exhibit with a good backdrop. Some may need a professional presenter. Each show has its own guidelines, shipping and logistic requirements, not to mention your internal goals: different product launches or promotions, different personnel needs, different graphics for different audiences and more.
Then there’s the travel: scheduling and booking flights, hotels, rental cars, meetings and more. Packing, schlepping to the airport, to the hotel. Bring a good book to read, or get some work done on the plane.
Then its show time! Meet and greet, pitch products, answer questions, gather lead information, answer more questions, meet after hours with clients or friends. Sleep? Maybe a little! Feel sore from all the walking? Yes.
Once the show is over, it’s time to pack it up, ship it back, make sure the leads are categorized and sent to the sales team for follow up. Maybe check the exhibit when it gets back to the warehouse to make sure it’s ready to go for the next show.
Back in the office, it’s time to reconcile payments made with receipts, track costs, fill in spreadsheets to calculate ROI and more. File papers, submit reports, share photos, solicit feedback on what worked and what could be improved.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a tradeshow manager and your job never ends. None of our jobs end until we decide. We learn to take breaks, get a breather, grab a coffee, go skiing, take a bike ride when we can.
Then we get back on the saddle and fully engage again. Because it’s a great job, isn’t it, and you wouldn’t stick with it if you didn’t love it, right?