When I was a kid, my basketball coach used to tell me to follow through on shooting free throws and making basic passes. When I started playing golf, the instructor told me to be sure to follow through on my swing.
Frankly, I wasn’t impressed. My instinct was to believe that the initial movement, not the follow through, was important. Hell, the follow through had nothing to do with the original shot or pass or golf swing, so what was the point?
But have you tried to swing a golf club without doing a proper follow through? It’s like you’re doing half a swing. How do you pull up short? Even if the club swing has nothing to do with the trajectory or distance of the ball, for some reason, it does play an important part.
Same thing with your tradeshow marketing. If you don’t have a good follow through, you’re only doing half the show. And in your tradeshow efforts, it makes a bigger difference than your free throw or golf swing, because without a good follow through or follow up, you’re leaving money on the table. A LOT of money. In fact, it could be said that without a good follow up on your tradeshow marketing after the show, you might as well not go.
When I first got into the business of tradeshow marketing, the one statistic that stood out like a sore thumb was that almost 8 out of 10 tradeshow leads are NOT followed up on. That’s still pretty true. Yup, somewhere between 70 to 80% of tradeshow leads don’t get followed up on for any number of the following reasons:
Not properly scored (cool, warm, hot), so the sales person making the call has no idea where the prospect is in the sales process.
Incomplete contact information.
Incomplete follow up info: what does the prospect want from the call and when does she expect the follow up?
Lost between the show and the office.
Sales people don’t understand the importance or urgency of the lead, so it sits on their desk for way too long until it doesn’t matter anymore.
Any of these means that money is left on the table. Follow up is simple.
“Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.”
― Isaac Asimov
There are countless books written about how you can do something better, whether it is tradeshow marketing or underwater basket weaving. But the real secret to improvement is to approach the task with the intent of seeing what works and what doesn’t and use that information to increase your outcome the next time.
Which means that no matter what book you read, you are responsible for the success or failure of that venture. Or, as Peter Shankman recently said, “Lose is not an option. Your options are to win or learn.”
Frankly, even the most seasoned tradeshow marketers run up against forces that give them less than stellar results, leaving them to question their approach.
But if you’re a rookie tradeshow marketer, the learning curve can be steep with many bumps and potholes along the way. Don’t let that dissuade you. Yes, you’re under pressure from the boss to bring home more leads than last time, and to have your sales team close more sales from those leads.
What if the lead count is not what you want? What if the sales results are not optimal? Your choices are to keep moving forward and ignoring the reasons why you had those results, or dig into the various moving parts to learn what happened. Was your booth visitor count down? Did your booth staff perform poorly because they were not as well-trained as they should have been? Did your competition have a better product or service?
All of these and more can affect your results, and the more you understand about why you got the results you did, the better you can respond and improve.
If you’re standing at the edge of your tradeshow booth ready to engage with a visitor, remember that as try you qualify him or her, you’re really trying to find the prospect’s real issue. Once you do that, you can determine if you can be of assistance, or if you can’t.
Tradeshow selling take place in a chaotic environment. Hundreds or thousands of competing exhibitors, and thousands or tens of thousands of attendees means everyone is vying for attention and they all have their own personal agenda. So when you get an opportunity to interact with a booth visitor, the best recipe for a successful encounter is to know where you want to go.
And often that destination is reached by trying to uncover the prospect’s real issue. How do you do that? By asking questions.
Let’s say you’re exhibiting at a show to get more leads for your IT business such as virus eradication and firewalls and related services Your visitor mention that they think their IT department is doing okay. That’s a bit of an opening – not much – but it should give you an opportunity to peel back the onion a bit.
“When you say that ‘you think’ the IT department is doing okay, what do you mean?”
They may tell you that from what their IT guy says, they seem to have dealt with most of the recent viruses with a rebuilt firewall. Or something. He’s not an IT guy.
“What do you mean by most? Can you tell me more?”
They go on to say that the IT guy only “swore for half the day” earlier in the week at something-or-other that was taking up all his time instead of being able to add on to the network which he was supposed to be doing.
“So your network administrator only ‘swore for half the day’ at having to deal with viruses? It sounds like he must have dealt with it. So it’s a done deal, right?” (You’re trying to backpedal a bit: psychologically it’s going to spur them to open up a bit more. If you suddenly tried to sell them your services without knowing if they need it, their defenses would likely go up).
Naah, he says, still some work to do. But he doesn’t know because he’s not the IT guy. Maybe it would be worth giving you his contact number, he says.
“Well,” you say, “that may be a good move. But he probably has his own go-to team to deal with issues like this, right?” (Still back-pedaling and acting like it’s not a big deal, to get him to open up more).
He doesn’t think so. In fact, just an hour ago when he was having lunch with the IT guy, the guy got a phone call from his assistant and they must have sworn back and forth for ten minutes over the situation. In fact, the IT guy may have to leave the show early to go deal with it.
“He and his assistant swore about the situation for ten minutes while you were eating? So the assistant has it handled, then?”
Uh, no, says the visitor. Gulp. Doesn’t sound like it. But then, he says again, he’s not an IT guy.
Now you’ve uncovered the real issue. It took a bit of doing, because your visitor was unwilling to reveal that information until you kept asking questions – and following up those questions with some ‘aw, shucks, it’s probably not a big deal, right?’ questions. And with your laidback but curious approach designed to get more information, he’s revealed the issue: that there really is a problem that your IT guy is trying to solve. Trying to put out a fire, in fact.
Sales is essentially the same whether it’s on the tradeshow floor, on the phone, or in someone’s office. It’s not about features and benefits. It’s about uncovering the problem and seeing if there is a fit between your prospect’s problems and your potential solutions. If there is, you’ll find an opportunity to discuss it in full at the earliest opportunity. If there is no fit, you wish him or her well and move on to the next.
Next time you’re on the tradeshow floor, try to refrain from hitting your visitors with a list of features and benefits at the first sign of a possible lead. Instead, drill down by playing a bit dumb, asking more questions and getting to the prospect’s real issues. Then you can schedule the next move that both of your agree on.
As I sat down to write today’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, I realized that much of the business we’ve done this year at TradeshowGuy Exhibits has been repeat business: new business from current clients. Of course, it’s good to have new customers, but in a sense it’s even better to have new business from clients you’ve been serving for awhile. Take a look:
And of course, we always finish with ONE GOOD THING. This week it’s yard work. No, really.
“Does your tradeshow exhibit evoke emotion in the mind of a visitor?” might be a funny question. The better question might be: “HOW and WHAT emotion does your tradeshow exhibit bring out in your visitors’ hearts and minds?” But by asking it, you’re pulling on the string of branding, high-impact motivators such as confidence, sense of well-being, protecting the environment, being who you want to be and a litany of other emotions that pull in one direction or another.
Let’s use one of our clients at TradeshowGuy Exhibits, Bob’s Red Mill, as an example. Their foods are mean to inspire good eating with high-quality grains, oats, cereals, mixes and more. Good eating equals longer life and better health. Better health equals a positive feeling. Hence, just seeing the Bob’s Red Mill exhibit can evoke an emotion that gives people familiar with the brand a sense of well-being and comfort. All without them even thinking about it. As long as the visitor has a familiarity with the brand and products, their brain will make a quick connection with a positive result.
Let’s try another brand, say, United Airlines. With the recent debacle of having a booked passenger dragged off the airplane with smartphone video cameras in action that spread quickly throughout social media and mainstream news outlets, many visitors to a tradeshow with a United Airlines exhibit might have a different feeling today than they did just a month prior.
According to Alan Zorfas and Daniel Leemon, writing in the Harvard Business Review, “On a lifetime value basis, emotionally connected customers are more than twice as valuable as highly satisfied customers.” Gaining that emotional connection pays off in numerous ways as they buy more, visit you online or in your store more, are less concerned about price in favor of quality, and listen more to what you’re saying, whether on a TV or radio ad, in a magazine, or in a weekly newsletter.
When it comes to evoking that positive emotion when visitors at a tradeshow come upon your booth, your branding and costumer experience already has to be in place, at least to a certain degree. A visitor that’s familiar with your brand and has a positive feeling upon seeing your exhibit has internalized that – but beyond that, she recognizes the key elements of the brand successfully executed in the design and fabrication, down to the small details.
A visitor that’s not familiar with your brand will still experience a gut feeling upon seeing your booth. The accuracy of that evocation has everything to do with how skillfully your 3D exhibit designer and your graphic designer have understood and communicated the elements of your brand. Once they inhale that look, as it were, they’ll make a decision on whether to more closely check out your products or services. If all is done right, your visitor will get an accurate emotion of the brand that you’re hoping to disseminate.
This is all not precise, of course. You can’t just plug in a color or texture or design or graphic and provoke a predictable reaction. Even ugly and unplanned exhibits can still have a successful tradeshow experience, which may be due to other factors, such as the competition, the specific product, the enthusiasm and charisma of a particular booth staffer or some other unknown element.
But the better your exhibit reflects your true brand, the more powerful it becomes in the heart and soul of your visitor. And they’ll take that home with them.
I’ve never attended the SIA Snow Show but I think I should someday, for two reasons. Number One: I’m a ski bum. Number Two: uh, see reason number one. Oh, and that’s right – I’m TradeshowGuy – I do tradeshows.
SIA – Snowsports Industries America – holds the annual SIA Snow Show in January in Denver, Colorado, home of some of the greatest skiing in America. Of course. With close to 20,000 attendees, it’s the industry’s largest global annual B2B gathering. It’s a smaller and more narrowly focused show than Outdoor Retailer, but in speaking to SIA Snow Show exhibitors, I gathered that many of them also exhibit or attend Outdoor Retailer.
Having not attended the snow show, I thought it might be illuminating to ring up some of the exhibitors at the show and debrief them on how the show went for them. Here’s what I came up with over the past several weeks.
Overall, how did the show rate? Most gave it very high marks.
“If it wasn’t a ten, it was a high nine,” said Ashley McGarvey of Meier Skis, who praised the show as bringing in lots of industry people. In spite of the challenges of being a smaller company, she felt the show was a very worthwhile marketing effort. According to SIA Snow Show information, over 96% of the supplier market share for ski, snowboard, AT, backcountry, cross country, snowshoe and winter apparel is there.
A big challenge that most small exhibitors faced, which is common throughout the industry and not just for the SIA Snow Show, is the high cost of transporting big booths and setting up the exhibits. This also resonated with the small core of Meier Skis team.
But all of the exhibitors I spoke with said they made great connections with retailers and distributors that made the show a ‘must.’
Whit Boucher of Strafe Outerwear agreed with Ashley, saying “It was a nine and a half, definitely,” saying that their 20×40 booth had a lot of traffic for the first three days, and saw a typical drop-off on day four. He speculated that it might be nice to drop the last day so they can show up then and break down the booth.
All exhibitors I spoke with felt the show opened doors to markets that they might not have normally had access to.
What challenges did they face? Besides the cost of exhibiting, smaller companies felt understaffed at times. Others felt that their exhibit wasn’t large enough to hold the people and products all at once.
One exhibitor, who preferred to remain nameless, felt the show was slipping in the past few years and felt that attendance had dropped “20 – 25%” in the past several years, and that the organizers had let in companies that had little to nothing to do with the core audience of snow sports: make-up companies, food companies and more. As a result, he said their company would be down-sizing next year. But still, he ranked the show as an “8 on a scale of 1-10 for what we need it to do.” He did express fear that the show would be sold or would merge into another show.
Erik Leines, CEO of Celtek has a personal mantra regarding tradeshows is “I’ve never met a tradeshow I didn’t like.” Why? “I’ve literally never done a tradeshow where I walked out and thought it wasn’t worth the money. For anyone doing a show, that’s the way to treat it. We have our own secret sauce on how to do it,” he added, as they always look at ways to attract attention and promote their products. Erik rated the show as “very high” as a marketing tool for their company.
Anything you’d change in your approach to exhibiting, or anything that is a challenge? Answers to this question ranged from “we need a bigger booth next year” to “we need more people in our booth” to “frustration and the cost of dealing with show services – how can it cost $1200 for three guys and a forklift to hang a sign in just four minutes?”
Bottom Line: a mixed bag. Even though most exhibitors I spoke with gave the show high marks, there was some comments that indicated that the show could be better and in fact might be slipping in some cases. Being such a narrowly focused show doesn’t necessarily give it strength, although it tends to draw the core audience that is needed for success. From all appearances, it is still a successful show, and yes, I’d like to get there and try out some new skis!
Thanks to Celtek, Meier Skis, Strafe Outerwear, POW Gloves, SKEA, 4F, Icelantic Skis, Red Feather and a few others that chimed in with comments on and off the record.
When you are going out on a date, my guess is you dress up. If you’re a guy, you’ll put on some nice clothes, fuss with your hair a bit, brush your teeth and maybe put on a dab of cologne. If you’re a girl, you’ll do much the same, only probably spend longer (is that a sexist remark or just an observation of reality?). In either case, the intent is to put your best “YOU” forward. You want to give a good impression.
It’s the same at a tradeshow. You want to put your best look forward. And in probably almost more than any other marketing medium, tradeshows are critical to putting out a good impression.
The perception visitors have of you is what they’ll take away. And while there are many elements, from the exhibit to the booth staff and how they interact, to the products or services you offer, the bottom line is: what the visitors thinks they see is the impression they’ll take home.
And while this often means bigger is better and more impressive, that’s not always the case. And in fact, smaller exhibitors can often make a big impression by doing thing differently with booth activities, a ‘must-see’ product, a special guest in the booth, an unusual exhibit or giveaway or more.
If your visitors leave with the perception that your company is sharp, the product is great/cutting edge/marketing leading or whatever, and your exhibit is top-notch regardless of the size, you’ve accomplished your mission.
If those visitors see an old and tired exhibit, lazy or uninterested booth staffers, products and services that don’t inspire, that’s what they’ll remember.
Regardless of what your company or employees or products are really like, the perception is the reality. So put out the best impression you can. And if for some reason the perception is more impressive than the reality, you know you’ve got some work to do behind the scenes. But on stage – out where everyone can see you and make up their own minds based on what they see – that’s where you’ll leave a lasting impression.
Huh? Don’t sell at the tradeshow? Isn’t that why you’re there – to take names and kick ass? Sure, you won’t get an argument from me.
However, let’s take a look at the tradeshow situation. The event is designed to bring hundreds or thousands of people by your booth. If your intent is to sell – and just sell products at the event – then you’re going to spend more time with each person. It takes time to write up an order, and depending on your product or service, it probably takes time to determine exactly what that service or product is. How long is the service going to last? What version of your product is best for your client? When do they want it? What is their goal in using your product or service and can it really help them?
Sure, if you’re just selling single pack food items or something that can be sold in just a few seconds, they go ahead – sell, sell, sell!
Most products take longer. Even if you’re ultimately selling a single food product, you may be trying to get into more stores, or hook up with distributors. Which means you’re not actually selling at the show.
You’re just qualifying.
And once you qualify, you both then agree on the next step.
What are your tradeshow marketing goals? It may seem an obvious question. But it bears some attention before schlepping off to the show, setting up and accosting attendees.
Each show is different with a unique audience and a unique set of competitors. How you determine your goals depends on those combinations. Some shows may be better at connecting you with retailers, some better at interacting with buyers, others better at connecting with bigwigs who can make big things happen.
In general, the tradeshow marketing goals can fall under three main areas:
Brand Awareness and Perception
In this area, you can build on your company’s marketplace awareness with an effectively branded booth that shows off your credentials or capabilities. You can promote specific products, launch new products, position your company effectively against competitors, or even reach new markets.
Floor Activity Goals
This is where you can work to increase traffic, have one of your managers speak at a conference or panel, speak with industry media outlets, compile information about your competitors, interact with attendees, promote your message, give demos or hand out samples, work to build traffic through promotions and social media engagement and more.
Things to Measure
I’ve always advocated that exhibitors count visitors. It’s not always easy on the crazy chaos of a tradeshow floor, but if you can keep count you’ll know the number of visitors you had. Use that as a baseline and count the visitors at each show and compare year-to-year. You’ll also count leads and sales that result from those leads. Do a little market research by taking a survey or visitors and compile the results. Keep count of any new distributors, suppliers, retail buyers and more.
Knowing your tradeshow marketing goals gives you focus, especially since those goals change from show to show, from audience to audience.
What is the state of the TradeshowGuy Blog in 2017?
This blog started in December of 2008 with a podcast interview with Magic Seth. Since then, there have been 600+ posts that discuss and explore the tradeshow world and what it takes to succeed as a tradeshow marketer. The aim has always been to give useful information to small and medium-sized business tradeshow managers. In many ways, it’s succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. In some ways, I feel there’s much more work to do.
I started the blog when I was VP of Sales and Marketing for Interpretive Exhibits in Salem, Oregon. I picked the name TradeshowGuy mostly at random, but it wasn’t without some spurring by an old radio colleague who, when asking about my new job, I said I was no longer a radio guy, I was a tradeshow guy.
“Tradeshow Guy!” he exclaimed. So for lack of anything better, I named the blog TradeshowGuy Blog and it’s stuck. Hell, it’s copyrighted now and my company is named TradeshowGuy Exhibits, so it must have been a good pick.
Over the years I’ve followed some of the metrics associated with the blog, but I can’t say I obsess on them. In about the fourth or fifth year of the blog, shortly after I started tracking traffic using Google Analytics, I discovered there were about 3000 visitors a month. Not a ton, but certainly nothing to sneeze at. That was when I was posting as often as I could manage something substantial. Two or three years later I was too busy to post much and I noticed that traffic had dropped to about a tenth of than, around 300 a month.
Since then I’ve endeavored to post 2 – 3 times a week. Something. Anything: photo albums, tips, lists, videos, you name it. Traffic is now at its highest. According to Sitelock, human visitors add up to over 6000 visitors a month – about 210 a day over the past three months.
Buuuuut, when you look at Google Analytics, it shows 938 page views in 716 sessions with 632 users in the past month.
So who to believe?
Sitelock tracks both human and bot traffic and separates them out. Bot traffic is usually 10 – 15 times more than human traffic.
Any way you look at it, traffic is there and it’s consistent.
According to Google, 63% of visitors are there from organic search, and 26% comes from direct links (such as a newsletter). 8% comes from social media links.
I could ramble on and on about what it takes to come up with content for the blog for hours. In fact, I have taught courses about blogging, and done webinars about blogging and creating content. But that doesn’t make it easier. In fact, I don’t even know if I have a process. But I do have a goal: create at least 2 – 3 posts per week. If I do that, I know that traffic comes and people find me more often.
Content can come in many forms. Articles, video posts, podcasts, photographs, lists, guest articles, web travels and so much more. I still get a kick out of creating a great posts and clicking ‘publish.’
And I know it works. Our company TradeshowGuy Exhibits, see business as a direct result of people finding the blog and reaching out to make contact because they have questions about tradeshow marketing. Last year, in fact, over half of the business we did in dollars came as a direct result of people finding us online and either sending an email or filling out a quote request form. The year before, I know we acquired at least three clients as a direct result of the blog – so I know it gets attention in the tradeshow marketing industry space. But there’s no direct push-button response. There’s no way to predict these things! I can’t write eighteen blog posts and put up three videos to get a client. It just doesn’t work that way – if only it did! But when I started the blog eight years ago, I figured it couldn’t hurt. But as I said, it’s not predictable, so I don’t count on it – it’s just an additional benefit. I still do sales calls, attend tradeshows, network and prospect as any good sales person should.
Blogs are not the platform that they were six or eight years ago. Popular blogs back then got a lot of comments. Now most comments end up on Facebook and comments on blogs, even really popular ones, tend to be much less than just a few years ago. Facebook is the giant gorilla in the online space, and yes, you can find our TradeshowGuy Blog page here on Facebook, where all of the posts show up.
And finally, it’s worth mentioning that I’m ramping up my online visibility with the TradeshowGuy Webinars training portion. For all of 2016 I did a webinar a month, usually with a guest but sometimes not (you can find them here), and as the year wound down I decided to change it up a bit. I still use the WebinarJam/Google Hangout platform which seems to work relatively bugfree, but instead of monthly webinars, I’m doing live weekly Monday Morning Coffee gatherings and posting the video shortly thereafter on the blog. I’ve thought that I should probably podcast the audio as well, but as of today that hasn’t happened yet. I’m still trying to convince myself that the extra step is worthwhile!