You’ve probably run into a tradeshow super connector and didn’t even realize it at the time. Not until later, when you got to thinking about that person you talked to. The one that knows everyone, and everyone knows him or her.
Billionaire Mark Cuban is known as a super connector. Peter Shankman is often thought of as a super connector. In his first book, Can We Do That, he describes how people would call him to recommend or connect them to someone specific. Peter knew everybody. It’s how he ended up starting HARO, Help A Reporter Out, and eventually sold the company.
What would make a tradeshow super connector? I think I have met a few along the way, although – not being one – I’m not sure I can easily spot them.
Here are what I see as seven traits of a super connector:
Outgoing; willing to talk to anyone, willing to introduce people.
They see connections where us normal humans don’t: Jill, meet Sam. He’s a money management book editor. She’s an author working on a new money management book. You can make some money and change people’s lives together. No need to cc me – just check each other out.
They’re willing to create gatherings at events that bring even more people together.
They follow up. Following up is quick and easy; even if they think someone is trying to sell them something. I can tell you from experience, lots of people never bother to follow up with something they aren’t personally familiar with. But a super connector doesn’t mind. She sees connections everywhere and is willing to connect.
They reach back to people they’ve become disconnected from in their past.
Super connectors are giving. They give their time, they give value, they create content that other people find useful.
Super connectors are helpful. Often, even during a first meeting where they have little to gain from knowing you, they’ll say “How can I help?”
And finally, in my view, super connectors usually don’t have a big ego. Sure, they’re confident in themselves, but there is a bit of humbleness – they’re always willing to learn something and don’t have the arrogance to think they know everything.
Keep a look out for the super connectors at your next tradeshow.
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 that 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?
Your tradeshow exhibit may look great. It may function well. But once the show is underway, you find yourself always ducking into a storage room to grab some paperwork or literature or end up answering the same question over and over again. Or showing a demo on a laptop when you keep thinking it should be on a monitor because people are looking over your shoulder.
It could be your tradeshow exhibit might need a little add-on that will add an element that either functions, spruces it up, or shows visitors just a little more than what you had originally been thinking. Let’s look at a handful of add-ons for under five hundred bucks.
iPad or Surface stand. Putting a table at the front of your exhibit often is an unspoken invitation for visitors to engage. These could be free-standing, or attachments that mount on an existing table or counter.
Literature stand. Instead of stacking sales sheets on a counter where they’ll always get messed up or keeping them inside a counter where you’re always reaching for them, put out a literature stand. A literature stand could also be free-standing, or it could attach to an exhibit you already have.
Easel. Easels are cool. And they’re old-school. But a well-placed easel can show off a larger poster-size graphic in a slightly different way.
TV Monitor. It seems that most exhibits have a monitor of some sort, whether free-standing or mounted on a wall. Monitors up to about 50” can be had for under $500.
Table throws. Maybe it’s just a small exhibit, or you’ve got a small table in the midst of a larger exhibit. In either case, adding a custom printed table throw is an easy call.
Turn a table in to a charging table with an add-on charging kit. Probably won’t work on any table, but if it fits your table, it’s a great little feature that your visitors will thank you for!
Banner Stands. Banner stands are an easy add-on and it’s easy to find one that’ll fit your budget of under $500.
Vikram Rajan of PhoneBlogger.net tells an interesting story of working with attorneys, speaking and attending conferences, tradeshows and similar events all in the pursuit of promoting his business. A very engaging and interesting conversation. Also on today’s podcast: Tradeshow Tip of the Week on how to take better exhibit and tradeshow photos with your smartphone.
I grew up a reader. No TV, living in the mountains far away from friends. Which means that I soaked up rock and roll records, comic books, and science fiction.
In this day and age, it’s harder but not impossible to find time to read. I only wish it was more! I thought it might be fun to mention several books that I’ve made my way through (or most of the way) in the past eight to twelve months.
Carl Hiaason:The Downhill Lie. I’m a hack golfer. This is a hilarious book. What else would you expect from the longtime Miami Herald columnist and author of Striptease, Chomp, Sick Puppy and Bad Monkey?
Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series: Once I discovered these, I wanted to start at the beginning. With some twenty-two novels out featuring Reacher, it’ll take a while to make it through. But Reacher is a terrific character. A new version of the first book in the series explained how he came up with the name and the character, which set the tone for the whole series. I have yet to see any of the Jack Reacher movies. But here’s the thing: in the book, Reacher is 6’ 5” and about 220 lbs. In the movies, he’s played by Tom Cruise, who’s 5’7” and 170 lbs. Not sure how that works!
Ricardo Semler: Maverick. I found Ricardo’s story through a lengthy interview on Tim Ferriss’s podcast. Fascinating story about reinventing a company. As Wikipedia puts it: “The book relates the management succession and increasingly unorthodox ethos of Semco, which grew to become one of Brazil’s largest conglomerates.”
Robert Hilburn: Corn Flakes With John Lennon. Hilburn was a longtime music critic with the Los Angeles Times (1975 – 2005). The book is a memoir, packed with stories that old rockers like us really appreciate. A fun and fast read.
Katy Tur: Unbelievable: My Front Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History. Another memoir, in a sense, that starts with Katy being asked to cover some Trump rallies for NBC and ends up on one of the more bizarre presidential campaigns the US has ever seen. As a long-time radio guy, journalist and media employee, it’s fascinating to see a lot of her thoughts on what it takes to get read to be on camera frequently. Well-written and worth a read, no matter your political stripes. And yes, a lot of it is hard to believe.
Michael Connelly: The Black Ice. Harry Bosch, the LA homicide detective, makes his first appearance in The Black Echo (1992), quickly followed by The Black Ice (1993). The character, played to a T by Titus Welliver, is now an Amazon series. Over twenty books in this series and I’m planning to alternate between Jack Reacher and Harry Bosch for fiction for the foreseeable future!.
Timothy Ferris: Tribe of Mentors and Tools of Titans. These books are not the kind that you could or would even want to sit down and read straight through. Instead, thumb through them, make notes on the pages or tag ideas using sticky notes. Both are treasure-troves of ideas, thought-starters and concrete actionable methods and tools.
Antonio Gerrido: Asking Questions. This is a Sandler Sales System book that is helpful to, well, sales people. Frankly, I’m less than half way through this but mention it because it’s been very helpful up to this point. Asking the right questions for the right reasons at the right time gives any sales person a big edge.
Roger Steffens: So Much Things to Say: The Oral History of Bob Marley. Roger is a friend of mine, and I knew this book was coming several months before it hit the shelves. As a longtime Marley fan, this is the best book that tells the story from people who knew Bob. Terrific book through and through.
Steve Miller:Uncopyable: How to Create and Unfair Advantage Over Your Competition. Steve was a guest on my podcast recently and he was kind enough to send me a copy of his book. Easy and quick to read, but damn is it packed with a ton of good ideas. Get a copy.
Charles Pappas: Flying Cars, Zombie Dogs, and Robot Overlords. A very deep dive into the fascinating world of the history of large expositions, world fairs, and tradeshows. Virtually everything to eat, drink, drive or wear was introduced at a tradeshow or fair. Another podcast guest.
Dan Paulson:Apples to Apples: How to Stand Out from Your Competition. Dan was a guest of my podcast last year, and his book examines the reasons that make your company get to exponential growth. Another fun, useful and fairly quick read.
Nancy MacLean:Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America. Yes, it’s totally political. Yes, it’s a damn good read. Yes, it was hard to read because there was so much to absorb. Must have taken me several months to finally make it through. Regardless of your politics, I’d recommend taking a look. It’s also one of the most highly-researched books I’ve ever read.