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Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Top 10 Tips: Getting maximum value from your Trade Show stand

by Matthew Goldsbrough, Goldsbrough Consulting

I’m planning on going to the Business North West exhibition later this month. I went last year, and saw lots of people making basic mistakes on their stands. It’s expensive to exhibit at a show, so you really must make sure that you get great results from your trade show stand.

First of all, I’ll assume that you’ve made the right decision as to whether you should be there at all, and you have a high expectation of meeting some worthwhile contacts. Making that decision should be the subject of another post.

Here are ten tips that come from having staged a presence at scores of exhibitions over the years.

1. Don’t Keep It a Secret
Make sure those people on your contact database that you’d like to get to know better are aware that you’ll be at the show. If they’re attending also, they’ll get an opportunity to talk to you. And if they’re not, they may mention you to a colleague or friend, and you’ll get a new contact.

2. Get Your Message Straight
Be clear about why you’ll be exhibiting. In the busy environment of an exhibition, you’ll struggle to get over to people everything that your company is capable of. Decide what you’ll be featuring. Perhaps you’ll have a new product announcement, or a partnership with another company to announce. Make the news item a noticeable feature of your stand, in order to focus the attention of the exhibition attendees.
Be sure to work out what you want to communicate to the people who visit your stand, and make sure that all of your colleagues who will staff the stand have been fully briefed on which messages are relevant.

3. Create a Welcoming Environment
You’ll have designed your stand so that it’s attractive and eye-catching, and hopefully you’ll have managed to negotiate a position within the exhibition that will make it easy for attendees to find you. It’s amazing how frequently you see stands that are messy: keep that stand looking clean, tidy and welcoming throughout the event.
Although you’ve only rented the booth, don’t forget to use the area around the booth. Catch people in the walkways outside your booth – extend the friendly atmosphere on your stand out in all directions, so that it’s a pleasant spot for someone to pause and talk to you.
Be approachable. Don’t take refuge behind the desk that you’ve rented. It just puts a barrier between you and the attendees. Just because your feet are aching, don’t sit down: it puts you on a different level from the attendees walking by and makes you less approachable.
In addition to being approachable, it helps if people know that you’re there to be approached. Consider putting your team into the same style clothes for the event. Identical shirts with a logo on are a good way of showing that you belong to the stand, and are there ready to speak to people. You need to stand out from the crowd.

4. Don’t Be Judgemental
Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “If you can’t be nice to strangers, how will you ever meet your friends?” Obviously, you’re at the event because you’d like to meet people who you could do business with. In a brief conversation with the people you’ll meet, you’ll have difficulty making a decision as to whether you’ll actually be able to do business together.
In fact, it would be foolish to try to make that decision in the heat of the moment. Many exhibitors make that mistake, though, and make a split-second decision as to whether the ‘punter’ is a ‘tourist’ or ‘tyre kicker’. How rude! Would you like to be thought of as a ‘punter’?
Treat the people who pass by your stand with respect, answer their questions and draw out from them what they’re looking for. A brief conversation may reveal that, far from being the time-waster they appeared to be at first, the person you’re talking to could be your next big customer.

5. Organise Your Team
You won’t want to make visitors to your stand feel they’re being processed, so you need to be subtle about it, but in truth, that’s what you’ll need to do. You’ll need to catch as many people as you can, talk to them – but not for too long – and then let them go, having agreed what should happen next.
Work as a team. With a large team, you can have some people handling the catching of people as they pass your stand, others answering their questions and briefing them on what you have to offer, and others making sure that you have contact details for them as they leave the stand. If you’re few in number, you’ll have to work out how to accomplish these tasks between you, and you may find you have to fulfil several roles at the same time.

6. Make It Flow
You’ve grabbed someone’s attention, and they’ve come onto your stand. Now is not the time to try form a lifelong bond with them. Don’t spend too much time talking to them, because it prevents you from spending time with the next person. Spend enough time to find out what they’re interested in, make sure that they know what you have to offer, and gauge their level of interest. Get their contact details and agree the follow-up.

7. Schedule Your Activity
If your stand is getting busy, schedule a quieter time for someone to return if you can’t have the conversation with them that they want to. Also do that if you’re coming up to a period when people are rushing to get to seminars.
If you have something to demonstrate, or a little pitch that you want to make to a group of people, show your schedule on the stand, so that people know they can come back for a defined period to hear what you have to say.
If you’ve got a presentation scheduled elsewhere at the event, have flyers ready to hand out that describe the presentation, and tell people when and where it is.

8. Keep Clear Records
Many trade shows have devices that allow you to swipe the barcode on people’s badges. Although that’s efficient, particularly when there’s a large number of people in a short space of time, I’d recommend that you also have a notebook in which you record the contacts that you make.
Here’s a template for a simple form you could use. Print out enough pages and spiral-bind a couple of books to keep on the stand.
Attach the contact’s business card with the stapler that you brought with you, and make a note of what they were interested in.

9. Do What You Promised
Most importantly of all, record the follow-up action that you have agreed with the contact (e.g. sending a particular document or giving them a call) and then make sure that it gets done, on time.

10. Don’t Huddle
Lastly, here’s something you really must avoid.
Think back to when you’ve attended an exhibition or trade show yourself. Do you remember seeing the staff on stands in a little huddle, talking amongst themselves? Why do they do that? Are they afraid to talk to the very people they’re there to meet? Have the right attitude: you’re at the event for the attendees, not for yourself.
Make sure your attention is focused outward, on the attendees, and not inward, on your company’s internal affairs.

And Finally…
Here’s the eleventh tip: have fun!
It can be very tiring being on that stand, but if you look weary and bored, visitors will pick that up. Equally, be in a happy mood, have some fun between yourselves and with the people on your stand, and visitors will react to that. Face it, we all prefer to hang out with fun people.
I hope that these tips will help you to get maximum value from your trade show stand. And if you’re exhibiting at Business North West, I’ll be checking on how well you’re doing!

You can read Matthew's blog here. Recent posts include:

Maybe You Too Need a Personal Social Media Policy
‘Going To A Dance’ – Changing the Business Model of an IFA
In Business Planning, Make Sure You’re Solving the Right Problem

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