Trade shows and conventions are fun, but they can also be a giant pain if you’re unprepared. I’ve seen dozens of vendors flounder at conventions because they assumed that showing up was 99.9% of the job—it isn’t.
The “build it and they’ll come” mentality simply isn’t enough anymore. You have to put yourself out there if you want to seize the interest of attendees, gain new leads, and sell to the audience!
Put procrastination out of your mind and check out these nine convention truths (or as I like to call them, “tricks of the trade show”):
Attendees are more likely to approach you if you acknowledge their presence. This seems obvious, but a good chunk of exhibitors don’t seem to get it. Don’t just sit there like a lump when people walk up to your booth! It doesn’t matter if you’re in the middle of jotting down your shopping list—take an interest in each visitor. Even if you’re with another customer, take the five seconds to make eye contact and say “I’ll be right with you.” Unless you’re selling the best product ever invented, people won’t buy from you if they get the impression you don’t care.
You’ll scare people away if you start with a sales pitch. This is the opposite of my last point; never initiate the conversation with a long-winded spiel or pushy sales pitch. You won’t gain anything by forcing attendees to hear about your products or services the second they approach! If people seem interested, then take a minute to talk to them and uncover their reasons for seeking out your booth. You have to find the delicate balance between assertive and aggressive.
You may lose potential customers if you’re understaffed. In my experience, it’s better to have too many workers than not enough. Bring the appropriate staff that you can afford, especially if you anticipate a high attendee volume. If paying for workers isn’t a valid option, then ask employees or friends to work on a volunteer basis in exchange for a free meal. Sometimes it’s impossible to obtain the coverage you need, and that’s okay. But be warned: interested buyers won’t wait around forever and that’s a risk you’ll have to take.
People won’t remember you unless you give them a business card or promo item. Not every trade show attendee is there to buy right away; many of them visit to accumulate ideas for future projects. Do you have something tangible for your leads to walk away with? I’ve long forgotten the names of freebie-less vendors I’ve visited in the past. Keep plenty of business cards or inexpensive giveaways on hand to distribute to guests. Mailing lists are also good for keeping the “I’m just looking” crowd on your radar after the show.
It’s okay to have some fun while working your booth. Who wants to approach a mannequin-esque vendor? Professional behavior is appreciated by all, but you can get away with some fun and games when the mood strikes. For example, you could play music at a reasonable volume, tell tasteful jokes to attendees, or include a prize wheel at your booth to catch the eye. Using colorful tablecloths and signage never hurt anyone, either. Just remember that there’s a time and a place for humor and jokes, so use your discretion on a per-customer basis.
People are always in a hurry. Many attendees rush through trade show aisles even if they’ve just arrived—perhaps they’re afraid they won’t see everything in time. No matter what the reasoning, don’t take up too much of guests’ time with your introduction when they come to visit you. Keeping your intro brief but informative will weed out the impatient foot-tappers and leave you with more time to talk to the ones who are legitimately interested in what you’re offering.
It’s not okay to expect attendees to guess who you are and what you do. Do you have a sufficient number of banners, signs, or company literature? Is your product or service obvious to attendees? Triple check that your company objectives are clear, especially if you offer a complicated or specialized service. It’s not fair to people if they have to grill you to find out who you are; plus, some of them may be deterred from your lack of representation and never approach you at all.
The convention hall will be either too hot or too cold. Every trade show space is ventilated differently, so always plan for temperature extremes. A winter coat is probably overkill, but bring a light jacket and dress in layers for optimal comfort at all times. You’ll probably be manning (or womanning) the booth for hours at a time, so you might as well be comfortable.
Attendees have probably been on their feet for hours. This one may seem strange, but it’s important to remember. People will practically fight each other for a place to sit down and rest, and you can use this to your advantage. Make space at your booth for a row of chairs and invite people to sit when they need a break. They’ll be attracted to your spontaneous seating area and probably be more likely to talk to you if they’re relaxed. If you can’t snag chairs from the convention hall, then invest in a few comfy folding chairs or bring some from home. Trust me, people will appreciate the thought and you could end up being the hit of the convention!
No matter what angle you take with your trade show booth, don’t waste your time and resources by showing up without a backup plan for every scenario. Unpreparedness leads to chaos and then to frustration, which won’t help your case to attract new clientele. Organize, get a grip, and then get out there and market yourself the right way!
Which of these convention tips is the most helpful to you? Do you have any more trade show advice that would benefit vendors or attendees?