Greta Garbo famously said that she wanted to be alone (in the 1932 film Grand Hotel).
That quote was great for the box office but it’s not a motto to live by if you want to be a successful exhibitor.
No offense Greta.
“A lot of people come to this show”
When you signed up for that trade show, what did the organisers tell you about the audience?
28,000 people attending? 40,000 people attending?
The organisers haven’t lied to you.
Yes, all of these people will come to the show, but and it’s a big but, how many of them will know that you’re there?
And, how many of those visitors will make it to your stand?
Just showing up isn’t the same thing as actively participating in a trade show.
I hate to it break it to you, but there are no participation trophies here.
Results are what count and to generate excellent results you need to prepare in advance.
What do you do to combat having no one show up to your stand?
Here are some ideas that have worked for me.
Before the show happens, invite people.
Yes, the simple things really do work.
Invite your customers. Invite potential customers that you’re in talks with and invite people who you want to become customers, but haven’t had a chance to talk to yet.
Do you have a new product you’re launching?
Invite people who used to be customers too.
By inviting people you can remind them that you’re going to be exhibiting at the event in question.
You might, if you decide to, let them also know about the show “special” that you are offering.
Or, maybe your potential customer didn’t know that this particular trade show was happening.
Your invitation alerts them to the event and hopefully encourages them to now attend instead of missing an event that could help their business as much as it helps yours.
An opportunity to get in the Ideas Zone
Generally, and this is so important to remember, at a trade show, the minds of attendees are mostly focused on the show and the things they see there.
Visitors blissfully leave behind the distraction of meetings, chatty co-workers and whatever else is going on in back in their office.
It’s their opportunity to see new things, to get ideas and to find solutions.
By extending your invitation you’re not only letting them know that you’re ready to talk business, but you’re also providing them with the chance to get their ideas mojo flowing.
However, as an excellent reason as this is, just inviting them may not by itself do the trick.
Take it one step further and ask for an appointment with your would be visitor and client.
By setting a specific location, date and time with the person you want to speak with it gets them to commit to a conversation.
Even though people may not be as distracted by co-workers, meetings and broken office copiers at a trade show, their time is still limited.
Your goal is to get on their schedule and ask for some of their time during the show.
Make this appointment time productive by setting an agenda beforehand.
While setting the appointment, ask the person what pain points they have and are trying to solve.
Doing this will help you avoid time-wasting for both parties during the appointment.
There’s no point discussing or showing things that they aren’t interested in learning about.
Once the appointment is scheduled, add it to their calendar using a meeting invite (just make sure you make the date/time in the time zone of the location of the show) and attach the agenda.
A few days before the show, follow up and confirm the appointment.
What if you’re already at the show and you have an hour to kill between your appointments?
If stand traffic is slow, go to your booth and respectfully invite visitors who are walking by to talk.
Oh and of course don’t ever sit on your stand with your arms crossed. Don’t frown or look bored and don’t eat your lunch in public view.
Most attendees will see any of the above as signs of disinterest or rudeness and will keep on walking, even if they were a little curious about your product.
If you’re in your booth, you should be there to find and conduct business not be on a phone call or eating your breakfast, lunch or mid-morning snack.
In an exhibit hall, I’m sure you can find other places better suited to those activities.
Secondly, even if there are 40,000 people roaming the show, unless you’re a globally recognised brand (ie, Facebook, Nike, McDonald’s, etc…) people might not know who you are or what you do.
To get a conversation started, address open-ended questions to visitors walking by your stand.
This is a proven way to get them to stop and chat. Don’t be shy or diffident about this.
Avoid the temptation to ask questions that will launch directly into your sales pitch. Do that and visitors who thought for a second that you sounded interesting and different, will become disenchanted.
When they walk on and away it will be like Greta Garbo got her wish.
Rather, ask things like, “what brings you to the show?”
“How many times have you been to the show previously? What’s been your favourite session?”
“Are you attending to source or find something in particular?”
“Does your company use products or services like these?’
These questions are a good lead into the qualifying stage of what could turn into a sales conversation.
They help you to see if a show visitor is a good candidate for your product or of course if they aren’t.
You’ll never get 100% of show attendees on your stand (nor should you ever strive to!), but by asking for someone’s time in advance and being fully engaged during the show, you should ensure that you won’t ever be alone in a sea of people when you exhibit.
About the Author
Jeannette La has worked in Events and Marketing for more than 14 years.
She has spent the bulk of her career in tech and aerospace and has worked internationally in businesses ranging from Fortune 500 enterprises to start-ups.
Jeannette has exhibited at dozens of trade shows in the Americas, UK, mainland Europe, and the Far East and she is a graduate from the University of Washington.
She is currently based in Budapest working as an International Marketing & Partnerships Consultant.
You can connect with Jeannette via LinkedIn.