Very recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Annette Tarlton, Marketing Director, Star Micronics EMEA. I particularly wanted to meet Annette because she was highly recommended to me as someone who really knows about highly successful exhibiting and how to run successful trade show campaigns and this she proved within minutes of meeting her.
Annette Tarlton (pictured above), has been running trade show stands of varying sizes in national and international locations for retail printer solutions business Star Micronics (clients include Harrods and McDonalds) for more than twenty years and I’ve tried to condense her wealth of experience and advice into the article below. If you are new to shows or a veteran of many, I’m sure that you will find Annette’s approach to best trade show marketing very, very useful indeed.
A marketing director who is really strong on sales
Pretty much right from the start of our conversation I understood that although Annette is Marketing Director, Star Micronics EMEA, (and the holder of a Marketing degree), she is really strong on sales, and that combination of marketing and sales skills is a rare thing.
When I say that Annette understands sales, that’s doing her a disservice, as she could hold her own with most top sales people. In fact, when Annette first applied to join Star Micronics, she pitched herself for the Key Accounts Sales role, but was persuaded to go back to marketing and take the Marketing Manager’s job that was also vacant at the time.
Star wanted a marketer who understood sales and someone in the hiring process was smart enough to recognise Annette’s unique combination of both talents. Star’s highly proactive approach to trade shows then started to come into being.
Annette’s guiding principle for trade show success
I asked Annette to sum-up her approach to show participation;
“Strong management of the whole campaign, of everything related to participating in a trade show is for me the key to success. Everyone involved in the show on our team, needs to know firmly what the objectives for participation are and the role that they have to play in helping us to achieve our success. They have to play their part fully. They need to be prepared and most of all they need to be committed during the show open periods to be actively engaging with visitors.
Strong management needs to run through every aspect of your event and briefing your team clearly on what is expected of them and enforcing those expectations, is so important.
Trade shows are not cheap things to do and they offer great sales rewards if they are worked and prepared for thoroughly but I’m still shocked when I see exhibitors on other stands talking on their phones, sitting behind desks or having team conversations while ignoring the visitors who of course may be potential clients, walking right past their stands. These are practices that I work hard to ensure, never happen on our stands.”
“It’s the exhibitor’s responsibility to ensure a successful show”
“Exhibitors are responsible for their show success, not the organiser. The organiser provides the platform and the attendance, that’s their side of the bargain. From there on in, it is the exhibitor’s job to ensure that they have a successful show and you need to take that fact seriously.
The financial decision to exhibit is just the first step of the exhibiting process. The real work starts from there. Setting clear objectives is the next part of the process and then its down to managing the details of all aspects of your participation. This takes time and most exhibitors are not full-time events people so I would stress to any newcomer to trade shows, the need to make time in your calendar for in-depth preparation for your event.”
The importance of a strong stand
“A strong stand is your most powerful tool of visitor attraction and ultimately, big and small stands face the same issues. Both are there to do the job of attracting people and you don’t need a big area to create a strong display. In fact we won one of our biggest accounts (a French Bank) with one of our smallest stands.
Whatever the size of your stand, have confidence in it. Here are my tips for this;
- A good, well thought out layout will provide confidence – make the time to ensure this
- Having the right exhibits in place will provide confidence – book your exhibits and arrange their transport well ahead of the show
- Most important of all; strong clear graphics will give you confidence because your stand will look professional and it will be attractive (see notes on graphics below)
- Following sound stand management principles, regardless of stand size will not only provide you with confidence, it will ensure a professional approach to exhibiting each and every time”
Invest in strong graphics
“Whenever I have worked with a tight budget, I have always invested in the strongest possible graphics. Visitors do notice them and they do read them. A strong “nutshell” line of text at eye level that encapsulates what you offer and is easy to read will work.”
If you have access to a graphic designer that’s great but if you don’t, any stand graphics specialist will be able to help you create something strong and impactful. I would put graphics ahead of investing in small digital screens because the graphics will make more impact and you will get more bang for your buck.
Design your stand for people as well as your products
“When designing your stand don’t forget about storage space for handbags, suitcases, laptops, coats and other personal items that your team will have. Designing a happy stand is all part of creating a sales-effective stand. You want a happy stand team and small details like storage are important to creating that feeling.”
Strong supplier partnerships
“With shows, life is much easier if you work with the same suppliers. They get to understand you and the business and the way that we like to do things. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be problems, exhibiting does throw up challenges, it’s the nature of the medium, but knowing that you have good suppliers who can help overcome challenges is really important. We have worked with Classic in Birmingham for 12 years and they have helped make my exhibiting life a lot less stressful.”
The importance of staff training; opening lines & covering blind corners
“Strong management applies to training and briefing of your stand team. This is essential whatever the size of your stand. Your team must know about the products being displayed and any particular lines or offers that are to be focused on.
They must have and use phrases that will open a conversation with visitors whether they are walking past our stand or walking onto it. They need the confidence to use them and to share the phrases that work best.
The size of our stands can range from small pop-ups to large island displays depending on the show and the market that we are selling-into. On large stands, corner positions are very important locations for engaging customers and during busy periods, the stand team can be engaged with visitors so I don’t assign people to specific areas on the stand. Instead, I brief the team that in these situations, if they find themselves free, they need to sweep the stand and place themselves in a corner position if there is no else in that spot.
The team must circulate. Key points on the stand must be covered and I do check that this is happening during the show. This is pro-active stand management.
I mentioned already that I strongly impress on my team the importance of their role when the show is open. Phone calls, catching-up with email and other admin things need to be done when they are on their break. Stand time is sales time and anyone who has a problem with that is politely reminded that unless they get with this way of working, they won’t be invited to work any of our other flagship events and that is a real loss for them, given that shows are the one opportunity that they have to show their clients and prospective clients, the full range of Star products.
Staff motivation is also an important part of a managed approach to show success. We highlight the objectives and work practices but we also incentivise with prizes for the most leads, the most appointments booked and other kinds of achievement. I think the feeling of fun is an important ingredient for a happy and successful team.”
“Shows are an excellent tool for team building. Everyone is in a very different environment to their norm and so we do make our hours away from the event fun and we do play hard. It’s great for team morale and this I think is an aspect of events that can sometimes be overlooked by people new to this form of marketing. Whatever your size of company, make the effort to take your staff out.”
Don’t lecture visitors; ask them questions
“After many years of trade shows, I know that visitors are much more likely to respond positively to you if you ask them questions like, “what are you looking for at the show today,” or “do you use our printers in your business or do use those of a certain other brand?….(if yes) why is that…..”
Open ended questions like these help to qualify whether or not the person you are talking to could become a client. Sometimes their answer will let you know that they won’t and that’s good to know because you need to spend as much of your time as possible with people who could become clients or who already are.
And when it comes to talking to visitors, it pays sometimes to be a little unconventional too. Late in the afternoon, I might ask if someone would like a coffee, telling them that saying yes will mean that I get one too and I need a break….. and of course we then talk about their business and our business….”
“We will be meeting customers too”
“My stand teams are also briefed about being alert to the fact that existing customers are also very likely to come onto our stand and they need to greet them differently as soon as they are aware of their status.
At big shows like RBTE at Olympia, the ratio of existing clients to brand new prospects may be as high as 50/50. Often clients will ask to meet with the person that handles their account and if they are busy we will offer the client the opportunity to wait with some refreshment until their contact is free, or, we will offer to phone them instead, so they are free to carry on looking around the show.
The important thing is for staff to think; to be friendly (“did you get an ice cream yet?” – we serve ice cream on our bigger stands) and to be responsive to the requests of our stand visitors.”
Lead capture and management
“If you don’t focus attention on lead collection and what happens to those leads, what is the point of exhibiting? Although we are a tech company, I insist that we use A5 lead notepads to collect information from our visitors. For me this has proved to be the most efficient way to acquire the best possible sales information regarding the people who come onto our stands.
And we don’t always receive sales information, sometimes, because we also meet so many existing clients, there may be technical or support queries to note or they may want additional products or meetings with staff at their premises. All of these things are recorded and taken away by me once the show has closed.
Strong management also applies in this area too as I insist that all sales people show me all of their leads; none must be secreted away. If a sales person wants to keep a hot lead for a fast follow-up, that’s ok but I insist on taking a picture of the lead form as it must be entered in our CRM and recorded as part of our lead total in my post-show report. And of course, with this information noted, the sales person who has demanded the lead, is then accountable for what happens with that visitor.”
Running your campaign from start to finish
“Strong management is about running your event from start to finish and being on top of the details. Once the show has closed, your leads need to be entered into your database and then distributed to your sales team and you need to do this quickly before your competitors get their follow-up to your visitors.”
After the show, I create a Good and Bad list, the things that did and didn’t work. This along with pictures of the stand plus other notes on leads, sales and appointments achieved will form my report on the show and this is something that I or another member of staff can refer to in the future.
A final word of advice?
“Some people are not naturally strong people managers, their skills may lie elsewhere and if this applies to you and you are in charge of a stand, my advice would be to find someone else within your team to take on this role for you during the show. Perhaps your sales manager would be the right person. Someone who can not only keep your team on their toes but who can also motivate and encourage them too. It’s so important to your event success and it shouldn’t be underestimated. “