How Not To Suck At… Trade Shows

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“Oh, and remember: next Friday… is Hawaiian shirt day. So, you know, if you want to, go ahead and wear a Hawaiian shirt and jeans.” – Bill Lumburgh

Being in sales for over 20 years, trade shows and events seems to be a monthly occurrence. Companies spend tens of thousands of dollars to have anywhere from an 8ft table to a giant presence at these shows.

We’ve written how not to suck at sales and how not to suck at meetings, but lately I’ve noticed that we, as sales people, suck at trade shows.

There are books and blogs called, “Read this before your next meeting”, but I rarely see anything regarding tradeshows, so without further ado, here is how not to suck at your next trade show…

  1. TURN YOUR PHONE OFF. Listen, your company spent a lot of money to fly you out to said trade show or to have you manning a booth. Turn your phone off. There is nothing worse than looking at a booth and seeing the two people behind the table texting furiously. If you need to, take a break, but, try to remain a bit attentive.
  2. DON’T USE YOUR LAPTOP AT THE TABLE.See #1. Tell me if you’ve heard this story before, you walk up to a random booth and there are two sales people typing away furiously on their laptops. Again, you are there for a specific purpose, and that purpose is to network and speak to prospective clients. It is perfectly acceptable to turn on your OOO and reply to messages off hours. You won’t lose any business, trust me.
  3. YOUR ELEVATOR PITCH SUCKS. No one cares. We all know you do. But no one else does. The best advice I ever got about running a table at a trade show is to always turn the question around and ask, “What brought you out to this event?” if someone asked what we do. This way, you won’t ramble on and on, you won’t bore your guest, and you will be relevant to them knowing why they are there.
  4. YOUR SWAG SUCKS. Unless it’s a pen, candy, or a bottle of water, I don’t want it. Give away an Amazon Alexa, Sonos speaker, or a drone and have a bunch of pens out. Those I will keep and use. A koosh ball or a screen wiper I will throw into the garbage as soon as I get back to my office. The best things I’ve seen are the coffee counters manned by a couple baristas. And for the love of God, no more brochures. If you think people actually read the bag full of marketing written brochures about your company, well, I don’t know what else to say to you.
  5. DON’T USE BOOTH BAIT. At every IT trade show, there is always a few booths with two super models scanning badges or asking for business cards. It works every time and attendees fall for it. But then what? Regional sales people get MASSIVE lists of people that had no interest in your company/product and have no idea why you are calling them. I’d much rather have a list of 15 people that want to talk to me than 1,000 that doesn’t even remember the name of my company.
  6. HAVE YOUR ISR TEAM MANNING THE BOOTH WITH AN ENGINEER. When people approach your booth, they want a TL;DR version of your company in their speak. They don’t want a salesy elevator pitch, they don’t want to be spammed. Especially if it’s a user/geek, they want to speak with another geek, not a rep. While ISRs are perfect for handling logistics and networking, a geek really needs to be there to represent your product properly.
  7. DEMOS ARE THE NEW POWERPOINT. If you don’t have a 42”+ flat screen with a stand with your software, application, GUI front and center, well, you are going to suck at trade shows. Once you found out why a guest is at the show (see #3), you can quickly show them relevant things your product does if it makes sense. You will intrigue far more people by showing them a 3 minute demo followed with a link to a sandbox than you ever will handing out 3 page brochures.
  8. DON’T PUT GUESTS ON DRIP CAMPAIGNS. This goes out to you Marketing Dept. You just had a successful show. Your sales team met dozens and dozens of great prospects. Your engineering team gave glorious demos to hundreds. Now you take that list and put them on an automated email blast and hammer them with nonsense. It is perfectly acceptable to send them a single follow-up with a whitepaper, a link to the demo, a coupon code, etc. But do it once. Want to get people to hate you quickly? Send them an email on Monday, followed up with another email saying, “Did you get my email?” followed by another email the following Monday saying, “This is my last email to you if you don’t respond.” You can kindly kiss my ass.
  9. HAPPY HOUR IS WHERE IT’S AT. I’ve always been the most successful when I’ve either hosted or paid for the happy hour after the trade show. The ties have been loosened, the shields are down, and you can simply be yourself. Now, it’s very easy to get carried away and suddenly you’re “that guy”, but networking at this level should be the basis for everything you do.

Hopefully this will help you not to suck at your next trade show, now go read something else!

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