Every piece of planning must be carefully calculated to minimize expenses and maximize useful contacts
Christy Cook knows how to work a trade show. As president of Teach My, a learning tool for babies through preschoolers, she has leveraged trade show appearances to land coveted retail space with Toys R Us stores and Toys R Us online.
Her tip: Less is more. "Just be sure everything can fit in a suitcase or golf bag for the plane," she says. "Ikea has a lot of great, lightweight and portable options. Cubes, shelving and rented tables will do the trick."
It sounds simple, but when it comes to trade shows, it’s the little things that count. A small business can spend anywhere from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars to pitch a booth, in the hope of making contact with potential customers. Every piece of planning, therefore, needs to be carefully calculated to keep down expenses while maximizing useful contacts.
This first of a two-part series offers five hot tips for making your trade show presence pay off big time.
1. Education = ROI
"Take time to attend the educational sessions or the group-led forum discussions that are part of most shows," suggests David DuBois, president and CEO of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events. "This is the best way to gain free access to case studies, best practices, and industry-related news and regulatory updates that will be useful long after you've left the show floor. Leveraging the educational opportunities will help you maximize your attendance ROI."
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2. Put in the Right Staff
"Be sure your booth reps are your top salespeople with the most charisma and best listening abilities that your enterprise can muster," advises Sheila Kurtz, president of Graphology Consulting Group, which produces programs to draw attendees to booths. "Be sure they know they are expected to be top-level actors whose job for hours at a time is to attract people in and ask them the kind of questions that will persuade them to buy. Be sure that they each know the company's core marketing message in half a dozen different ways."
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3. Give It Away
"The most crowded booth at an expo I recently attended was a business that was giving out chocolate candy. Very smart," says Lynn Bardowski, author, Success Secrets of a Million Dollar Party Girl. "Candy is a magnet, so why not use if for a contest? Fill a glass holder with M&Ms and give a prize to the person who can guess the count. It adds a fun factor to your booth, and presents your business as human-friendly. As people are guessing the count, you’ll have a captive audience from which to collect lead information."
4. Court Potential Clients
"You may close a deal at the show, or maybe not. The important thing is to build relationships," reminds branding consultant Thom Singer. "The most valuable part of attending a trade show is in the people you meet, the relationships you may spark. Ask questions of others. Listen more than you talk. Do not try to sell your products or services to those you have just met. Use your time at the event to discover more about others. Seek real reasons to follow up with people after you get home. Then follow up. Treat everyone equally: Do not try to prejudge who can buy your services. You never know."
5. Scrap the Crap
"Everyone is handing out baubles, trinkets, squishy balls, teeny notebooks and a whole lot of other branded junk," says events consultant Richard O'Malley. "How many drink cozies do we really need? If you want to be remembered with a tchotchke, make it something they will actually use. A branded pen does the job, so long as it’s a good pen. If the thing runs dry by day three, what was the point? And what message do you send about your commitment to quality?"