Wednesday, February 19, 2014

9 Strategies to a successful Trade Show

As I help my clients prepare for this years International Housewares show, coming up in March, I noticed that I have been a bit more insistent regarding preparation than in years past.    It is not that I don’t always yell preparation from the rooftops; it’s just that this year seems a bit different. 

I know what your thinking, if I tell them to wear comfortable shoes and take good notes all will be well.  But the truth is, YOU NEED MORE THAN COMFORTABLE SHOES AND A NOTEPAD TO HAVE A SUCCESSFUL TRADE SHOW.

Over the years I have followed a specific trade show regiment, a regiment that has lead to many successful and lucrative trade shows.  It is this set of simple, perfected guidelines that I have shared with my clients this year, and the very same I am going to share with you now. 

Please understand I am not reinventing the wheel here.  I don’t have the recipe to Coke or a map to buried treasure.  What I do have, what I have used in the past to create trade show success are the following guidelines.

  1. Set a goal
  2. Do your homework
  3. Build your list
  4. Set appointments
  5. Have an offer, no really, a good offer
  6. Capture leads
  7. Know your differentiator
  8. Learn to Re-adjust
  9. Follow up

Setting a Goal:
I am sure, as a professional or entrepreneur, your first thought was “dah”, of course you should set a goal.  However, you may be shocked to find that less than 10% of exhibitors at any given trade show have actually set a tangible goal and keep that goal in front of them daily at the show.   Here are a couple of guidelines to remember when creating and setting your trade show goals.

  • Be specific – I want to generate 150 quality leads.  From those leads I want to close $$$ of sales over the next 6 months.
  • Write them down – Ensure your goals are written down and with you at all times.
  • View your goals – Reviewing your goals each day prior to the show opening will help you stay focused as the long day wears on.

Do your homework:
There is a tremendous amount of opportunity and unseen expense that goes along with every trade show.  In order to be fully prepare in advance for your show you must read, not skim, read through all of your show paperwork.  Not informing yourself can leave you on the sideline for great, free opportunities that can showcase your product and can leave you holding the bag on costs you were not prepared for.  Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want even if the deadline has passed, you will be surprised at how accommodating the promoters can be if you are professional.  Just last week one of my clients submitted their product to be part of the Green products display at the Housewares Show.  Even though the deadline had pasted they were accepted.  Never hurts to ask.  Below are a couple must do’s for every trade show attendee.

  • Fill out your online profile completely.  
  • Don’t leave any area unfinished unless it simply does not apply. Upload quality images of your product and logo.  No iPhone pics here.
  • Apply to every award or special venue that your product qualifies for.
  • Keep hard copies of everything you have done and paid for in a file that will go with you to the show.

Build your list – Many first time show attendees believe that if they build a great booth or have a great product, buyers will magically come.  The problem with this strategy is that most major retail buyers have already prescheduled their time and are running a very tight schedule.  These buyers are running from one appointment to another and are not simply browsing down each aisle to see if something catches their eye.  Having a great booth with no list is like having a great website and not doing any SEO.  Building your list begins well before the first day of the show.  I am sure you are asking, “What the heck is My List?”  Your list is the people you have reached out to prior to the show and let them know who you are, where your booth is and why you would like them to come by.  Remember, this is a numbers game, the more people you reach out to and introduce to your company; the more buyers will make time in their schedule to come visit you.

Set Appointments – Once you have reached out to as many current and future customers as possible, you should begin to set appointments.  I recommend creating an appointment sheet for each day of the show.  The appointment sheet should be broken down into 15-minute increments beginning 1 hour after the show opens and ending 1 hour before the show closes.  This will give you time in the morning to prepare and time in the evening to recap.  It is conceivable that certain appointments will take longer than 15 minutes and if this is the case simply mark off 2 or more sections for that particular customer.   Not every buyer will set an appointment with you, however you should do your best to set appointments with the buyers you are most interested in doing business with.  This will ensure you are available when those buyers come to your booth.

Have a really good show special – It is extremely rare for buyers of any large retailer to commit, on the spot, to an order.  With that said, it is possible to write orders for specialty, online and single store owners on the spot if you have a great show special.  Below are some specials that can turn the heads of smaller retailers.

  • Extended terms – Privately owned specialty retailers will jump at the chance to purchase goods net 60 or net 90.
  • Free launch kits – Offer free POP kits to retailers writing orders at the show.
  •  Free Shipping – Offer free shipping on any order written at the show or free shipping on orders over a certain amount written at the show.
  • For more ideas contact me at

Capture Leads – If you are wondering if it is worth it to spend the money on a lead capturing machine wonder no more.  It is worth it!  Once the show is over these leads can be converted into a CSV file and downloaded directly into Salesforce or whatever CRM you are using.  Quick Tip: When taking business cards always write something identifying on the back of the card that will help you remember the person and what you promised to do for them.

Know your differentiator – Identify the one or two things about your product or service that sets you apart and work it into an opening one-line pitch.  You will only have a few seconds to grab the attention of potential customers, make the most of it with a great one-line opening.   I have a client who sells a compact, electric, composter that can turn kitchen scraps into grade A compost in less than 3 hours, with no smell or mess.  My opening line for this client was “Did you know that composting can now take less than 3 hours?”  Anyone that knows anything about composting knows that it takes weeks for food to decompose into compost, which made the above statement an attention getter. 

For help preparing for your next trade show contact me at 

Learn to Re-Adjust – Now that you have your goals, your plan, your appointments, your offer and your pitch line what happens if nothing works?  Last year I was at a trade show for dieticians selling them a program for offering a certain type of cookware to their clients that would help their clients eat healthier.  The program made sense, the offer was great, the product was superb but every single dietician said no the first day.  What was their reason?  “How can I offer cookware to my clients that I myself have not even tried?”  This hit us like a ton of bricks!  Of course they wouldn’t offer a product to their clients they had not tried themselves, their credibility would be on the line.  After a powwow the evening after the first day we decided to create a 1 pan try me offer.  Instead of offering the program, the next day we explained the program, but offered a try me pan at a great price so they could fall in love with the product first.  This was a huge success and we generated over 140 leads in the final 2 days of the show.  Lesson: Don’t keep doing something that is not working.  Listen to your prospects and make adjustments if needed.

Follow up - Would you be shocked to learn that over 60% of trade show exhibiters will never fully follow up with all the leads they gathered at the show.  Why is this?  I have wondered and pondered this statistic for years and what I have come up with is simply a time issue.  If you are attending a trade show where you could potentially gather more than 100 leads you need to clear a certain amount of time following the show to do nothing but follow up.  Below are some suggestions for a stellar follow up routine after any trade show.

  • Clear your schedule – Prior to the trade show beginning you must clear 2-4 days after the show ends to complete your follow up.
  • Don’t follow up during the show – Some sales people feel that if they follow up each night of the show they will stay on top of their leads.  Although this may be true, your follow up will be falling of deaf ears as your prospects are still at the show and overloaded with information.  Begin your follow up 2-4 days after the show ends depending on how big the show was.
  • Don’t stop working – Instead of spending time each night following up during the show, use this time to complete the normal work piling up in your inbox.  Doing this will allow you the time you need after the show to focus on follow up.
  • FOLLOW THROUGH – I cannot yell this loud enough.  If you promise something at the show you must follow through on what you said you would do when you said you would do it.  I know this sounds like a no brainer, but I have spoken to many buyers who say sales people at a show said they would call or send samples and never did.  Don’t be one of those sales people; follow through!
  • Everybody counts – Don’t follow up with some and not with others.  There will always be large, small and medium sized opportunities, they all deserve to hear from you after the show.

As you can see there are many aspects to a successful and lucrative trade show.  To maximize your opportunities none of the above 9 areas can be left out.  I hope the above information has been helpful and to close this article out I will leave you with one final thought.

If someone took the time to visit your booth, speak to you, take your information and leave theirs they have, at the very least, some interest in what you have to offer.  Don’t ever discard a lead, you may have to inactivate them for a while, but never stop following up.  No doesn’t necessarily mean Never!

I would love to hear some of your strategies for a successful trade show, please leave me a comment below.

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