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3 Ways to Break Through the Noise at a Trade Show

You might not exhibit at trade shows regularly. You might not have a huge, flashy booth. But you can still come home a success.
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My e-mail marketing company, VerticalResponse, recently attended and exhibited at a retail trade show in Las Vegas. It was a large, multi-day event with over 14,000 attendees and tons of booths on the show floor--a daunting experience if you don't exhibit at trade shows regularly or can't afford a huge, flashy booth.

Here are three ways you and your business can break through the noise at any trade show and make sure you come home a success:

1. Personality counts.

The very nature of trade shows demands that you have personality. From the look and feel of your booth to the people who are working at it--does your booth blend in or stand out? Do you use the same cookie cutter booth for every show, or do you target your booth to the type of show you're attending? Even though it might require more time, energy and money, targeting your booth to the type of show you're at can really help.

For instance, if you're at a show that is about visual merchandising, you're going to want your booth to be visually captivating. If you go with a standard 10-foot-by-10-foot booth with little to no visuals, you might be hurting for leads no matter how compelling your product or service. I wrote about this before when I attended SXSW last year.

You also really want to think about who you send to work in your booth. Often this is delegated to entry-level sales folks or junior members of the team. But I challenge you to think about your end goal. What do you hope to accomplish at the trade show? Do you want more leads? Do you want potential partner deals? Your end goal will help you determine who will best deliver that result.

For example, at the show we just attended there was a locker company directly across from our booth. The guy in the booth asked people as they walked by, "Interested in lockers?" I was dying as I watched it happen, because he was breaking the cardinal rule of sales. He was asking a closed-ended question. Also, he had a pretty specific product, so not every person walking by was going to take his line. But in his defense he said, "You gotta keep trying because eventually, someone says 'yes.'" He earned points for persistence--for sure! On the other side of our booth was a group of guys who designed booths and could manufacture just about anything. Their booth was hoppin' all day long. And their main guy would approach folks who walked up with the question, "What do you do?" He started a conversation, made it about them and was then able to assess how the product would be a fit for the person and quickly tailor his pitch that direction. Guess whose booth got more leads?

2. Be novel.

In the sea of booths at a trade show, a lot can be said for having some novelty to attract folks to your front door. As an attendee, it's easy to get caught in the tangle of people and not want to break away for yet another sales pitch from a desperate and bored exhibitor. Shake things up in your booth with something unexpected, fun and, yes, interactive, to get folks involved and engaged. Ditch the usual swag of free pens and stress balls and give away something memorable. The same booth that had the great staff also had a 7-foot-tall gumball machine right at the front of their booth. When they talked to folks, they encouraged them to turn the crank and out would pop a mini gorilla. People ate it up.

Another example: We recently attended a show that was focused on dogs. (Lots of dog owners have small businesses that need e-mail marketing!) We gave away dog brushes that literally flew off our table. People liked them so much they were offering to buy them. Nostalgia is also effective at eliciting response from a crowd. I've seen booths giveaway popcorn, cotton candy, cupcakes and good ol' booze in this effort. How can you give away something cool, but also something that resonates and relates?

3. Stay engaged.

You never know what will happen even if you're at a show that seems to miss the mark for your company, or that feels slow. Don't fall into the trap of getting bored, starting to do other work and ignoring attendees. It's easy to have happen at a multi-day show when the adrenaline and coffee run out and the people in your booth lose their show mojo. A woman who sells vintage props had a booth next to us and it was super slow for her. She left her booth for a while and guess what? A huge client came to see her! Luckily the client waited for her (This would not usually happen.), and she closed a deal on the spot. She got lucky.

I must admit, our product and service wasn't a great fit for the show attendees, but we quickly realized it was a great fit for the other exhibitors. We talked to lots of them and ended up closing two deals during the show. Lesson? Seize the moment, stick with it and work it with everything you've got. Every show is different, and you never know when that next great lead or deal is going to appear. Will they stop or walk on by? That's up to you, isn't it?

What tips would you add to break through the noise at a trade show? Share them in the comments.

Did you enjoy this post? If so, sign up for the free VR Buzz and check out the VerticalResponse Marketing Blog.

IMAGE: Newscom
Last updated: Mar 28, 2014




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