This week I spent 4 days manning a trade show booth for a new product that we just brought to market in the past year. We were in a special section of the show for new companies. In the same aisle as ours, I saw other exhibitors have very different levels of success. As my partner and I actively engaged prospects coming down the aisle, energetically explained the benefits of our product, and ultimately, took a ton of orders, most of the other companies within eyesight did no business. What made the difference? Surprisingly, it had little to do with the products they were selling and everything to do with their own efforts on the show floor. Here are all the things you shouldn't do at a trade show if you want to go home successful.
1. Don't be anywhere but in your booth. This seems like a no-brainer, but I watched several people leave their booth on many occasions for long periods of time--to talk to surrounding exhibitors, take long lunch breaks, and see what samples they could buy. While they were gone, they missed valuable traffic walking by.
2. Don't hide behind your table and wait for people to come to you. It won't happen. A woman whose booth was a few down from ours sat quietly throughout the show, and spent 4 days talking to no one. If your product doesn't excite you enough to make you want to be on your feet shouting about it, why should somebody else get excited enough to come over and check it out?
3. Don't play with your devices. Social media is fun and having a phone in your hand may make you feel like a powerful and liked person, but it does nothing for making human connections which is what you're at the trade show to do. The representative of a company in our row spent his time on the show floor very engrossed in his smartphone--forgetting that his emails, his Facebook friends, and his tweet buddies would all be there when the show was over, but his customers wouldn't.
4. Don't display a product that's not ready to bring to market. A nearby stand had what I think was a highly saleable product. Unfortunately, it was not priced right, the packaging was all wrong, and the customers they met just couldn't say yes. It cost them $7000 to find out that they needed to fix these things, when they could have stayed home and called on local customers to find out the same thing at a fraction of the cost. A trade show is not a place to get your ducks in a row--it's a place to set them in motion.
5. Don't let customers walk away with line sheets, samples, or anything else from your booth without getting their information. A foreign exhibitor next to our booth diligently handed out his flyers to passersby, but it was the same as tossing his flyers to the wind, because he didn't collect any contact information in return. Most attendees leave shows with pounds of literature in their bag that gets left in their hotel room or thrown away. If you want to have even a slim chance of getting an order from them, you better have their contact information so you can follow up when the show is over.
6. Don't forget to make notes about each customer you meet. One exhibitor used his iPhone to take a picture of anyone's business card who showed interest in his product. Because he didn't take the time to annotate them, they're more similar to a mailing list name than a warm lead. If you use the back of the business cards you collect to jot down something memorable about the prospect herself, about the conversation you had, or about what she was most interested in, you have a powerful way to reconnect with the customer when the show is over, which shortens your lead time and closes your sale.
7. Don't forget to actually ask for the order. I was stupefied when I asked a nearby exhibitor on day 3 if he had taken a lot of orders, and he answered "I didn't bring order pads. I figure anyone who is interested will order when they get home." Customers at trade shows will visit hundreds of booths and see thousands of products. The time to ask for the order is right there in the booth when their attention is focused on your product. At worst they'll say no, at best you'll make a sale right there.
Before you show up to a trade show, get prepared. Plan to stand for eight hours a day, to extol the benefits of your product like your life depends on it, and to talk to every single person walking past your stand--because you never know who might be a customer. Do all this--and you'll get your company or product off the ground just fine.