By Larry Lewis

Whenever I walk by booths at trade shows, one of two things invariably happens—either the attendant walks up to me and silently hands me an expensive brochure, or greets me with a loud, “Can I help you?” Another salesperson asks if I would, at the very least, like to sign up for the free gift they are offering.

Let’s not concentrate for now on the silent person who hands out expensive literature to unqualified suspects. Instead, I want to focus on the salesperson that gets a business card by way of entry into a contest, and thinks he/she is doing well at the show.

Small fish, big pond
There are two common problems with this practice. A fish bowl filled with business cards contains no more information—in fact, less information—than what you can get from a business directory. The business card was received for the wrong reason with no qualification to back it up, thus making the name on the business card no more than a cold call, an unqualified suspect. The second problem crops up after the show, when it comes time to follow-up on all the suspects in the fish bowl.

At one trade show, I dropped my card into every fish bowl I could find, and gave my card to at least one person in each booth. Over 90 percent of the companies never followed-up after the show. The companies that did just called to tell me I didn’t win their prize. They wanted to know if I would be interested in receiving some literature or making an appointment to see them. If the company didn’t call me on the telephone, they sent me a photocopy of a form letter that thanked me for stopping by their booth and requesting the enclosed literature.

Zero in on the target
To say the least, the companies’ premise and approach were weak and certainly didn’t stimulate my interest in their product or service. The key to working a trade show effectively is to work hard at narrowing the field of suspects to a handful of qualified prospects and then follow-up diligently. Here are my four habits for working a trade show effectively:

Adjust your selling style: You want appointments, not necessarily sales. Ad-libbing and working your way through the detail of a typical sale doesn’t work in a trade show environment. A trade show is usually a place to get leads and appointments, not make sales. The difference between the trade show style and the outside selling strategy is similar to the difference between an airplane taking off from an aircraft carrier instead of an airport runway.

Don’t talk about yourself or your products and services: Instead, ask qualifying questions. Too many people make presumptions and then provide solutions prematurely. Here are some sample questions to ask:

  • Have you heard of us?
  • What made you stop at our booth?
  • Have you used (insert product name here) in the past?
  • What was your experience?
  • Do you really need it?
  • Why do you need it?
  • Who are you doing business with now?
  • Why would you switch?
  • Who, in addition to yourself, has a hand in making those kinds of decisions?
  • Does it make sense for us to talk after the show?
  • What is the best way for us to set that up?

Think of yourself as a casting agent, not a beggar nor a teacher: Your job isn’t to educate the prospects who drop by. Your job is to qualify them on whether they fit the client roll you’re looking to fill, and separate the usual suspects from the real prospects. On the back of the business cards of individuals who are truly prospects, write down the following four things—what they are interested in, best time to call, name of secretary or other gatekeeper, and their rating as a prospect—cold, warm or hot.

Follow-up immediately: A trade show lead has a shelf life of 24 to 72 hours. Set aside time immediately after the show to call these individuals—don’t write them. If you can’t reach them by telephone, leave a message, send a thank you note for dropping by your booth and keep following-up. I’d rather have 10 good leads to follow-up on than a stack of 100 with no qualification.

The above article was in response to a question I received: “I have several trade shows I’ll be attending this summer and fall, and I was wondering if you could give me any advice on how to maximize the benefit I derive from these shows?” I hope this advice helps you get more productive and profitable results from your next trade show experience.

About the author
Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., of Wexford, Pa. He can be reached at (877) 933-9110, (724) 933-9224 (fax) or email:[email protected].


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