How Not to Exhibit Yourself

The British satirist and comedian Peter Cook once wrote a sketch around the idea of an interview between a pompous failed business owner and a TV reporter. “And have you learnt from your mistakes Mr Streebgreebling?” asked the interviewer. “Indeed I have,” replied the businessman. “and I’m pleased to be able to tell you today that I can now repeat them all perfectly!”.

Whenever there’s an avoidable tragedy somewhere in the World all those involved with clearing up the aftermath and reflecting on the cause always use those words in subsequent interviews: “Lessons must be learnt”.

Now a ‘trade show’ obviously isn’t a potential life threatening disaster. But the waste of money, waste of opportunity and waste of time caused by the lack of commercial understanding of exhibitors and their staff is alarming. “Lessons have not been learnt”

This week I attended a large food industry trade show in North London. The major brand leaders were there on their massive stands and so were the one man band start-ups in their tiny stands. There were some really innovative products, services and franchising opportunities too; the food industry has moved on since I was last involved 40 years ago! But it was clear as I walked around the show that the quality of ‘exhibition sales technique’ has not moved one inch or one centimetre.

The top three suicidal sins were spread evenly across all exhibitors at this food industry show…large and small…in roughly the percentages shown below:

– On 75% of all stands, at any one time, large numbers of sale staff were on their phones like zombies or texting…(mostly texting) as potential customers walked by.

– On 85% of all stands at any one time exhibitor staff were lined up along the edge of their nearly empty stand facing outwards in ‘repel all boarders’ mode chatting to each other, looking bored or having a bit of a laugh (or texting) as potential customers walked by.

– On 95% of all the stands (even those whose staff engaged us properly in conversation) we were fed some very tasty morsels (well it was a food show) BUT we were not asked once for our contact details or ‘scanned’ with a view to following up. So we walked away.

Trade shows are expensive ventures and justifiably so when you consider that the available research indicates that 70% of those who get tickets to attend are able to make or directly influence buying decisions. Just ‘being there’ is not good enough.

When any of us rent expensive space at tradeshows we need to bear in mind that we are buying an opportunity to ‘sell’. And the ‘selling’ bit only happens when we engage potential customers in conversation. It is useless to hang about believing that potential customers are going to engage us! With so much else to see it is practically hopeless to imagine that we automatically stand out from our competitors. The truth is: We all look the same!

So before contemplating your next trade show attendance as an exhibitor, work out what is going to make you stand out and look different? What is your USP? It’s not so much what you ARE as a company, nor is it your name emblazoned across the entrance to your stand. Instead tell the world the key problem that you fix because that is the ONLY thing that might interest a customer. The people on your stand should wear a smile on their face at all times (“A man without a smiling face shouldn’t open a shop” <Chinese proverb). Phones should be powered completely OFF while you’re on the stand (Instant termination offence).

Stand away from the edge of your stand so that customers feel encouraged to ‘come aboard’.

And most of all GET THE PROSPECTS’ NAME AND CONTACT DETAILS before they leave. You are not there mainly to give out YOUR card! The hard-truth is that ticket holders get so many on the day they’ll never remember afterwards who you were or what you do.

You are there to vacuum-up as many names and contact details as you can.

(OK if you can get an actual ‘sale’ that beats everything!) But for a start go for names and follow up contact details…as many as you can get from potential customers who showed the slightest interest

This is only a fraction of what you need to be doing to succeed at your next trade show.

Finally one thing you sometimes see on a stand is a ‘gold fish bowl’ or a box next to a sign requesting that you throw your business card in with a view to taking part in a raffle draw after the show to win a prize (anything from an iPad or a laptop to a spa retreat or some free offer). Many people are reluctant to throw in their card in case they subsequently find themselves hassled by spam emails, phone calls or junk mail.

The truth is they shouldn’t worry; less than 7% of all those who throw in their cards are ever contacted!

Another massive wasted sales opportunity.

Lessons are never learnt.

Bob Etherington

“Europe’s Best Sales Trainer” :  [Voted by ‘Sales Innovation Expo’ 2015 and 2016, Excel London.]

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