Booth etiquette

Avoid wasting time by following these nine “musts” the next time you have a space at a home and garden show.

Trade shows have developed into one of the foremost ways for companies to market their products and services. All too often, the personnel with the responsibility of producing the show find themselves the least prepared to handle the real job. Below are nine tips to those who work the booths to increase sales at trade shows.

1. Must commit to specific objectives: Thousands of companies participate in trade shows every year. Many of those companies spend days, weeks, months and even years planning the display. However, they neglect to invest appropriate amounts of time and money to properly prepare their personnel with the methodology and technique to be applied at the show. Are your trade shows objectives to sell, gather leads, qualify leads and expose your product, service and/or company or some other goal that you are looking to achieve? Prioritizing your objectives will help to define what has to be done.

2. Must draw people into the booth: Gimmicks may be great – an eye-catching display, drawings and contents, a demonstration that allows the visitor to participate – and they will get people to stop by. But people do business with people, which means your people have to communicate with others. Are your people prepared to deal with people that come into the booth? Or are they chasing them away by lingering in the back of the booth like a vulture awaiting its prey? Perhaps they are grabbing them in the front of the booth with some version of the old “retail” store opening, “Can I help you?” Training your people to be as strong and different as the eye-catching display is worth as much, if not more, towards getting people to stop by your booth.

3. Must identify prospects: Part of prioritizing your leads is qualifying the people that come into your booth. Far too many people working at trade shows believe they have to tell everybody their story. Not every person has an interest in your product or service, nor do they qualify, or even deserve to hear your presentation. Being able to differentiate the suspects from the prospects will certainly increase sales.

4. Must ask questions: Too many people make presumptions and then provide solutions prematurely. Developing a format for questioning the suspects, to see if they become prospects, will help you determine which people warrant your time and efforts.

5. Must get a decision: The person at the trade show should not be serving as an educator. There is a definite need to get a commitment and learn the priority which the prospect places on a certain type of product or service. Too many leads, especially unqualified ones, can be worse than too few leads, and produce unproductive sales after the show.

6. Must adjust to trade show selling: The people in attendance are in a mode to see a lot in a short period of time. Ad-libbing and working your way through the detail of a typical sale doesn’t work in the trade show environment. The truth is that you need to apply a strategy that gets the prospect to show or tell you what he or she needs and identify when they see themselves doing something about that need. The difference between the outside selling strategy and trade show style is similar to the difference between an airplane taking off from an aircraft carrier instead of the standard airport runway.

7. Must do more than just “put in time”: Many people are not motivated to work at the show. They spend their time chatting with other exhibitors (a lot of the time about how they hate having booth duty), looking to take coffee breaks or walking around and making small talk. Management never dedicated the time that is necessary to develop the motivated person to work the trade show. More often than not, it is dictated that certain individuals will have to “put in their time” at an upcoming show. Working the show is not presented as a privilege, and the people are not included in the planning and decision-making stage of how to accomplish certain objectives.

8. Must understand their role: Along with lack of motivation comes the inappropriate role of the person at the trade show – that of being subservient, even to the degree of being a “beggar.” The trade show should be viewed as a Broadway play, in which you are the star. Do you take control? Or do you fail to use the talent and ability necessary to investigate, or more often, misunderstood by the prospect who doesn’t convert to a customer.

9. Must plan for follow-up after the show: The trade show ends, and there is a sigh of relief from everyone involved. The problem is that now work should begin. The work of brining in the return on investment. Even those companies that have planned on sending out thank you letters, literature, gifts, or some other sort of advertisement, often find themselves failing to make that person-to-person contact so necessary in closing sales. Be it lack of personnel, technique, goals, qualified prospects or planning, without the sales call for follow-up, sales will not just happen on their own.


5 ways to win

Keep these five tips in mind from companies that have put together award-winning trade show booths.

1. Plan ahead. “Start preparing early,” says Ryan Cummings, co-owner at BuenoLuna Landscape Design. BuenoLuna received a bronze medal at this year’s San Francisco Flower & Garden Show. “Mock up things ahead of time as much as possible so that the setup will go as smooth as possible.” He also suggests that you make each element or part of your display as independent as possible for easy set up. “Problems during setup arise when one element can't be started before another is completed, when one task or group of workers is waiting on another,” he says.

2. Make it big. “Try to create something that is taller than most of the booths around you,” says Heather Grossmann, a designer at Mom’s Landscape & Design. Mom’s was awarded Best in Show - Booth 400 Sq Ft & Up at this year’s Minneapolis Home + Garden Show. “It is easy to get lost in the sea of booths.” She suggests hanging a sign from the ceiling that will hang down above your booth, having part of your display include a pergola, very large trees or tall panels with brightly-colored fabric.

3. Think long term. “Don't just use the display garden to attract the type of projects that you can do, use it to attract the type of projects that you want to do,” Cummings says. If your company has been trying to get into more hardscapes or more design/build, focus on that in an attempt to draw in new clients.

4. Goodies are good. Takeaways are huge, Grossmann says. That way, the person has something to take home with them that will remind them of your company. “Try to make it personal to each person,” she says. “We have done a photobooth with our logo on it.” While you don’t have to get that involved, other handouts you could give include specific brochures that highlight the exact types of projects they would be interested in.

5. Be energetic. “The key is to have fun in your booth,” Grossmann says. “People are drawn to life and energy.” – Katie Tuttle


The author is president of Sandler Training, a sales training company.

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