We recently attended a tradeshow (Granite Partners principal and staff, not the royal “we”) with a client, in an effort to help them gather competitive information prior to entering a new market for a line of products they were planning to launch in a few months. We got together prior to entering the show floor, and discussed a specific set of goals and tactics to be applied to our activities during the morning, including observing and asking questions anonymously of the competition, researching potential production partners or related ancillary product partners that worked with our product, finding possible new applications for our product beyond the intended use, and observing the marketing tactics used by our potential competitors.
A tall order, but one that can usually be filled in a couple of hours of strolling the show floor, watching, chatting with vendors, asking questions as if we were in the market to purchase, along with a few covert snapshots of displays and a collection of collateral materials in our show bag.
After spending an hour on the floor, we had accomplished most of the goals we discussed. Some general take-aways on the state of small tradeshows:
1) Vendor displays have gotten less expensive – and less professional. If you’re going to spend the time and money to highlight a new product at a tradeshow, don’t have your sister-in-law design the booth and the collateral signs because she won Third at the science fair in 11th grade! Go to the professionals for your exhibit design, and have a professional help you with a marketing plan that will help activate and leverage that display and turn it into viable leads! Just because the structure is less expensive than it used to be, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spend the savings on good design!
2) If you’ve gone to the trouble to design and transport a display, at least show up, set up and participate. We saw three or four empty booths, half constructed and missing key elements, with no sales or technical staff in evidence – shame on you, what a waste!
3) If you are prepared and suited up, working the booth, don’t just shoot out a generic question to passer-by to try and snag their attention – it’s tacky and worse, ineffective. Simply come out from behind the table, out into the aisle, make eye contact with attendees, and maybe ask a legitimate question, maybe something related to the problem your product solves. If you hit on a sore point, you’ve hooked them, if that’s not their problem it’ll be a pretty tough sell to start with and you’ve not annoyed anyone. Being a tradeshow attendee doesn’t mean you’ve signed up to be molested in the aisles!
4) This is not a re-run of “Boiler-room” – stop trying to close me on a complex, high-dollar, multi-step sale three minutes after I meet you at a show. Ain’t Gonna Happen! This is essentially a meet-and-greet with A/V support. Simply take my information, give me some data and some salient points that can be beneficial or differentiating for your product, and actually do the follow-up work later in the week. Even at consumer-based, residentially-oriented shows, I may not want to sign a contract on a $10,000 piece of infrastructure construction on my house – such things need researched, discussed with family, budgets allocated, etc. It’s a long-term, complex, consultative sale, not a $10 widget that helps wash the car faster.
5) Do some pre-show marketing. Don’t rely on the show organizer to do it all for you, your results will reflect such an approach. If you plan to sell into the local market, do some homework, craft a decent direct mail piece, do some segmenting, mail a few key zip codes and let some likely consumers know you’re going to be in their neighborhood. You’ll be the busiest guy on the floor.
No matter how small a show it is, if you’re going to spend the money and time, make it count. Make the commitment, do it 100%, make an effort to be your professional best. If you’re counting on a show like this to make your year, your plan is flawed, and your desperation will be readable from a mile down the aisle. A show should be a small part of a more holistic approach to your overall marketing effort, not a make-or-break event.
Happy trolling . . .
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