How to become a trade show superstar
Trade shows can be a substantial investment, but they offer your company an impressive payoff. Here’s how to make your booth the star of the show and your time a fruitful investment
by Alberta Venture Staff
Illustration Jenn Madole
Tracey Moore’s father used to run a trade show service company, so when she founded Exhibit Studio 10 years ago he began to pass down his hard-learned wisdom. One lesson that stuck with her was to treat every customer with the same level of respect, whether they’re spending $500 or $50,000. That’s come in handy as Exhibit Studio, which began as more of a boutique company, came to sell trade show booths whose price tags ran from one extreme to the other – from little more than a table and banner to gigantic, interactive $100,000 exhibits. Just as they both deserve the same respect, they both serve the same function, too. “Trade shows give you the face-to-face, and they allow you to develop the relationship potential that a lot of other mediums just don’t,” Moore says. “You’ve got five seconds, maybe seven seconds, to get someone’s attention, and if there’s a row of 20 booths, you need people to see who you are and what you’re doing, otherwise they’ll just keep on walking by.”
With that goal in mind, here are some more tips for making the most of your next trade show:
Moore recommends renting, not buying, a booth for first-time trade show vendors. But renting the hardware for a trade show booth costs about one-third of what it sells for, so if trade shows seem like a good fit for our company, the economics for buying outright make sense pretty quickly. Let’s say you buy a typical 10’ by 10’ banner stand – you can always still rent a 20’ by 20’ for the biggest trade show of the year.
Rock your booth
If you’ve got some leeway in your budget, you can persuade your average trade show guest with the trends of the day, like iPads, video screens, even virtual reality. If you’re one of the world’s largest corporate conglomerates, then you can really blow your guests away: GMC, for example, had a water gun-shooting contest – guests had to hit targets to lift four trucks. But if your budget doesn’t have enough zeroes for that kind of theatre, there are some low-budget design principles to follow: keep it clean and clean-cut. “The worst thing people do is turn their booth into a brochure,” Moore says. “They miss the point – it’s supposed to be like a billboard, and you need to catch people with images and a quick idea of who you are and what you do.”
Know your mission
Some companies, like those that go to home and garden shows, will sell their goods at the trade show and calculate their profit in relation to their expenses – staff, booth, transportation, and so on. But oil and gas companies, for example, don’t go to trade shows to sell barrels of oil. Some go just for the brand recognition – “they want to be seen and remembered,” Moore says. Know why you’re there, and learn how to track your profits, even if it takes time.
This is more of a general sales tip, but Moore says that following up with leads is just as important as going to the trade show in the first place. “If you think about a salesperson who leaves the office for three days to find leads, you have to have a pretty strong program in place to follow up,” she says. “If the sales guy comes back with all these leads in their pocket but they have to catch up on everything they’ve missed, soon it’s two weeks before they can even send something to the person who was interested.”
Send your best
Moore recommends sending two staff members, so one can leave or help other customers. She says that a common mistake is not being prepared enough to ask the right questions when someone comes into the booth. “They need to be able to figure out within the first few minutes whether you have a qualified lead or just a tire kicker, because the longer you talk to the tire kicker, the more prospects walk by.”