By Ryan C. McKay
I love this industry. I really do. Where else can you build your business, meet great, new people, expand your view of the world, and all while experiencing some of the greatest cities on Earth? These are the benefits that can only be found through the marketing miracle that is the trade show. How could I NOT love this industry? EVERYONE loves this industry.
Well, maybe not everyone. There is one group of people that we’ve all run into at shows that is obviously there for a completely different reason than expanding any relationships or building any business. You know the type: Trick or Treaters.
You’ve seen them … heck, maybe you’ve even been them (though I hope not). They’re the ones who lurk at every trade show, avoiding eye contact and sprinting from booth to booth with plastic bags that are overflowing with pens, jumpdrives, stress balls, paperweights, and the occasional T-shirt. Or perhaps you’ve seen their evil twin, the “Explorer,” so named for their penchant to travel the show floor with a map of exhibitors, asking for stamps or stickers to fill their punch cards, all in the search of the elusive show prize. Maybe free airline tickets, or an I-Phone perhaps? You ask them if you can answer anything — or even better, scan their name tag for future contact — but much like an over-sugared child on the big night, they are already dashing off to the next freebie or stamp of their card without so much as a thank you.
Yes, the Trick or Treaters and the Explorers are a necessary (and potentially costly) annoyance at every show. The only way to completely do away with them would be to ban show giveaways altogether so that everyone could just focus on business. Am I suggesting that we do that? Definitely not! That’s overkill. The fact is, promotional items DO work … when used correctly. The problem, though? Most people don’t use them correctly.
They aren’t supposed to be used as bait to get passers by into your booth space. That’s counter-productive. The whole point of a trade show is that you get qualified buyers who are looking to buy (or at least, looking to learn more). If you use “bait” to lure everyone in, you’re just going to get distracted by a hundred and one people with no interest in you or your product, which distracts you from the people you really need to be talking to. Now, that could possibly work for you, I suppose, assuming you are the world’s best sales person, and you can engage, qualify, entice, and close hundreds of people who didn’t care a bit about you two minutes ago — all at the same time. I haven’t met that sales person yet, however; if you know where I can find him (or her), please have him send a resume to my attention as soon as possible.
So, let’s talk about the correct way to use “premiums” (I love that word — “premium” — ironic, seeing as how they are usually cheap pens with just enough ink in them to sign your name on the bill). Premiums are intended to help you build top-of-mind awareness with potential customers. That’s the key right there — “… with potential customers.” Not with anyone and everyone, just with potential customers (or your kids if you forgot a birthday and they have very low standards).
Here’s how to do it without looking cheap: Have two classes of giveaways — your standards (like the pens or measuring tapes) that you keep on hand as a “Thank You” to all the people who take the time to speak with you, and your “Key Prospect Premiums,” which need to be something desirable and memorable. I’ve seen people use MP3 players, nice leather-bound padfoloios, and laptop accessory kits (all with the exhibitor’s company logo branded on them). Get a dozen or so. These are the ones you give to your biggest prospects (or better yet, customers!). Keep the smaller items on hand behind you in your booth. Make sure they are out of the reach of the Trick -or-Treaters. Place ONE of your Key Prospect Premiums within easy eye view of the crowd as they pass by, but not so easily that someone can grab it and go. Look but don’t touch is the key here. Got it? Good! Now here’s how you play this:
Step 1. Stand (don’t sit) near the front of your booth with a SINGLE piece of literature in your hands.
Step 2. Smile and engage with people but don’t lunge at passers-by. Definitely feel free to make conversation, but don’t beg them to come into the booth, or worse, scream at people. You’ll just scare everyone away.
Step 3. When people step into your booth, don’t smother them or throw giveaways at them. Smothering them will send them straight into the arms of your competitor. And your giveaways have a value — just like you do. Make them earn a giveaway. How do they earn it? They talk to you!
Step 4. Qualify your visitor by asking good questions about them. You aren’t trying to sell them here. You are trying to see if there is a good fit for what you do. If you ask them good questions about themselves, you will not only learn if they are a good prospect, you will also build rapport and create the necessary engagement to move toward an actual relationship. With this information, decide if this person is a good candidate to benefit from your products or services, if they COULD be a good candidate at some point in the near future, or if there is no fit.
Step 5. The next step will go one of three ways:
a) If this person is NOT a good candidate for your business and will never be a customer, thank them for their time and give them one of your standard premiums. After all, they earned it by sharing information with you. Don’t give them your literature, though. If they aren’t a good fit, they won’t read it, and you’ll just be wasting it. At the end of the day, you’ll still go through far fewer wasted giveaways than normal, simply because most Trick-or-Treaters won’t go through the trouble of talking to you to get the giveaway. b) If this person IS a good candidate for your business and is genuinely receptive to talking further about developing a business relationship, get their business card, and then give them one of the Key Prospect Premiums with your business card attached — and be “showy” about it. That will get the people who were on the fence about talking to you to stand up and pay more attention … and maybe step up to the plate and talk to you themselves. And as for your literature? Chances are if they really are good prospects, they have already asked YOU for your literature. c) If this person is not a good fit now but might be in the near future, ask them if they would like some of your literature. If they say, “yes,” give them your literature and business card along with one of your standard giveaways. If you can tape the item to the literature, that’s even better since they will have to look at your literature again in order to get at the give away. Step 6: Make a note on the back of each business card that you collect as to what you talked about and what you gave them. Record one personal item about each person so you can always remember who was who … and have something to mention during follow-up to show that you remember them on an individual basis. As soon as you can, fire off an email to each of these people THE SAME DAY, thanking them for coming by, and promising to be in touch as soon as the show is over. Step 7: Follow-through. If you wait more than a couple of days after the show ends, it will all have been for nothing. Follow up, and follow up quickly! But what do you do about the Explorers? The ones who are only stopping by to get a punch or a stamp on their explorer card? Well, there are two main schools of thought on the subject. Most of these programs are opt-in for exhibitors. If you like the program and feel it’s worth sifting through the Explorers in order to get a little more traffic, then more power to you. You might even luck into an extra sale that you wouldn’t have otherwise gotten. Chances are that’s not going to be the case, though. If you don’t want to waste time with the Explorers, and you have the option, just opt out of the promotion. Trust me, they won’t bother you. If there is one thing that the Explorers are good at, it’s knowing where “X” is on their map … and where it’s not! The other two ways to deal with Explorers (this is for the folks who aren’t given the opt-out option) is to either: a) Bring an intern to the show whose entire assignment is to simply stamp the Explorers cards. Put them in the back of the booth and qualify the people coming into the booth to see if they are there for business or for the promotional scavenger hunt. If it’s for business, follow the steps above, and then personally stamp their card on the way out. If they are just there for the scavenger hunt, send them straight back to the intern to take care of while you go back to selling. b) Have someone stand just outside of the booth, in a place that won’t disrupt traffic with the stamp. When someone comes into the booth and simply wants a stamp (and nothing else), send them to the person outside of your booth who has the stamp, thereby getting them out of your booth so that more qualified and more professional people can come in. Now, I should mention that some people believe in their heart of hearts that the best way to build business at a trade show is through cheap giveaways (or worse, expensive giveaways!). They’ll go to their graves swearing that the true power of the pen lies in dropping it into a plastic bag with 12 other cheap pens. That’s their choice (and their money) to do with as they will. It’s been my experience that premiums DO have their place, and that they can help to keep you in front of people but only when they are earned. And even then, they won’t make or break the sale. That’s for you to do. Do it well.
Ryan C McKay is a senior account manager and director of operations with Ohio Displays Inc./ODI Works. He can be reached at (216) 961-5600 and email@example.com. His blog, “Ramblings From a Traveling Trade Show Professional,” can be read at http://on-the-road-with-odi.blogspot.com/.