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It’s Showtime, So Ask the Right Questions

By Phil Stella

Many Connections and Cleveland Business Connect readers and other entrepreneurs use business expos and smaller local trade shows to market their products and services and network with prospects, clients, and colleagues. If that strategy works for your business, here are some best practices to help you maximize your trade show experience, ROI, and value by asking the right questions.

The Attendee Experience — Business show attendees are usually in a hurry, and most attend for specific reasons. They’re looking to connect with providers of products or services they may need. They cruise the isles of booths quickly, looking for what they want, or good SWAG or … in my case, snacks.

Avoid Lame Questions — Keep in mind that you only have a few seconds with each of them in range of your booth. Therefore, don’t waste this valuable time on lame idle chit-chat type questions, such as, “How’s it going?” “Hot enough out there for you?” or “How about those (name of Cleveland sports team)?”

While those questions are innocent enough and might engage some attendees in casual conversation, that’s not why either of you are there. You want to know if they are potential prospects for your business, so cut to the chase. Actually, given the style of contemporary action films, cut to the crash instead. And you can do this with style while practicing uncommon courtesy.

Ask Great Questions Instead — Assume you can only ask one question as they pass by your booth. Try “Hi, Joan, welcome to the (name of show) … Does your company currently use (type of product or service you provide)?” The answer will immediately tell you if Joan is a potential prospect or not.

If she says, “No,” it would take way too much time and effort to try to convince her that she should, even if you could. A big waste of your time and hers, so why bother. Game over, so end it with, “Thanks … enjoy the rest of the show.”

If she says, “Yes,” try a drill down like, “Good to know. Who provides it now?” or “Would you like some information on our (service or product)?” to compare quality and cost with your current provider?’ Wait for her answer. Don’t just stuff your card and literature in her bag.

If you get some positive signals, you could even ask if Joan would want you to call in a few days to discuss your offerings in more detail. Also ask if she’d like some information and whether she would like to fill out an information card for a drawing for a nice prize.

Follow-up is Critical — Follow up with interested prospects quickly. A call or e-mail works better than sending out a lot of marketing material first. Ask people what they’d like to see and then send only what they ask for. You’ll save time and money on unrequested material that just winds up in the recycle bin.

And if you do call, continue your positive first impression with more uncommon courtesy. Try ‘Hi Joan, this is Bob from XYZ. I met you at the ABC show yesterday and you asked me to call to discuss our (product or service). Is this a good time for a brief chat?’ Follow her lead and conduct a brief chat then or reschedule the call to a more convenient time.

These simple and easy strategies are a great differentiator and support your value proposition. They can maximize your effective and efficient use of time and printed materials and, most of all, your evolving relationship with prospects you can then convert to customers.

On with the show!

Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication, where he empowers business leaders to communicate confidently. A popular trainer and executive coach on workplace communications and sales presentations, he is also on the Cleveland faculty at the University of Phoenix and the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Initiative. He can be reached at (440) 449-0356.

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