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August 26, 2012

Come prepared, dress the part and follow up: 10 dos for exhibiting at MR trade shows

In an article last month, I shared 10 things conference exhibitors should avoid when working the booth at a trade show. Now that we’ve established what not to do, I’d like to share 10 best practices that can help sales professionals improve their success at the shows.

  • Know the exhibit hours. Be in your booth before the doors open and stay until they close. Nowhere is this more important than on the final day. Many conference attendees save their stroll through the exhibit hall until the end of the last day and if you’re busy packing up early, you will miss those opportunities.
  • Come prepared. Have an ample supply of pens, staples, sales collateral, business cards, etc.
  • Consider a uniform. Don’t worry, I don’t mean a UPS-like ensemble of brown and brown but maybe have the entire booth team wear polo shirts in the corporate colors and with a logo. Not only do you want to reinforce your brand while in the booth but also while walking around the hotel.
  • Silence your cell phone. You do not want a good conversation with a prospective client to be interrupted. Check your messages during a break.
  • Physically speaking, your best bet is to stand at the front of the booth where your space meets the aisle. Maintain an open and relaxed position (no crossed arms, hands out of pockets), smiling and making eye contact with passers-by.
  • Ask the right questions. As you’re standing in your booth, smiling, the one question you should never ask but almost everyone does is, “Can I help you?” Almost everyone will reply, “No, thanks. Just looking.” (Others might ask, “How are you today?” The response to which is, “Fine, thanks.”) Your goal is to engage passers-by in some sort of conversation that then leads to a business discussion. Try, for instance, “Hello, John, what’s brings you to the conference this year?” or “Good morning, Mary, do you do much online qualitative research at [insert company name from her name tag]?”
  • Remember the old joke: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Answer: Practice, practice, practice. The same goes for your booth presentation. Whether you just have some key talking points, a PowerPoint presentation or a software demo, practice it often so you’re as polished as you can be when it’s show time.
  • Have both good literature and cheap literature. Many visitors to your booth will not be qualified or not ready to talk about purchasing decisions. No need to give them your very expensive, glossy corporate brochure. Instead, give them a nice, little (but still professional) overview sheet and save the good literature for the hot leads.
  • Get a business card from every booth visitor but don’t rely just on the card. Most booth workers will have a conversation with someone, collect a card and then maybe scribble a note on the back of it. Instead, create a small form to which you can attach the card (or write down a name and e-mail address if someone runs out of cards) and have standard questions on the form you need to answer:

– Type of firm? Size of firm?
– What product(s)/service(s) interested them?
– How will we follow-up?
– Hot – warm – cool lead?
– Other notes or comments?
– Who gathered the lead?

You want to write down all of these important details at the event because there is no way you’ll remember them days later. Once you complete a form, have a specific box or envelope into which it’s placed. After the event, you can sort the leads and start following up.

  • Follow up! According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (, more than 80 percent of all companies that exhibit at a conference or trade show do not follow up on the leads they generated at an event. Boggles the mind, doesn’t it? And by follow up, I don’t mean a thanks-for-stopping-by-our-booth e-mail but an ongoing series of touches to establish relationships and build your firm’s brand. If you’re not going to follow up, don’t even bother showing up.

Put in the work
Exhibiting is hard work – dealing with the booth, traveling, living out of a suitcase, surviving on hotel food and standing on your feet all day. Rest assured it can be worth it if you’re willing to put in the work to do it right. If you abide by the 20 guidelines I’ve laid out in this article series, you stand to increase your ROI at conferences and improve your overall experience because you’ll feel more confident and make better connections with current and potential clients. Best of luck at the shows this fall.

Good luck and good marketing!

This article first appeared in Quirk’s.  Click Here to see the original posting.

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