In today’s economic climate small business owners are searching for cost effective marketing tools and new ways to attract customers. One method of connecting with prospects that consistently produces results and remains a great value is face to face marketing at a tradeshow. The tradeshow floor is an exceptional source of business for both exhibitors and attendees. The Center for Exhibition Industry Research says 66% of attendees come to network while exhibitors will reach 7 times the number of qualified prospects at a tradeshow compared to other types of advertising. With that in mind, here are some tips for maximizing your next tradeshow experience no matter which side of the exhibit aisle you’re on.

For attendees:

  • Prepare in advance. Before you go, pull up the exhibitor list from the show website and take note of all the companies you believe can fulfill your requirements.       Research their products, pricing and reputation on the internet before you visit. Revise the list before show time to zero in on the firms you definitely want to visit on the show floor.
  • Target your resources. Have a clear understanding of exactly what you need before you go to the show. Create a list of the products and services you will search for.       Include all the details that are required for the perfect solution you desire. Be prepared to articulate your needs and provide a description of the problem you’re trying to solve.       Prepare all the information and answers to questions an exhibitor would need to provide you with a quote.       Include important details such as style, color, quantity, size, budget and deadline and delivery dates.
  • Network. In addition to looking at the exhibits and talking to sales people, the show floor is a great place to mix and mingle with industry colleagues and meet new prospects for your business. Have plenty of business cards with you to pass out to people you meet in the seminars, in the aisles and at each booth.

For exhibitors

  • Get leads. Unless you are attending a consumer show exhibitors will be restricted from direct selling or accepting money, so lead generation should be the primary goal of every exhibitor. Obtain each prospects name, phone number and email address.       You can gather the information by holding a drawing, registering them for newsletter or by signing a guest book. Making sure those leads are qualified by ranking each prospect. Use a simple ABC system. Mark hot prospects as “A” leads for quick follow up.  Your “B” leads might buy In 6 months, but the “C” are most likely not qualified and just wanted your free mouse pad. Add a note on the lead that will remind you what the prospect asked about. Include a personal comment about your topic of conversation, where they lived, or what they wore. These notes will create familiarity and jog the prospects memory during the follow up process.
  • Collect competitive intelligence. Nine out of ten business owners ranked exhibitions as the number one most useful source of purchasing information because they could examine and evaluate competing products in one location. Your customer is on the show floor comparing yours business to others, so you should know what you are up against. Walk around the show and observe your competition.       How does their display look, what are they saying to customers, what are customers buying, what are they selling and how is it priced? Debrief the staff about your findings after the show and use the knowledge you gathered to make improvements to your image and marketing programs.
  • Gather Market Research. You have a million dollar opportunity to check the pulse of the public right there at your booth. Take a short survey to uncover customer concerns and important problems. Request their opinions on your new product line, styles or color choices. Ask attendees to rate your service on quality, delivery or courtesy.       This is your chance to get true opinions on the spot

Susan Ratliff is President of Exhibit Experts. As an award-winning entrepreneur, she brings 35 years experience in sales and marketing and provides seminars and products to turn any tradeshow booth into a powerful profit center. For information on exhibit marketing products or to hire Susan Ratliff to speak at your next event, contact her at 602-828-1177 or visit www.SusanRatliffPresents.com


Here’s good news about exhibitions, for a change!

I think everyone is sick and tired of being sick and tired about the tradeshow industry.  I know I am ready for a new attitude. We are on the cusp of recovery or at least noticable improvement in the industry.  I know because my phones are ringing and people are spending money on new exhibits. People are calling me to help them with their tradeshow strategies and booth image.  My colleagues are budgeting for more shows and actually getting excited about the possiblilites of a successful year on the show floor.  Budgets for marketing are getting fatter and tradeshows are near the top of the list.  There are some good statistics circulating by the major industry researchers that should make us smile. You can get encouraged by reading some of the findings at www.exhibitcitynews.com.

Here’s a few of the findings: The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) announced that preliminary data collected for the fourth quarter of 2010 revealed an increase of 5.4 percent over 2009 for attendees. They say the positive trend of attendees actually began in the third quarter of 2010 with a 6.6 percent increase over the third quarter of 2009.
They also released a report that shows the overall exhibition industry gained 2.4 percent during the first half of 2011.  That is finally something we can get a little encouraged by.

What can you do to speed up the recovery and get us back to the heyday when prospects and profits were overflowing?  You can get out there and attend the shows again, sign up for a booth, launch a new service, introduce a new product, sponsor an event, have a party or book a hospitality suite. Bring your staff to the show and make it a bonding experience.  Take advantage of the educational offerings and attend the classes.  Be present for the recovery.  Contribute to the rise.  See you there.

What exhibitors want

Earlier this month I had a great time attending the National Speakers Association’s annual convention in sunny California.  There was an incredible line-up of featured speakers and each one was a powerhouse on the platform.  I heard favorites like Brian Tracy, Glenna Salsbury, Randy Gage, Larry Winget and Lou Heckler.  If you are not familiar with these talents of talk just google them.   For four days I immersed myself in the business of speaking and filled my brain with ways to polish my presentation skills. One of the benefits of attending the conference is to visit the tradeshow.  The exhibit hall is filled with a variety of products and services to help every level of speaker make money and become better at speaking in front of an audience. I was pleased with my discoveries and now know where I can get a custom cartoon drawn to add some humor to the power point I use when I teach my Exhibit Like an Expert seminar.  I also found out I can turn any one of my books into an e-book for only $99. My most exciting find was getting a one year membership, valued at $800 for only $199 from E Speakers.  Now I just have to load it up and figure out how to use it.

While I was smoozing with the exhibitors I decided to do a little investigative research and conduct a survey with the various booth staffers. I wanted to know if they were pleased with the show, the traffic and the assistance from the show organizers.

One common complaint was that the traffic was not as heavy as they had hoped.  I observed that the exhibitors were located in a separate ballroom a short walk away from the main ballroom.   This event was a conference with an expo attached, not a tradeshow, so attendees had to make a conscious effort to travel to the exhibit hall to visit.  I observed that much of the networking, meeting spots and group activity was concentrated around the coffee stations in the large foyer in front of the main ballroom.  I wondered why it would not serve everyone better to have the exhibits located around the perimeter of that foyer so they would always be where the attendees gathered.  In the heart of where the action was.

A number of exhibitors were hoping for a package price to be able to attend the luncheon or educational sessions. Each extra option was itemized and costly and exhibitors felt they were nickeled and dimed to death if they had any interest in participating in some of the fun offerings.  It was a missed opportunity for some additional mixing and mingling among the attendees and the valuable vendors that would have driven traffic to the hall and probably initiated more business relationships and sold more goods.  A large amount of revenue for  conferences  like this one is derived from the exhibitors.  It is well worth the effort to include them in all aspects of the event which keeps them happy and coming back the next year.

There was an effort by the conference management to bring attendees into the exhibit hall when they had lunch and breakfast there, but it was a rushed atmosphere and a tight time line to grab food and eat, so exhibitors were frustrated that tons of people were in the hall, but occupied with eating not visiting their booths.  A fun function inside the exhibit hall like an auction, cocktail party, ice cream social or networking game would have showcased the exhibitors and given them an activity they knew was their own, designed to drive traffic and make their booth time successful and valuable.  When planning your next event with exhibits, I hope you keep these candid exhibitor requests in mind so everyone comes away having a successful experience.  If you would like any other helpful suggetions for planning your event contact me at susan@susanratliff.com

What exhibitors want from show producers

I just returned from the National Speakers Association’s annual conference.  In addition to hearing incredible professionals tell amazing stories that inspired, educated and electrified me, I also spent a lot of time in the exhibit hall.  There were many companies offering a wide variety of products and services to help professional speakers, coaches and authors improve their business and profitability.  I highly recommend NSA to anyone looking to turn their talent for teaching,  training or motivating into a profitable business. www.nsaspeaker.com    www.nsa-arizona.com.      Anyway, I wanted to find out how happy the exhibitors were with the show.  The topic of long hours came up numerous times.  It was a 4 day conference with exhibitors setting up a day earlier. Some days they would start at 7 and end at 4pm.  That is a long day, but it is especially long if many hours are spent in a silent hall because attendees are in the sessions, which was the case here.

  • Events scheduled in the exhibit hall would help to drive traffic to the booths.
  • The morning coffee was stationed in the hall and several box lunch events were delivered and consumed in the exhibit hall as well, which drove traffic to the exhibitors

One of the complaints was that there was no reference to the exhibitors from the main stage. If announcers would have reminded attendees in all sessions to be sure not to miss the valuable resources in the exhibit hall it would have kept the vendors in the attendees minds all day.  Its a small gester that is easy to included in a program, similar to when performers mention to remember to tip the wait staff.  Event producers need to be reminded that much of the income generated from a conference comes from the booth fees.  Exhibitors deserve to be promoted.  Smart show organizers will make exhibitor satisfaction a top priority which will increase exhibitor retention and improve booth sales the next year.

Another suggestion that would work well for many events is to consider integrating the exhibitors into the conference instead of placing them in a separate hall or ballroom.  There was an enormous lobby at this hotel where much of the networking took place in the morning before the programs began and at every break.  There was plenty of room to put all 50 or so exhibitor front and center so they were included in the meet and greet process instead of being isolated where it took an effort for an attendee to walk down the hall and enter the exhibit area.  Just a thought for next year.

For more insights into how to make your next event productive and profitable, give me a call:  Susan Ratliff, The Exhibit Expert, susan@susanratliff.com   602-828-1177

Is your booth staff a help or a hindrance?

You spend a ton to exhibit in shows.  Your long list of costs  include the real estate expense for that great booth location, the display and graphics costs for a professional impression, the marketing materials, give-a-ways and shipping fees to get everything to the show.  And don’t forget the time the sales staff spends out of the office and all the travel, accommodations and meals you have to pay for.

What you may not realize is that no matter where your booth is located, how impressive your display is, how cool your freebees are or how much pre-show marketing you did to attract attendees, it will all be wasted unless the people representing your company in the booth make a good first impression.  You think I am kidding?  Well here is a startling statistic from CEIR, the center for exhibition industry research. “80% of attendees base their opinions of your company on the actions of your employees at the booth”.  This is a
great incentive to provide advanced exhibit marketing training to the people who will be representing your company at the show. Unfortunately most businesses never get that memo.  The common practice is to send the sales team to work the booth. The assumption is that they’ve been selling for years so they should know how to sell on the show floor. This is somewhat true, but there are many differences between selling in the field and selling at a show.   Time to engage and qualify is limited, there are multiple distractions and the environment is noisy. A different sales strategy is required.  Unless taught otherwise, the sales person will
use the same pitch at the booth they use on the road or in the office.  The result is multiple representatives giving three different sets of information to prospects with no ability to determine why one person is successful booking appointments or selling products and the
others are not.  Without a consistent marketing message and call to action from each person in the booth you will be at a loss
to determine what works and what doesn’t.  Sales people are ego driven and take pride in their personal
techniques.  It is a difficult task to change someone’s behavior if they have been doing the same thing for years.  One way to get everyone on the same page and provide an opportunity to quantify results is by brainstorming with your team
before the show.  Develop a simple sales script that emphasizes customer benefits, showcases product features, highlights
services, qualifies or disqualifies and asks for the sale or lead.  If you write it down and require them to use it consistently, you will be able to track results from day to day.  A random approach by every different salesperson could never be tracked in that way.
Give it a try and let me know how it works out.

Susan Ratliff. The Exhibit Expert, www.susanratliffpresents.com

Pakistan show is success

I am one of those Americans with little experience or exposure to the business world in other countries, so I was delighted to have the chance to get up close and personal with a dozen accomplished women entrepreneurs from Pakistan last March when they asked to consult with me about my Women Entrepreneur’ Small Business Boot Camp conference.  I blogged about the visit at: https://blingmybooth.wordpress.com/2011/03/05/women-entrepreneurs-from-pakistan-visit-arizona/ Today I was delighted to hear from one of those very successful ladies, Fozia Gulfam, who is the CEO of Danbys Skincare International.  She recently held an event for the company in conjunction with a Bridal show in Pakistan where she achieved fabulous success and received wonderful media coverage. Take a look at the video and you will see a vibrant, exciting, modern event with fabulously beautiful and talented people in a setting that could easily be New York or LA.  I would not have pictured it that way. I need to get out of my comfort zone and learn about the vast assortment of tradeshows, conventions, expos and consumer shows happening around the world.  It’s time to explose ourselves to a whole new world of possibilities for marketing and sales outside these United States.  Let’s go!  http://youtu.be/uNkduwZ0mpk

Stay focused on your goals

I got a call from a client the other day asking for my opinion on a booth promotion he wanted to execute at an upcoming tradeshow. His goal was to attract attendees to his booth and tie into the theme of the show.  Good goals, right? His plan included a preshow mailing to the attendee list with an incentive to come to the booth, then there would be a contest they would particpate in when they got there and a drawing for a prize.  He also wanted to have another drawing after the show was over to keep their attention. I didn’t want to curb his enthusiasm about show promotions, but like many exhibitors, he was losing sight of why he was exhibiting in the first place.  He wanted my advice so I explained that if he is already inviting them to the show with the invitation and incentive and there is an interactive game at the booth, then there is no need for another attraction.  I encouranged him to stay focused on why he was there.  The objective is to get leads and make sales not necessarily to play games and entertain. When attendees stop I recommended his team be prepared with a consistent presentation to explain the company benefits and features,qualify potenial prospects and get their contact information to expand the data base, stay in touch in the future, continue to solicit sales and provide information.  He did not need another game to reconnect because he already had their info. The reconnecting comes when you make the personal phone call to follow up. That is when you set an appointment, ask for a sale, get a referral or ask some survey questions.  I did suggest that if he wanted to give another prize, he could select a winner from the leads and use that to open the conversation during the follow up.  It is important to have fun at the show and interact with attendees, but remember why you spent the money to exhibit.  Make a connection, educate, inform, play games, have fun, but if you don’t collect that valuable name, phone number and email address you are missing out on the opportunity for a long term relationship that could result in many sales and referrals for years to come.

Susan Ratliff is The Exhibit Expert, reach her at susan@susanratliff.com  www.SusanRatliffPresents.com  face book and twitter