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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


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

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

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  face book and twitter


Is it safe to go back into the meeting?

I was reading Successful Meetings Magazine this morning and was encouraged by the positive tone of many articles indicating that the stigma of luxury meetings is diminishing and it might be safe to hold an event in a nice, resort setting again.  The recommendation is to bill it as a deluxe location and not a luxury one, just to be sure. Hey, whatever it takes to get the ballrooms filled, the exhibits built, the speakers booked, the excursions scheduled and the fabulous food flowing.  It’s time to climb out of this rut and dismiss the depression that has hung over this industry and me personally for two years.  Get up, get out, get traveling.  The deals are out there and it’s time for every event manager, meeting planner, show producer and exhibit company to cash in on the great locations and terrific incentives offered by venues all over the country.  I am ready for it.  Bring on the tradeshows, conventions, meetings, conferences, consumer events, summits, seminars and retreats that make this industry great.  See you at the next show

susan ratliff  the exhibit experts  www.susanratliffpresents

Slow economy? Let’s exhibit

When capital is in short supply, the tendency for most small companies is to slash the marketing and advertising budgets.  It is with this knowledge that the shrewd business owner seizes the opportunity to increase market share and get an edge
on the competition.  While everyone else is waiting it out, the smart entrepreneur is finding new ways to reach their
customers.  One of the most effective ways to capitalize on a down market is by exhibiting in a tradeshow.

The Center for Exhibition Industry Research says you will reach 7 times as many prospects at an exhibition than you would through any
other type of marketing. In addition, the leads you collect will cost you 56% less to close.  The caliber of prospects
attending a tradeshow is excellent. Research shows that 49% of tradeshow attendees come to buy
something.  82% have buying influence, while 29% are the decision makers. 26% will sign a purchase order and 94% will
compare competing products.  It’s an audience ready to spend money with your company.

There are 11,000 tradeshows and 2,500 consumer shows a year attended by 120 million people who spend 100 billion dollars.  Nine out of ten companies ranked exhibitions as the #1 most useful source of purchasing information, because they could
examine and evaluate competing products in one location. Big business has been capitalizing on the benefits of exhibit marketing for years.  With a little knowledge and some careful planning, even the smallest business can tap into this lucrative marketplace.

The key is in the planning. To maximize your exhibit marketing budget consider working with experienced professionals that know how
to save you time and money on everything from labor and decorations to those last minute emergencies at your booth. When it comes to problem solving on the show floor, turn to your show decorator. Their knowledgeable staff is able to resource solutions in quick fashion to most any challenge and they will often partner with local entrepreneurs who can offer unique products and services that fulfill every show producers or meeting planner’s needs.

Small exhibits can produce big profits

I recently exhibited in a local Chamber of Commerce business expo. There were around 120 exhibitors offering a wide range of products and services to see. I estimate that 1200 attendees passed through in a four hour period. That’s a pretty good amount of traffic in a short period of time, especially when you compare it to the fact that the average sales person can only call on about 6-10 client in one day. The quality of the attendees was excellent, most being business owners themselves so the environment was perfect for gathering leads, finding valuable resources, branding and networking. Many of the exhibitors had tabletop displays which are economical, compact and can still make a great impression on the show floor. Unfortunately, the majority of booths I visited seemed to be under the impression that all they needed to do to get me to stop was stick a stack of flyers on the table with a bowl of candy. Hey, they were there, what else did I want? The truth is, I didn’t want anything from them because if they didn’t think enough about their company’s image to take the time to look professional why should I think they would give any attention to detail to my needs as a customer? Large or small, image is
everything on the show floor. Whether you are in the show for four hours or four days you better make a good impression. A droopy vinyl banner hung from the back curtain and a foamcore sign with the contents of your brochure printed on it will not get my attention.  Here is what will:

  • Professional signage/graphics that tell me who you are along with a short tagline or slogan that explains why I should do business with you.  (be sure to remove that awful cardboard ID sign that comes with the booth. That should not be your company sign).
  • Text that is short and sweet.  I don’t have time to read more than a few lines of text on your display.  Make sure your message conveys that you understand me, my needs and the solutions to my problems.
  • Pictures that tell the story and explain the product and how it relates to my needs. Show people in pictures using your product or service or how the product works.
  • Provide me with a simple takeaway that addresses my interests. Not a five page portfolio of your company history.  Target the needs of your audience.
  • Loose the candy bowl.  It’s not Halloween.  (unless of course you are selling candy)
  • Elevate the items on your tabletop area so you display your literature and offerings at a variety of heights.  Boxes covered with cloth or acrylic holders or baskets work well.
  • Invest in an imprinted table cover with your logo on it or at least a nice cloth that color coordinates with your exhibit.

I’ll cover more next time