How Trade Shows Work

Basic Training

So you've selected the most promising candidates, detailed what the show goals are, and explained in detail how the company should be presented. Now you need to put your candidates through some simple training exercises to show them how to engage show attendees so that they actually get to use the information you've armed them with. There are four phases in trade show selling:
  • Engagement
  • Qualification
  • Presentation
  • Closing

First, as we mentioned above, engaging the show attendee is not as simple as you might think. Assuming you don't have a magic show, a live animal promo, or other crowd magnet, the burden of getting people to stop at your booth is on your booth staff. The first rule of engagement is: Don't ask a question that will allow the attendee to simply give you a one word answer and keep on walking. Ask them what product they are looking for at the show, whether this show has been as helpful for them as another show, if they are familiar with your company, etc. Be creative -- this is a critical step, and the goal is to get them to stop and talk to you.

Phase two is the qualifying phase. You certainly don't want to waste your time on someone who isn't really interested in your product, so it pays to ask some qualifying questions right off the bat. There's nothing worse than seeing six good prospects walk by while you're politely listening to someone who you suspect doesn't even need your product. (Yes, this can happen, especially if you have cool giveaways at your booth.)

So to qualify your prospect, take one to two minutes to ask some specific questions like, "Tell me about what you're looking for at the show." "Tell me about how your company does ." Essentially, just ask them whatever you need to ask to identify whether or not they need your product or service.

Phase three is show time! Time to do your tap dance and dazzle the prospect with the many benefits of using your product as opposed to the other guys'. Remember to limit your presentation to about five minutes or less and make your message as memorable as possible. If you've done a good job identifying your show goals, product message and competitive advantages, then this phase should be a cake walk. It's typically the easiest phase for your staff because, if they're sales reps, it's basically a condensed version of what they do every day.

The final phase is probably the most important of all, and the key to a successful closing is making sure you and your prospects are in common agreement about the next step. Ask them how they would like for you to follow up. That puts the ball in their court and forces them to say, "Yes, send me a package of information" or "Yes, call me on Tuesday about a quote." And yes, you do want to get specific with call back times. The more specific you can get, the more likely they will remember who you are when you call.

So those are the basic steps involved in trade show presentations. Go through the process with your booth staff and rehearse with each other. Pull in office mates to play the role of the trade show attendees and assign them personality types to make it more fun and challenging for your booth staffers. Having prepared booth staffers can make the difference between a very successful show and a not-so-successful show.