Planning for a strategic trade show

Last week, we discussed why you shouldn’t skip a trade show. During that conversation, I mentioned that you need to work trade shows strategically and with a plan.

This week, I’d like to elaborate on what that means. In order to do that, let’s break down what happens at a trade show.

Who attends a trade show?

First, let’s consider who goes to a trade show, as that’s a critical piece in planning what you do.

Attendees break down into two or three groups. You’ll have up and comers and newbies to the business of all ages. You’ll also have industry veterans – people “everyone” knows. They may have worked for several vendors and/or market leaders in the industry.

The industry veterans may have created groundbreaking new products, processes or services in your industry. Some of them will be so knowledgeable and so well-networked that they are not only the go to person for anyone who needs an answer, but they’re also right person to offer the backstory on that answer and can give you a list of the subject matter experts who know even more about that particular topic than they do.

These attendees will work at your clients, competitors, partners and prospects. Your trade show strategy needs to consider how your pre-show and post-show marketing communicates with each of these attendee subgroups. Your products and services are often targeted at different expertise levels, sophistication levels, experience and/or business sizes. Your booth’s message and the overall presence you have at the show needs to be crystal clear about communicating in a way that provokes attendees to think to themselves, “Those are exactly the people I need to work with.

Smart attendees come to the show with a plan. They want to meet certain vendors, find certain products, investigate certain services and renew their relationships with existing vendors. Think about how you can help an attendee get the most out of the show. How you do that may differ for clients vs. prospects.

Partners and competitors

Shows give you a unique opportunity to meet partners, improve your network, discuss plans and check up on competitors. Don’t be shy about introducing yourself to the people in your competition’s booth and be pleasant about it. You never know what a conversation will lead to. Even the largest industries boil down to a network of influencers who set the tone and make things happen. You want to know who those people are and you want them to know of you, particularly if you intend to be one of them.

Their booth and overall presence at the show will say a lot of how they’re doing, what they intend to get out of the show and how important the show’s audience is to their business. Study what they’re doing – and what they’re not doing. You might get ideas (or not), but knowing what they’re doing will help you understand what this show means to them.

Email and the phone are great when you have no choice, but face to face discussions with potential and existing partners can be far more productive means of communicating, while building and strengthening the relationships that great partnerships require. Take advantage of the brief face time you have with them.

Run up and follow up

One of the biggest differences between companies that leverage their appearance at a trade show and those who don’t is what they do before and after the show.

Today’s shows either seem to be growing or shrinking. How will they find you? How will they recognize your booth from the other end of the aisle? Why should they make the effort to attend a shrinking, but still-important show? What important client-only events should they attend?

Your communications prior to the show should help them not only be a better attendee, but also help them learn and plan how to make the most of the resources your business will be offering at the show.

Will your experts be there? Trying to get some private time in a busy booth to discuss a client’s not-so-public projects doesn’t work too well. Give them time to set appointments in advance in non show floor time where possible.

We’ve only scraped the surface of what you need to think about when planning a strategic trade show appearance, but this is where you start.

Exhibiting at trade shows – Why do it?

Should we go to every trade show every year? Some of these shows cost us well over $7000. The one show that we want to skip this year is part of an association. They have about 300 members. We know just about all of them and know what they are using. Of course, a bunch of them use our product.

Anyone who has attended a trade show knows why this question is being asked.

Avoid the knee jerk

Our thoughts first jump to the time, trouble and expense of trade show travel, time away from “real work”, conference center shipping and logistics, being on your feet all day for three to five days, skipping meals and sleep as you work 6:00 am to midnight while your friends, family and co-workers think you are “vacationing” in Orlando or Las Vegas, much less the general aggravation of things like paying $300 to rent a 10′ x 10′ piece of cheaply-made, unpadded carpet.

Trade shows can be a hassle. They require a sizable investment in time, money and people to participate, so the natural response might be “Let’s think of reasons not to go.

Don’t do that.

Why go when you own the market?

If you don’t go to a show or association meeting because you feel you own the market, what message does it send?

Here are a few possibilities:

This vendor doesn’t care enough to show up and talk to us.

This vendor only shows up when they think they can close a bunch of deals.

This vendor takes us for granted.

If your competitors are there – these are some of the ways they might position your decision not to attend, or they might simply say “Think about why Company A wouldn’t show up.

Think about the show from the point of view of the attendees who invested in your products and services. Will your absence tell them you’re taking them for granted? Remember, these people helped you gain your dominant market position by investing in what you sell. By attending these events, they’re identifying themselves as the ones who care enough about their business and their industry to step away from the office, learn what’s new, learn what is (and isn’t) working in their industry and brainstorm with peers and vendors about solutions.

Do you prefer to listen to the ones never involve themselves in such things?

Seth calls these people your tribe. Dan calls them your herd. The concepts are different, but their needs are similar. Herds require attention and care. Your clientele does too.

Herds? Really?

I don’t refer to “herd” with the mindset that your clientele is a mindless bunch of cattle. Instead, consider “herd” from the viewpoint of a rancher. How do they attend to their care, oversight and feeding?

Do they let the herd eat what they want? Deal with the weather without concern?  If a predator appears, do they simply let that predator kill off a few of the herd? If someone shows up to rustle part of the herd, do they sit back and let it happen?

Ranchers provide the right forage and plenty of fresh, unfrozen water, while protecting the herd from predators, rustlers and other threats.

They care for the members of the herd because they know each member of the herd is returning a ROI. They know what it costs to lose a head. Do you?

While members of a cattle herd don’t choose to be there, clients can choose to leave, as can tribe members. The care and attention you provide has a great influence on their choices.

What opportunities will exhibiting at a trade show present?

Find out what concerns your market today – from the current perspective of the leaders in your market, rather than from insights and perceptions that may have been formed years ago.

It’s an opportunity to talk with someone who uses another vendor’s product. If they won’t switch to yours – isn’t it important to know why? A face-to-face, eye-to-eye discussion may yield critical insight, or it’ll confirm that those people aren’t your ideal clients. Either way, it’s valuable info.

What will you gain from a stronger relationships with your clients and other vendors in your market?

Trade shows are unique gatherings of the best clients, prospects and vendors. They’re a big opportunity – if you work shows strategically and execute them with a plan.

What to do at that trade show

Something to think about before your next trade show, convention or industry event…

Come to the event with an open mind. The worst waste of time and money will occur if you arrive there with a mindset that what you’re doing now is not subject to change.

Look at EVERY thing you see and ask yourself “How can that help my business, even if I have to tweak it a little?”

If you aren’t willing to do that, why are you going?

URL the Cat

Oh Happy me !!
Creative Commons License photo credit: rainy city

Last weekend I spent some time visiting my youngest son at college in Western Oregon.

While there, we visited the Portland Saturday Market, which is full of homemade goods from art to clothing to food.

While many of the booths offered business cards that had a website on them, a very small percentage of the booths displayed a website address.

I didn’t see a single QR code.

Extending your reach

After talking to several of the booth owners, I got the impression that many were showing up every Saturday or Sunday at the market and “letting business happen to them”. That’s why I mentioned the booths not displaying a website address or a QR code.

It’s right to be focused on making sales that day, but you want to make it as easy as possible to remember your site, share it and come back for more – even if you can’t make it to Saturday Market.

Lots of tourists visit the market, so it’s important to engage them once they’ve gone home rather than limiting your market reach to “people in downtown Portland on any random Saturday”.

None of the businesses we bought items from asked for contact information so that they could keep us informed about new products and the like.  No question, it would have to be asked in the right way given people’s dislike of spam but that CAN be done.

A motel in Eastern Oregon once asked me, “Can I get your email address so that we can contact you if you leave an item in your room?” Who *hasn’t* left something in a hotel room? It strikes dead center on the “well, of course, I don’t want to lose my stuff” nerve. Simple and smart.

Purrrrr

There was a bright spot at the market in addition to some really great art and hand-made products: the booth for “The Spoiled Cat”, where a woman and her daughter were selling catnip pillows,

The sides and back wall of her booth were plastered with laminated 8″ x 10″ photos that her customers had sent in. Each photo was of a cat mauling, loving, hugging and/or generally having a ball jonesing on their catnip pillows.

Some of the photos were hilarious. That booth stood out to anyone in her target market – cat owners and friends/family of cat owners.

Exactly what it should have done.

Is that what your booth does?

Small business owner: “What’s with these funny new barcodes?”

Ralp Lauren Rugby QR code
Creative Commons License photo credit: mackarus

You may have seen those odd-looking square barcodes in newspapers and magazines, on product boxes, etc.

You might even have noticed them in the middle of the star-shaped signage in some Macy’s television commercials.

They’re called “QR codes“.

Why should business owners should care about them?

A smartphone can scan/read a QR code, which will take it to a specific web site address (URL).

Why use them at all? Who really cares about yet another barcode?

Your prospects and customers do. Some of your websites make it really hard to buy.

For prospects and customers using smartphones, it can be particularly annoying. But your customers don’t use smartphones, right?

Let’s talk about that. Currently, Nielsen (yes, those TV ratings people count other things too) says 40% of U.S. cell phone users use a smartphone.

A web search will tell you that there are 327 million active mobile subscriptions in the U.S. Yes, that’s more mobile subscriptions than there are adults, per the 2010 census. The numbers get a little whacked partly because of the number of people with a personal account/cellphone and a business one (provided to them or otherwise).

327 million is a fairly big number. Too big, maybe. To get a better handle on the numbers, a glance at a 2009 CTIA (wireless telecom industry group) survey of their members report indicated that 257 million Americans have data-capable devices and about half of those are phones. The rest are laptops and tablets. So we’ve reduced the number to roughly half the population, which is close to the Nielsen number.

Again, that’s a end-of-2009 number….BEFORE the availability of iPhone4 (and 4S), iPad and other modern-ish tablets.

Seems to me a number that’s even 10 million smartphones too big would be enough to provoke interest in the experience mobile/smartphone website users have at your site.

So now that you have big scary (or exciting) numbers to think about – particularly if your business deals in retail, tourism and other core business-to-consumer fields – get back to solving “we make it hard to buy” problem.

Important safety tip about using QR codes

Never (yes, never) use your home page URL as the destination.

Reason #1 – QR code users are, by definition, mobile users. Presumably you have a URL that is designed to be used by mobile browser users so they don’t spend all of their time squinting, pinching and spreading (or pressing zoom buttons) to read about your cool new product. If your site automatically senses mobile browsers and changes behavior or reroutes them to pages designed for mobile users, all the better.

Reason #2 – Sending them directly to your home page can make it far more difficult to measure inbound visitor numbers.

Why is that important? Because you want to know how your QR code links are performing by media/by ad/by publication etc. If you have them going to different URLs (web site addresses) such as MyReallyCoolsite.com/QR1 and MyReallycoolsite.com/QR2, then you can figure out their individual performance.

If QR code A works better than QR code B, you have information about the effectiveness of the media, placement and other characteristics of the location of that code. You can eliminate this reason by including QR code specific analytics codes (Google Analytics, et al) in your URLs, but that doesn’t eliminate the most important reason…

Reason #3 – Why did they scan (and hopefully share) that QR code/URL? Because they wanted something specific that they were looking at RIGHT THEN. If I’m looking at a Corvette ad in an in-flight magazine, do I want to go to Chevy.com or do I want to go to the page that describes the smokin’ Vette I’m looking at?

The primary reason to use them

Consider how annoying it is to navigate not-so-mobile friendly sites on a smartphone. Make yours the friendly, easy site for mobile users.

Make your customers’ life easier. Make it easier for them to visit your site, visit the right page and share something about your business that they want to share.

Ask anyone in the publishing business about pass-along numbers. They’re important to readership, so much so that they claim pass-along readership as an asset to advertisers.

Transfer that thought to your website, catalog, ads, trade show materials, demo products and other materials. Do they need a QR code so that people can view/share them easily?

In many cases, I think so.

A generic conversation about being specific

MISTY MORNING
Creative Commons License photo credit: kelp1966

One of the things you have to be careful about is making your business too generic.

The conversation…

Them: Could I get you to comment on a booth graphic for my company?  We are pretty simple here and need a banner for a trade show booth. Wondering if the fonts are ‘old’.

Them: (Sends booth graphic, which says the company name, what they do and “Manufactured in Montana USA”)

Me:  The “Manufactured in Montana USA” line should stay no matter what else you do. It’s fascinating how much “Manufactured in Montana USA” improves response vs. “Made in Montana”.

Lesson: Test *everything*.

Me:  This banner tells what you do but it doesn’t say why I should talk to you instead of everyone else who does what you do. What separates you from the others who do what you do?

Them:  We have a large variety of in stock materials, very fast turnaround on materials and parts,  specialize in small run orders.

Me:  Probably too much to put on a banner. Is small run unusual in your business?

Them:  It is in our particular niche.  It separates us from a couple of bigger competitors.  They refer to us when someone wants a small quantity.

Them: It’s also an attraction for the government contracted items as they will only need 32 of something so a lot of competitors won’t take the work.

Lesson: Know what makes you special.

Me: Think about these:

“We specialize in small run orders” vs “We specialize in small run orders. We’ll make 32 of them, if that’s what you need.” (Specific vs. generic)

“Very fast turnaround” vs “Three day turnaround” (“Very fast” has many meanings. What does it mean to you?)

“We stock 1000 square feet of 214 different materials so we can get your order out quickly without material delivery delays” vs “large variety of in-stock materials”.

Me:  Being specific (such as “three day”) provokes them to ask someone else exactly what their turnaround is (for example), without you saying a word about your competitor.

Them:  We’d be on the offensive for once!   This sales stuff is not in our DNA (it was the grandfather’s gift, no one since then)

Me:  Is he the business’ namesake? If so,  I’d be tempted to incorporate a good head shot photo of him (in context of the business) into your signage but thatll greatly change the banner price if the timing and cost make sense.

Them:  Interesting .. to make it more personal?

Me:  Exactly.

Me:  I do have another suggestion for a change for the banner. If you only want to buy it once… “Since 1961”

Me:  If you want to buy the banner more than once, this is the year to say “Fifty years…” or “Our 50th year” etc.

Lesson: State your strengths in strong specifics, no matter how obvious.

Me:  Since its a family affair, you may want to work in “Three generations” and a progression of pics of you, dad, grandpa.

Them:  That’s a really great idea.  Helps with that story you want people to get into.

Me:  Exactly. The question everyone enjoys answering: “So, how’d you get into this business?”

Lesson: Business is Personal.

Me:  Do you guys have booth giveaways?

Them:  Notepads was the plan. We are working up materials and sample parts to display on our table.   Stuff to show off our capabilities.

Me: How do notepads provoke people to think about your product? Alternative: What would it cost to make a 4″ rounds of a mildly heat resistant and hopefully liquid resistant material you use in production?

Them: I think we could make that happen.

Me:  I’m thinking coasters with your company/logo/URL/phone # embossed on them. Put your work in front of them all day, every day. A notepad will get left on a plane or in a hotel room. These won’t be.

Them: We would have to figure out a way to put the printing on there but its a great idea.

Me:  I figured you might have a means of embossing, but I wasn’t sure.

Them:  We are a crafty bunch so now that you’ve given me the idea…

Them:  I really appreciate the help.   This is a new world to me.

Lesson: Use congruent tools to get them thinking and talking about you.

 

Put away the white shoes

seoul conductor
Creative Commons License photo credit: kikfoto

Back in my grandmother’s day, the day after Labor Day meant “Put away the white shoes.”

These days, we may not be quite so beholden to old school wardrobe rules, but we still tend to let a Roman emperor’s calendar decide when our business is going to take action.

With the exception of consumer retailers, some businesses are trying to wrap up their revenue goals before hunting season, before the holidays and so on.

Likewise, many will wait until “everyone is back” (from what, exactly?) in mid-January to ramp up next year’s business. Many of those haven’t even planned what they’ll be doing in the new year.

If you do trade shows, you already know you can’t do this. You have to have your booth setups, marketing materials, products and a litany of other things organized months in advance. You actually have to have your act together, at least as the show requires. You have to show up ready to deliver.

Whether you do trade shows or not, have you started planning what you’re going to get done next year and how you’re going to launch it?

The rest of the year will likely take care of itself. You should already have it planned. Execution should already be in motion. If you don’t even have that planned, maybe it’s time to start your new year right now.

What’s the point of waiting?

Show up for the rest of the year…ready to deliver.

A yummy bowlful of dongles

/doh
Creative Commons License photo credit: striatic

Sometimes, competitors hand you a gift.

Back in the software biz days, one of our competitors used an antiquated hardware ‘dongle’ to prove to the software that you had the right to use it.

We knew their users *hated* the dongle. It plugged into the printer port, which caused printer problems. It kept the business owner from using the software from home and it was a subtle reminder that they didn’t trust their paying customers.

We decided it was time to make an issue of it at the next trade show, so we came up with an irresistible, advance notice competitive upgrade offer to users of the dongle-controlled software who would be attending that show.

There was only one catch: You had to give us the dongle.

We wanted the dongle for several reasons:

  • We didn’t want them using both programs.
  • We didn’t want them giving the dongle away. We wanted it off the market. Forever.
  • We wanted to get people talking (we did something almost every year to stir the pot).

We decided to use the dongles in our booth, but not to run their software.

Sitting on top of an eye-level pedestal at the front of our booth…was a fishbowl half-full of dongles.

If you want to sell honey, don’t forget the biscuits

Earlier this week, one of my younger Scouts did a presentation on beekeeping to the troop.

His family keeps bees and sells some of the honey as a hobby, so he had some knowledge of the topic and how the bees are handled – but if you are going to talk about a topic like that in front of a group of 11-17 year olds, you gotta come loaded for bear, right Winnie?

Lame puns aside, he did a nice job of talking about how beekeeping is done.

We talked about how they start a hive, where the bees come from, what jobs each type of bee does (sidebar: all teenage boys find the job of the drones a bit fascinating), how the honey (and wax) is made, how many times you get stung, how the honey is harvested and all the cool equipment – including the smoke puffer gun thing, the honey extractor, hot knife and of course, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow man beekeepers suit.

40 gallons of sticky-sweet fun

And then it got interesting. Someone asked him what they do with the honey, and how much they have.

His answer was “About 40 gallons stored around the house”, and he wasn’t sure how much they made each year. Someone asked again, “So what do you do with all that?”

“Eat it”, he says. Oh, and we sell some too, adding that he brought a few bottles if anyone wants some.

At this point, I’m thinking “We’re gonna have tasting and its going to be all over fingers, faces, hands and of course – the floor”.

But I was wrong.

That young man was wiser than his years.

He brought freshly-made biscuits, which he laid on the counter and sliced in half. Everyone who wanted some got to slather honey on em before they gobbled them down. These are teenaged boys we’re talking about. Any sort of food is an endangered species around these guys.

Once the honey-fest was over, lots of moms and dads got asked to take some home as a result (not something we do normally, but this was a special occasion – we had BISCUITS!).

What do they sop up your product/service with?

Your turn: What would be the biscuit that transforms the sale of your honey? (whatever your product or service might be)

In particular, think about stuff like this before a presentation, trade show or similar group event. Create the feeding frenzy, even if you sell something like fuel filters. Think about what would make your demonstration make people think “I GOTTA HAVE THAT!”

Let someone else make the sale? Sure.

Up a treeSome things drive me up a tree. Demos done poorly are one of em. Death by Powerpoint just isn’t necessary, nor is death by live demo – but it’s far too easy to find.

A couple of weeks ago, Joel closed out his 2007 Fogbugz World Tour and described some findings of his demos. Anyone who sells their stuff at trade shows (software or not) should go read it. It gave me flashbacks:)

One thing that gave me a bit of a chuckle were his comments about asking the demo crowd “How many of you are users?” I’m not sure that he was surprised that there was a nice mix of clients and prospects in the room for his demo, but he did a nice job of making it unclear.

We stumbled upon a similar technique back in the late 1990s at our trade shows.

We used to do a full day free training session either before, during or after the show (usually after). Every prospect was invited, knowing full well that:

– each of them would see something during a full day (well, 9am to 3pm-ish anyhow) that they would never have seen or grasped in the hectic and easily distracting trade show floor environment – and it made the sale.

– someone else would ask the question they were afraid to or not knowledgeable enough to ask, a question that would never have been asked at the booth, much less within their earshot.

– at least 30-40% of the room would be existing users, some way back since the DOS version (which was before my time). They seemed determined to convince all the prospects in the room that it was time to buy. The prospect were all told that they’d meet plenty of existing users at the training and could ask them whatever they wanted. Cialdini was all over the room. No matter how annoyed someone was about a feature that wasn’t done yet or a bug that wasn’t quite fixed, they would still be an amazing salesperson in that room because (as Cialdini says) no one ever makes a bad purchase.

Now, to be sure, almost everyone in that room was serious about their use of the product and that made them better salespeople, and it also made the product more profitable to them, so of course it was natural that the trainings attracted those kinds of people. Of course, we knew that after observing the first few, so we made a point of making sure we let prospects know that “the smartest, most productive users” would be in the room. And they were.

Some would bring several staff members, and they’d start chattering about how they do something vs how someone else does. Next thing you know, you’ve got a mini-convention in the room. Any prospect who was there…no way they were leaving the room without buying after seeing that.

Result: Always an effective day, both for us, and for all the clients in the room. Without the interruptions of cell phones, regular phones, clients coming in for shoots, etc – they could relax, free their mind (many prepared in advance) and really learn. It was a win-win, big time.

Things we learned, some of which relate back to Joel’s post:

– Whoever is talking should not be driving the mouse. Gives the person who is driving all the time in the world to deal with whatever the speaker just tripped over, without making the speaker lose their authority in the room – much less their cool.

– No one wants to watch a speaker bent over a laptop, struggling to figure out what the heck is going on. That’s the driver’s job. Driving and speaking, unless you’re Steve Jobs, is something that will take practice. In the case above, it was speaking and taking questions (and you want to add driving?). Jobs doesn’t even do that.

– Corollary to the above two, whoever is driving needs to know the software even better than the person who is talking, if that’s possible. If you’re driving the laptop and can’t find something, what impression does that make? “Geez, not even THESE GUYS know their own software.” Having a tech person drive is very educational for that person, because they can focus on driving and absorbing all the little comments and observations they hear. Yellow pads and lots of pens are recommended for the driver. They’ll have plenty of room to write.

When you read Joel’s comments about the room, how to dress, etc , keep in mind that his audience is entirely…..geeks. IE: Information technology people. Computer software staff. All the stuff Joel talks about to impress those folks might be completely off-base if your audience is auto mechanics, video store owners, photographers, or golf instructors.

But you know that, right? (by now, you should)

The environment, your dress etc for a day like this depends on your relationship with them and the business you’re in.

The applicability of this technique is not even remotely limited to software. Just make sure the ticket / order size is worth it.