Sales is tough work. One of the things that makes it challenging is starting a conversation with someone you don’t know. This can be particularly difficult when they know you are primarily interested in selling them something. As Gitomer says, “People don’t like to be sold, but they love to buy.” Nowhere is that more evident than at a trade show, where people will avoid eye contact with anyone wearing a “sales hat”.
Even so, trade shows offer ideal opportunities to talk to (usually) vetted prospects, assuming you’re at the right show. These face to face opportunities provide an often-unparalleled chance to learn about your prospect. Body language & facial expressions help you determine if the questions you ask and the responses you provide are resonating with your prospect’s needs and wants. These physical cues are not evident during a phone call or email exchange.
Avoid the hat
In order to benefit from these valuable face to face conversations, you have to start them. Getting these conversations started requires you to engage with someone. This requires that the attendee accepts the engagement rather than ignoring you, looking away, staring at their feet or simply saying “Nope”. Trade show exhibitors try all sorts of tactics to provoke an interaction, including attractive women, giveaways (tchotchkes), and refreshments.
Giveaways are most common. Some lame, some extravagant, some in context with their business. There’s an opportunity here for much thought than you typically see. Common rubber footballs, pens, pads of paper, and so on – much of it never makes it home, much less back to the hotel or office. These giveaways are rarely thought through well enough that they are designed to make a connection to the product or service being sold. We’ll come back to that.
I don’t see too many so-called “booth babes” these days, but they do exist, particularly in the automotive industry. In 30+ years of trade show time, I have seen one coherent use of them – when costumed in a way that connected their presence perfectly into context with the product being sold. Interestingly, this involved costuming intended to appear as if it came from the movie “Edward Scissorhands”.
Refreshments are the other area (besides giveaways) where you see a broad latitude of items. Whether it’s numerous forms of candy, airline-esque bags of peanuts/pretzels, to more imaginative setups like serving locally-brewed root beer in boot-shaped shot glasses from a cowboy-themed booth at a trade show in Texas.
And then there are the booths that recognize Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – specifically giving away things that are all but irresistible. These are things, per Maslow, that tie back to the lower tiers of the hierarchy, delivering a feeling of safety / comfort and home. These are the booths with freshly cooked bacon (not kidding) or fresh from the oven chocolate chip cookies. The latter is what I’ve seen perform the best.
The aroma of warm chocolate chip cookies is incredibly disarming to most people. Even the folks who don’t want a cookie seem obligated to explain why – which starts the conversation. Stop long enough to have someone hand you a warm cookie and most will pause to take a bite or two, and feel enough obligation to answer a qualifying question or two. Before long, the conversation is started.
Remember the point of your “gimmick”
Lots of money gets spent on these things. Much of it is spent without much thought or planning, at least from my perspective. Never forget the primary reason why you’re exhibiting at a trade show and spending that money: To start the process of making a sale, or at least, to gather leads. A gimmick to get people to stop at your booth is solely to make it easier to start a conversation. Your booth and pre-show marketing ties into all of this and should contribute to the process of creating / provoking these conversations.
Years ago, I had a fishbowl in the booth. The fishbowl contained a number of our competitor’s hardware dongles. Providing the dongle to us was a requirement for new clients to get a cross-product discount by abandoning the competitor’s product for ours. A bowl full of dongles sent a powerful message and it prompts people to stop. It’s a curiosity. It creates a conversation.
What are you doing to create these conversations?