Trade Show Game Plan

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It’s that time of the year, when the snow comes tumbling down, the sun is shining (out here in LA) and the trade show tour kicks off in earnest.

The buzz, excitement, connecting with friends and meeting news ones awful  and yes, over-hyped seminars that fail to live up to their billing and results in you being closest to the door – early departures!

The Art of War – Recommended Reading for Game Plans

Before entering the floor, you need a game plan.

My game plan always includes the following:

  • Scope the floor – I take a quick glance on where everyone is located – some people like checking out the map they give you – but half the time you can’t figure that out, especially when they number the booths.
  • Observe who is on the path from the door right down the middle – these are often the vendors who paid the most money, especially at the entry points along each pathway, except for the farthest right and left.

Similar to the way stores setup their end caps, the same applies to trade show floors. Pricing is typically based on foot traffic – and it is no secret the most traveled pathway is the one right in the middle.

  • Day 1 – review the floor. I look to see whom I’m interested in going back to and chat. I check out the giveaways (hey, at least I’m honest) and gauge if the vendor has a demo or just a CD/DVD with their product – for you to take back with you to your room.
  • Part 2 of Day 1 – depending on interest, I may go back and hit a couple of booths. Only a couple, the rest can wait until the next day (Assuming the trade show floor is open for two or more days)
  • Day 2 – I hit the floor full throttle. I know whom I want to see and visit. If I see folks who are chatting amongst themselves, I do not even enter, because they aren’t interested in me as a potential customer – they are interested in themselves. A red flag.

Reality and no it is not an episode of the Real Housewives on the Trade Show

I know there are people who will visit the conference’s expo section, where the vendors are listed, prior to the show. However, the masses will not do so for a couple of reasons.

  • You have other things to do – prepare which seminars to attend, what time is your flight coming in and leaving, coming up with a game plan or just winging it
  • The expo site often is nothing more than a small blurb, the vendor’s web site and some shows now enable the vendor to have a contact/e-mail form. The latter is intriguing, but based on my experience, no one ever responds to the inquiries and if they do, it is a form letter
  • You can download the map. Did I mention that it is typically worthless? Nowadays the trade shows/conferences have apps you can download. The problem is that for the trade show (expo floor) it is just a combination of the web site you can see and the map. How about geolocation as a component? That way, if I am walking around with my smartphone/tablet I can see where I am in relation to where the booth I want to visit is located.
  • The expo app often contains vendors who list absolutely nothing but their name. Worthless.

Giveaways – Let the Games Begin

  • Anyone who tells you they visit the booths just to take a look at the literature and is not interested in freebies is kidding themselves. On the first day, while I am scoping out the booths, I am also checking out the freebies. If it is a booth that I am not interested in – but has an awesome freebie – I assess if I need to talk to the person to score the freebie.

If it is a great freebie, I go for it. If I can do it without talking to someone I go for it – a great time to go is when the salespeople are talking to other customers and you can just go up there and grab it without talking to them.

If they are offering candies, I just walk up and grab one – if it is a tasty treat. The worst thing a vendor can do is not even have a freebie or some candy.

If you can afford a booth on the trade show floor, you can invest $10 to buy a bag of candy.

Demos – Is it live or is it Memorex


Never assume that the demo you are viewing is actually live and available for purchase. Always ask the vendor if it is available to buy and “live”. I recently attended a trade show, whereas the vendor showed off their new product. They gave the appearance the product was available and live. It wasn’t the case.

Another vendor had created a working demo. That is to say, it was still in beta and they had manipulated it to show what it will look like – or at least their vision of it. Hence, always ask.

Some vendors like to hand out just literature. If I wanted just that, I would download your white papers or brochures off your web site.

Equally, I have seen vendors who do not even have their product visible on a computer/laptop or even a monitor. You can rent a laptop/computer at the show (yes, it is not cheap).

It is quite likely you brought your own laptop – so why not show your product on it, rather then handing out a trial CD or telling people to visit your web site and sign up.

Let me ask you a question. How many people do you really think are going to go back to their hotel room and start up their laptop to check out your trial? If you said nearly nil – you would be correct.

Now, how many folks are going to take back your CD to their location and zing it into their computers to check out? If you said some, you would be correct.

There are companies who do not allow an employee to view anything on their computer due to compliance and regulatory issues. So no jump drive, no CD and yes they even block web sites.

The best time to show people what you can offer is on a trade show floor. Spend the time to do so.

Salespeople Scary Stories

My biggest pet peeve on the trade show is the lack of interest from salespeople and lack of tact when it comes to them being in a booth. Here are some constant issues I have seen at numerous trade shows:

  • Salespeople or salesperson eating their lunch or snacks in the booth. It screams unprofessional. Set up some breaks and go eat elsewhere.
  • Sitting down. If you have salespeople at the booth, they should always be standing.
  • Checking out your e-mail or talking on the phone. Go elsewhere. Your job is to sale your product, not have a chat with Mom nor see who has been emailing you today.
  • Never following up. I absolutely hate this and yet it happens all the time. They scan your card and you never hear back from them – then they complain that they are not generating any real leads.
  • If a person tells you they are a hot lead or they are extremely interested in your product – follow up after the show ends. I recommend waiting two days after the show since many people are just getting back into the office and catching up.

It is true, that people will not respond to your e-mail, nor your calls. That is reality, but if someone says they are really interested or they want to setup a demo, then follow up.

Bottom Line

A trade show floor can be an experience of a lifetime for both the attendee and the vendor. Some people find it awesome, others find it nerve racking.

Me? I find it exhilarating, unless of course, I come upon a booth that looks like something I made from grade school.

Paper mache included.

Note: Starting Wednesday 1-30-13, I will be at ASTD TK 13 on the expo floor. Each night a bonus mini blog will be posted on the day’s events. Live Tweets during the day via my Twitter account: diegoinstudio.

Then next week – a complete wrap up of the show with winners, losers, etc. 

One last side note: I want to again say I am very honored to be ranked in the top five for most influential people in the world for e-learning. I can’t say thank you enough.

But I will one last time.

Thank you.

E-Learning 24/7

One comment

  1. As a tradeshow professional I would suggest you have a game plan before you ever arrive at a show. Most show organizers have exhibitor lists and product categories (cross linked to exhibitors) listed on the show web site befor you go on-site. Many shows today provide floorplans on a pre-show bsasis so you can prepare a route-list around the show for your primary exhibitor-targets in advance of attending the show. Being able to cover your primary rout-list as you enter the show will increase your overall efficiency and lower your confusion.

    Your comments on exhibitors are well taken. Too often they are not well disciplined about how to be appropriate and successful. Also many times they complain about a show to you in person at the show when they have no information about their levels of success until they follow-up the show leads after the show.

    For your client recommendation be sure they have a game plan in mind about who they want to reach and sell. ALSO, have them do extensive pre-show marketing to invite their customers and prospects. A show does not know who your clients want to see…AND your clients can’t be lazy marketers and not do the pre-show work. the best tradesow exhibiting results go to exhibitors who take a very professional approach and this means aggressive pre-show marketing and exhaustive post-show follow-up.

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