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8 Techniques to Sell More at Trade Shows, Conventions, Exhibitions & Events

8 Techniques to Sell More at Trade Shows, Conventions, Exhibitions & Events

With exhibition & trade show season approaching us, you may be one of many companies investing in a stand and the considerable resource in making it a success.  If you are an experienced trade show campaigner, you will know that selling at exhibitions and trade shows is a world apart from your normal sales approach, requiring fine-tuned organisation and sales skills.  For example Trade shows and exhibitions can be fast paced one moment, and deathly slow the next.

Teams must be agile, well planned and individuals most know their role.  Despite the challenges, if you make the most of your next trade show, you will enjoy a very fruitful sales period indeed.  So, here are some tips to help you succeed at your next trade show or exhibition event.  These tips are just a few which are taken from our 1 Day training workshop of the same name.

1.  Get your strategy right

You will have a purpose for being at the exhibition.  At Natural Training when we ask company sales teams what this purpose is, around half will simply say “having a presence”.  We believe that most of the time this is a misguided purpose (a bit like life – you can choose to saunter through it or really make your mark).   A more focused purpose must be clearly communicated to the team:   this may be to generate leads, make appointments or support a new product launch.

Your strategy will be enhanced if you are in tune with what your customers want.  In our experience customers want the following from attending a trade show:  variety, interesting exhibits and products with hot new ideas, information/knowledge/insights that they didn’t know before, and to NOT feel pestered by sales folk.  Selling is fine, pushy selling isn’t.

2.  Communicate your strategy

Deciding on your purpose is largely irrelevant if that’s not communicated to (and subsequently embraced by) the team at the exhibition.  Everyone should know the strategy, and thus all be working to a common goal.  They should also have targets according to their role.

Think about the following metrics:  conversations, business cards, appointments, demos and details taken.

Final note:  Someone should always be on hand to update leads, remind people about targets and keep the team motivated:   hopefully a present and energetic manager who doesn’t simply “drop in” from time to time.

3.  Know the assets of your team

Your team provides you with outstanding skills and assets:  some people will be brilliant at generating interest from the outskirts of your stand (“front of house”), gaining eye contact and initiating a conversation with strangers.  Others will be great at gaining commitment once the conversation has been started.  Others still might be better at roving through the other stands, lectures and networking opportunities.  Or admin, making sure that everything is recorded properly.

The point is, know your team, and celebrate their talents by utilising them for the sweet-spot of their talents at your stand.  One final note:  everyone must know their role and stick to it.  The temptation on the day is for people to forget their role and gravitate to where the success is.  While it is tempting to go where the selling energy is, it really should be avoided.  Such crossover in roles will only cause frustration among team members.  If you suspect that people may tire of their role, then have organised role-swaps throughout the day.

4.  Choose your attitude

If the team feels they are pestering customers, they will get nowhere fast.  Everyone has to know, and be reminded, that people are paying to get into the venue and they want ideas.  Customers for the most part want to buy and they want to feel like they have personally achieved something.  That something might be for example “to come back to the office with three new ways to do their job faster/better/cheaper”.  Don’t forget to ask your client what that “something” is!  (Eg:  What is your personal aim/goal/objective with visiting our trade show today?”)

Here’s a simple test of attitude:  Next time you’re at an exhibition, watch for team attitudes.  You don’t really have to look hard – you can see and smell a successful company attitude from 10 stands away.  Attitude isn’t invisible, it’s palpable.  Then ask yourself: what is the team doing to give you that “fantastic attitude” feeling?  It’s more than their smiles – it’s industry, coordination, spring in the step, superb attention to detail and cleanliness, heads tilted and nodding when listening and a multitude of other things.  In short, to borrow a quote from REM, it’s all about shiny happy people.

5.  Tell the world!

Isn’t it a great thing to have your stand full of people, next to 10 empty ones?  You can help achieve this by inviting along your customers and prospects to your stand.  That way, they’ll feel great about seeing you in such a positive light.  They will also get to meet the wider team which will strengthen your ties.

Think about helping your customers to enjoy the event by inviting them at meal times, take them on a tour (this also helps safeguard against conversations with your competitors!) and recommend the best sessions to go to.  You might also like to have a gift on hand for them (this doesn’t have to be expensive and might even be a knowledge gift).

6.  Have something of interest on your stand

Yes, gimmicks work.  Free coffee, a French pastry, a cartoonist, and a close up magician – these things can help provide you with a queue of interested people.  Do gimmicks get people to your stand for the wrong reasons?  Absolutely.  Do you care?  Absolutely not.

Start with attracting a crowd, and great things will happen.  With no crowd, nothing can happen.

7.   Refine your engagement techniques

The hardest job in sales, even harder than door-to-door, is probably the street-hawker.  Standing in the cold with nothing else but a clipboard and a thick skin, the street salesperson must engage others in an almost impossible situation – fast walking passers-by, most with a lot on their minds.

They do this by first establishing eye contact, and secondly by alerting the interest of the passer-by, usually with an interesting question but also with a small gift (link to reciprocity), a simple bit of research (link to innocent) or a curious observation.

(There is some physiological basis to both reciprocity and research.  In Persuasion, Dr Robert Cialdini talks of the almost irresistible urge to return a gift to someone who has just given us something.  And the Innocent Smoothie brand started off with some simple research – they gave out samples of their smoothies with two large bins for the cups marked “I like it” and “No thanks”.  At the end of the day they simply counted the cups in the bins to work out which flavours worked and which didn’t).

We can learn from this difficult direct sales environment.  The first thing to remember is that engagement rarely happens all-at-once.  Instead, it’s one small baby step at a time.  Eye contact, question, response, question, observation and so on.  Trade show sellers can only advance to the next stage if the last stage was successful.   Small steps.

That’s the challenge:  trade show sellers must earn the right at each stage by making the next stage of the conversation even more interesting and alluring.  If your goal is to pre-qualify and book an appointment, then think about the path with the least amount of hassle or confusion for the prospect.  Then practice it and iron out the wrinkles.

The point is:  this is selling at close to its hardest, so you must consider every word and juncture in the conversation very closely.  It’s difficult, I know.  But selling at exhibitions wouldn’t be fun if it was easy!

Sample engagement techniques:

Establish eye contact
Have an initial question, observation or piece of research to engage
Introduce yourself and find out where they are from
John, what is your personal goal for attending this trade show?
Margaret what is it that brought you to our stand today?
What aspects of our stand/offering particularly catch your eye?
Would you like a bigger bag to help carry all of your things?
Could I ask for your feedback/opinion/advise on XYZ ? (hold up samples/variations/ideas).
  • Establish eye contact
  • Have an initial question, observation or piece of research to engage
  • Introduce yourself and find out where they are from
  • John, what is your personal goal for attending this trade show?
  • Margaret what is it that brought you to our stand today?
  • What aspects of our stand/offering particularly catch your eye?
  • Would you like a bigger bag to help carry all of your things?
  • Could I ask for your feedback/opinion/advise on XYZ ? (hold up samples/variations/ideas).

8.  Spend time with people who matter (and move on from the people you don’t).

The visitor flow to your exhibition and thus your stand is rarely a continuum – visitors operate in waves.  There are peak times, such as when sessions break, mid-morning and mid-afternoon.  And usually plenty of downtime.

In this “feast or famine” environment, you need to maximise your time with people who matter – the genuine buyers, influencers and the press.  Equally you must also have a strategy for the people who are competitors, time wasters, complainers or schmoozers.

Here’s a simple strategy to help spend more time with the people who are going to make you money:  In tip 3 we talked about knowing the assets of your team, and maximising their role.  If there are designated “attractors” and assigned “engagers” then it stands to reason that there should be a “sweeper” role to help move customers in and out of the stand.

For example you can work out a hand signal system for “sweepers” to take time wasters off the hands of those who should otherwise be engaging with more valuable clients.

Just like selling in the world outside of your trade event, you should optimise the time you spend with people who will actually buy.  While the schmoozing, gossip and jokes are fine to help the day move along, they are not going to make you money.

At Natural Training we help teams to maximise their sales, energy and profit at exhibitions, trade shows and events.  Call us to find out more.

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