Monday, October 8, 2007

A dozen dirty tricks for Trade Show success

Laugh all you want – point fingers – call me names. Have fun at my expense whippersnapper. BUT – and remember everything before the BUT is BS – I will always get more leads from any trade show than you.

For years, the ugly little secret among the trade show event organizers (who keep track of these things) is that me and my florescent shirts, the guy who pays nothing for his little 4x8’ booth space, with no banners, no sponsored lunches, no car giveaways, no nothing – always walks away from every trade show with more leads than anyone else - including the platinum sponsors.

I am the undisputed King of All Trade Shows. So much so, that show sponsors have begun staking out my booths to learn our secrets. At one recent show, someone set up a video camera to record us in action. Would have been easier if they just asked...

Here’s how we do it.

1) Focus on the goal. This is a pick-up game. You are not trying to educate anyone. No one is going to buy your product just by talking to you at your trade show booth – this ain’t the Boat Show. Your only goal is to break the ice – and create a reason to carry on the conversation somewhere else, some other time. Engage the target, make a memorable first impression, give them something to obligate them to take your call later, and move on!

2) Know your target. If the show is targeting the "suspender and body odor" crowd, fine, don’t fight it. If the S&BO crowd can help you sell, go for it. Ask yourself, what is the one thing these poor guys never get and really want? A pretty girl to talk to them! For heavens sake…what are we proud here? Hire a couple of pretty promotional models to hand out tee-shirts. (Actually make sure they are not too pretty or you’ll scare Mr. Bigkeychain away. Friendly is more important – outgoing, big smile, non-threatening, and not stuck-up. Explain the situation to the promotional models – tell them what to expect and what you want. Their job is to approach every guy who walks by – nobody gets by, no matter how grumpy looking, or shy – every guy gets a “Hi there! Can I give you a tee-shirt?” Believe me, no suspender wearing, D&D playing, slightly gamey, techno-geek can resist a free tee shirt from a sorta pretty girl. Not one. To be fair - this is not gender specific. Use either or any type of promotional model you want - the point is you need someone who is content free, with a big smile, who can break the ice. Don't assume employees have the skills or personality to do this.

3) Chatchkees give you the right to continue the conversation. I like tee-shirts because they work for that purpose. Your telemarketers can start their conversation, "hey, its Bob from StoroBorg - hope you are enjoying the screaming pink tee-shirt...." But the tee shirts have to be cool – define cool? – hey, you’ll know it when you see it. Deer Hunter Orange with a huge eyeball on it worked, Bright yellow with “R U Avble?” didn’t. Navy with a big “Think Big” cartoon thought bubble did…I can’t help you here. Just make sure the shirt is cool – do not hand out corpo-tees that nobody will want. The shirts have to be cool, because you want to create viral buzz – you want S&BO’s lined up 3 deep outside your booth. I can tell you for sure that superballs, highlighters, pens, and buttons won’t get them lined up. Cool teeshirts work. Use your imagination here. We once ran a great promotion with aluminum travel mugs with built in 12 volt heaters you plugged into your car outlet. Another great trade show giveaway that can be useful for many people are custom water bottles, they are nice because they are 1) useful, 2) with your logo on them will help get your company noticed. But remember – you are giving them something that you will use later to “demand” that they continue the conversation. This isn’t some joke. It’s not free advertising. You are opening an individual dialog with each shirt you give away – hopefully a long term profitable dialog.

4) Make sure they can find you. Virtually every trade show booth is the same – most are created by people who don’t understand the point of shows. They worry about corporate branding – or try to educate the customer – lots of facts, graphs, proof points (THE BEST< FASTEST< BIGGEST< BADDEST)…Fooey. The goal is to be found on the floor, to stop the target in their tracks as they walk by. Human beings react to complexity and confusion by compartmentalizing and ignoring as much noise as possible. If your booth looks like every other booth, or can safely be categorized as a corpo-marketing booth – your prospect is going to ignore you. In order to process any information, he has to try to ignore as many vendors as possible. You cannot let that happen. Stand out. You need to leave an impression so the target remembers you when you call him 10 days after the show. How does a corpo-brando-booth do that? How about a complicated, demo laden, graphic-loaded booth? Nope. You need bright, crisp, clear visuals.

5) Grab them with emotion and curiosity– hold them with relevance – make them want to learn more. You need to grab them by the emotion not the intellect. Do not try to tell your story in words or diagrams. Use pictures that catch the eye – maybe that confuse a little, drawing the target in to ask, “so what the hell do you do anyway?” When you get that reaction, that quizzical “coming to you” reaction, Bang - you got them… Use pictures, compelling, story telling pictures – not just faces, not (god-help you) pictures of your box or your GUI or anything producty.

6) Be where they will see you. Don't be stupid – if you want to catch fish throw the lure out where the fish are, dummy. Be next to the food, the bar, the bathroom, the front door, or on the “main street” of the show. If you aren’t in one of those locations – blow it off – don’t even show up – and then fire your events manager. Make sure your booth faces the crowd, not away from it. Do not allow them to put you behind a pole. Do not take a booth next to your competition – unless you are confident you have reached the level of Trade-Show Master - in which case your competition better not take a booth next to you.

7) Wear remarkable booth uniforms. Everyone knows about my shirts. Get over it, I get more leads than you. People remember my companies, I bet they don’t remember yours. Why? Because everyone on my team wears the most offensive, ridicules shirts I can find. Stupid? Yeah…real stupid. Does my booth team hate me, sure. Until the 10th time they are stopped on the elevator by some smelly, suspender wearer, breaking the ice with, “wow-that’s some shirt…” It’s about starting conversations, being remarkable, being remembered…pride has no place at a trade show. I laugh at the amateurs and corporate marketing rubes in their drab corpo-show-shirts! Fools! You have 5 seconds! 5 seconds!!! Do you wanna standout or toe the company brand? Too late – the target walked past your booth and is talking to my guys at our booth over by the bar.

8) Make it move! I am amazed at the number of huge plasma TV screens at trade shows proudly displaying a static image – usually the GUI or some manual demo that requires the one guy-who-actually-knows-anything to run it. You have 5 Seconds people. 5 Seconds. Please make it move – catch my attention – draw me in. Be loud, interesting, easy to understand, fun (if you can help it…remember I’ve probably had a couple of drinks, I’ve been in a windowless conference room for hours looking at powerpoint) – please, be kind…or I am wandering on to the carving station to get some grizzly turkey on one of those stale little rolls…mmmm.

9) Do not put furniture between you and your target. This is another duh, but it amazes me how many booths have a counter of some sort along the front wall. Are you running a variety and deli? Is that a cash register or a badge scanner? Did you want to have a conversation or sell me a lottery ticket? Insane. You want the target to enter your space willingly – and feel comfortable enough to stay there – at least long enough to get them scanned, make an impression, give them a tee shirt, and them get out. If you put up a counter, you discourage conversation, your block the target’s emotional involvement with you. You stand behind the furniture, they walk by in front of it. You talk to your colleagues, the prospect talks to my guys. You lose, I win.

10) Do not talk to your boothmates. Come on, it’s a few hours. Do your internal politicking and gossiping at the bar after the show. Focus on the target. If you find yourself talking to a boothmate – take a walk. Get out on the floor and show the colors. Go to the lavatory and strike up a conversation there. Bite your hand, smack yourself in the head. Do anything other than talk to the other guy in the insanely colored shirt standing next to you.

11) Run a contest for the booth team. I can’t claim credit for inventing this one - my friend Asim Zaheer suggested it, but I am kicking myself for not thinking of it first. Run a contest with the booth staff. Who can get the most leads in an hour? A day? The show? $100 is enough to get them going – more if you can afford it – its really more about focus and breaking the monotony of the show floor. Follow those 10 simple rules and you will get more leads for your trade show dollar.

12) Leads suck. Leads suck resources, money, time, energy. Leads give the false impression that somebody wants to buy your product. Leads suck, only customers rock. Your job is to turn one into the other. If you think you can declare victory when you get the download from the badge scanner, you are nuts. After the show, take the bright shirts off and get serious. You have about 2 weeks to engage the target before they forget about you and your tee shirt. I call that the range of permission. You call the target 2 days after the show, you look desperate. You call 4 weeks after and the target doesn’t remember the show, let alone who you are – his kids are sleeping in your tee shirt which has faded and shrunk. You have about 2 weeks. Move it. First, send an email – this establishes your right to further contact. “Hey Joe Bob, Great to see you at Storage Decisions – what a wild show, we were mobbed! – hope you are enjoying the insane hunter orange tee shirt. Hey I know you are busy, and so are we, so I wont bother you, but I just wanted to thank you for stopping by the booth. If you want more info about Storitall, click here or call me.” The whole process of engineering this quick response email system behind the scenes is another subject for another blog – you’ve got to use the latest and best tools.

Next – within 10 days – call. “Hey Joe Bob, remember us? – the guys in the silly shirts? Yeah…ha ha…enjoying that tee shirt? Cool. so, did you get a chance to look at that cd we gave you?..BTW - how’s that consolidation project going?”

The goal of all this is to create a comfortable relationship between them and you. From there anything is possible.

Take these tricks to heart. Let me know how you make out. I will be watching. When I think you are ready for your next lesson, we will talk about how to move leads through the pipeline.


Stephen Foskett said...

Kirby, my hat is off to you. You really are the master of the (storage) trade show, and any company would be lucky to have you as their Trade Show Master. I'll always remember the neon green, yellow, etc... Especially the matching sneakers Rowan used to wear!

This is a rarity - a blog post that I read all the way through, and one that I vow to remember in the future!


AceSage said...

Thanks Steve! If everyone shows up at SNW in pink shirts - you'll know why...