Competitive tactics at Trade Shows

Ethical things you can do

  1. Wearing your own exhibitor badge. Of course. If it’s on a lanyard, it could have turned around so you can’t see it.
  2. Asking a visitor in your booth to turn their badge around so you can see it. Or, asking them for a business card to verify their identity and affiliation.
  3. Entering a competitor’s booth (unless it’s against the show’s rules) during normal show hours.
  4. Listening in on a conversation or a demonstration in a competitor’s booth.
  5. Yielding your position so a competitor’s own visitors can be in front of you or closer to the staff.
  6. Greeting and engaging visitors in and around your own booth.
  7. When asked a competitive question, not criticizing, mocking or vilifying the competition.


Unethical things you shouldn’t do but I’ve seen

  1. Wearing someone else’s badge.
  2. Lying about your identity and affiliation when asked.
  3. Entering a competitor’s booth before or after show hours when no one is there.
  4. While in a competitor’s booth, asking a question or making a comment that could potentially embarrass  the staff or put them in an awkward position.
  5. Not yielding your position so a competitor’s own visitors can be in front of you or so they can see better.
  6. Greeting, engaging, and escorting in and around your competitor’s booth, and then escorting directly over to your booth.
  7. When asked a competitive question, disparaging, mocking, degrading or speaking badly of your competitors.

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How to give your booth visitors a different experience

If you have this gorgeous booth with color-lit fabric, robotic spotlights, LCD screens, interactive displays, and a raffle, the visitors to your booth will have a different, memorable experience. Really?

I was doing some of my staff training at a show for a client and when I had a chance to wander the show floor I remember watching a guy escape from a straightjacket while riding a unicycle in a booth. It was amazing! Now ask me what booth it was in. I really don’t remember. So it was a memorable experience and a different experience but I couldn’t tell you what booth I was suppose to tie that different experience to.

The reason was that my experience watching the escape artist wasn’t personal. I had no connection with any of the booth personnel and that’s what visitors remember.

I think a different, positive experience for your booth visitors is dependent upon their interaction with your exhibit staff. And the research supports it. 80% of what visitors remember most about their visit to your booth is their interaction with your staff – good and bad.

So what will make a visitor’s interaction with your staff different and positive? Well, let’s take a look at the usual experience a visitor might have in some of the other booths at a trade show, maybe even in one or more of your competitor’s booths. They enter a booth, eventually get someone’s attention, they hopefully get asked a question or two, and when the staff person gets their chance to talk, they launch into a passionate description of your products and services. They also provide examples of how your product is used and how it can solve problems. Their product presentation is comprehensive. The conversation concludes with the visitor being asked for a scan of their badge.

Anything wrong with this? The missing piece, the piece that will give your own booth visitors a different experience is the lack of focus on the visitor. The example above could have been an interaction with any visitor to your booth because there is nothing personal, customized, or possibly relevant to an individual visitor. But this is the usual experience for a trade show visitor; they must make the effort to translate the monologue of a booth staffer into something they care about. This can be a lot to ask and can make any booth visitor feel less important.

So to me, this is a booth visitor’s typical experience not a different, memorable experience. If you want to give your visitors a different, positive, and memorable experience, try this:

  1. Get your staff to prepare for their most important, VIP visitors by letting everyone in the booth to expect them (give them their name and company so they’re ready to personally greet them), by orchestrating a VIP visit by lining up presentations and demonstrations, asking your executives in the booth to greet and/or meet with them, and most importantly, to have an objectives for their VIP meetings.
  2. Ask your staff to not assume that your products and services have any value for your booth visitors until a clear need has been established. This will keep your exhibit staff from running at mouth, features dumping, and talking about stuff the visitor does not care about.
  3. Have your exhibit staff greet visitors quickly.
  4. Have them be ready with some good, open-ended questions to ask visitors so they can find out what they’re interested in, how much they know about your products and your marketplace, and what issues or problems they’re trying to solve.
  5. After discovering what the visitor wants to hear about in your booth, your staff should make a guess about how long the visit will take
  6. Your booth staffers should focus on what the visitor cares about not what they care about; they might not be the same thing. Yes, you may want everyone to leave your booth with a new marketing message or knowing about two or three things, but other than that, their entire visit should be focused on them.
  7. Your staff should manage the visitor’s time expectation by giving them their best guess on how long their visit will last.
  8. A polite request to scan their badge should be made to generate a highly qualified lead.
  9. At the end of an interaction with a visitor, your staff should ask for a commitment for the visitor’s preferred follow-up method.

By focusing on what your visitor’s are interested in, what their issues are, and what they would like to fix or improve will give them a different, more memorable experience in your exhibit booth.

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