How to evaluate and allocate time for your booth visitors

You want your exhibit staff to spend their time with qualified booth visitors – especially when it’s busy. But how much time? Here are some things to do:

The profile of a qualified  booth visitor should be established in advance. And the qualifiers should be developed in a collaboration with sales (salespeople and sales management), marketing (event, product, etc.) and whoever is the final “customer” for your leads.

Typical qualifiers include:

  1. Product/service interest and need.
  2. Role in decision making (final decision maker, recommender, influencer).
  3. Buying timeframe (this is highly dependent upon the normal sales cycle for a company’s product or service)
  4. Budget or funding
  5. Commitment for an appointment or other type of follow-up
  6. Location (some companies don’t sell or support international sales or only sell regionally)
  7. Revenue potential (not always a qualifier)
  8. Are they good-looking

There is a tendency during a trade show conversation for the prospect to appear more qualified than they actually are. Maybe it’s the color coordinated hair & shoes.

But during an interaction that gets “warm and fuzzy”, emotions come into play and the visitor may come across as more interested now than they actually will be when they return to their office. Sort of like your dating life.

So how do you figure out the real level of interest? Getting a commitment for follow-up is one way. And one thing I am advocating is to set up a follow-up appointment in the booth as most everyone carries their calendar around in their smartphone.

The amount of time to allocate to a genuinely interested visitors varies depending upon:

  1. How busy the booth is
  2. How important the visitor is (buying potential, high profile visitor, KOL – Key Opinion Leader, etc.)
  3. Staffing levels
  4. If the visitor showered

In general, if the booth is busy, you can go through the entire visit in under 10 minutes. A key thing for a staffer to do is not make the visitor feel rushed or feel as if their visit was shorter than they wanted.

A good way for the staffer to manage a situation like this is to ask questions to find out what the visitor wants to hear about. Then they need to estimate the time necessary to complete the interaction, taking into account the criteria above, and then manage the visitor’s time expectation by saying something like, “I think this will all take about 10 minutes. Is that okay with you?”

If the visitor agrees, and they almost always do, you’ve just managed their time expectation. If the booth slows down, then the staffer has the option of continuing past the 10 minutes.

Knowing what the objective is for any conversation in a trade show booth is a key element in figuring out how much time to spend with visitors.

How long does it take to generate an order in the booth? (This doesn’t happen at most shows but some are order-writing shows and this can take a while.)

If the objective of a conversation is to move the sales process along in a major account sale, what is the next step or two to move the visitor to? How long will that really take?

How about getting the visitor more knowledgeable and more excited about a product or service so that they will agree to a follow-up appointment, phone call, email, webinar, whatever. How long does that take? Less than 10 minutes.

In fact, if you spend too much time with a visitor, you run the risk of communicating to the visitor that it takes a long time to do business with you, that the visitor’s time isn’t valued, and there’s nothing else to discuss. If you do this, you might as well send the visitor away with an order form as that may be the only thing left to do.

Determining how much time to spend with a visitor can also be directed by the visitor.

Suppose a huge potential client comes in your booth and is interested. Some companies’ strategy is to keep them in the booth as long as possible as they think this will keep them from spending time in their competitor’s booth. I don’t think this works.

The VIP visitor is probably going to decide how long they’re going to be in your booth and you should probably spend as much time with them as they will give you.

A problem that can happen is when this VIP visitor wants to leave your booth but the exhibit staff is oblivious. They aren’t aware of them looking at their watch, acknowledging their comments about needing to go somewhere else, and their summary of their visit – a clear way of trying to end a conversation.

How do you fix this? Well, if someone is unaware of the verbal and non-verbal cues a visitor puts out there, they probably have low emotional intelligence in this area. You can try to raise his or her awareness, but the best thing to do is to closely monitor them and give feedback. Sometimes they respond.

Lastly, the best plans and strategies laid out to a staff before a trade show opens may need to be adjusted when the reality of booth conversations are taken into account.

After about two hours into a show, these plans and strategies should be evaluated: Is more time needed? Less time? Why? Is there something we can do to be more efficient?

Maybe your staff should work with groups of people instead of just conducting one-on-one conversations. Or maybe they should be more focused on what is already resonating with visitors rather than saying everything about your products and services.

Learning and adapting to what is working and what isn’t is actually a great thing about trade shows. I call it real-time marketing and selling.

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