This is quite a success story: a tenured theater teacher leaves education and gets hired on an event team. Was it a fit? Yes it was. Teachers are used to dealing with children and helicopter parents which comes in handy in the events industry as some internal clients often act like children. This former teacher fought for and won her budget; teachers work with strained budgets and know how to make the most of what they have. This ex-theater teacher was also experienced at executing large productions with a clear vision and making it come to fruition with every details considered. Theater teachers’ skills are immediately transferable to the event world: they design their shows (creating a unique and compelling environment in a booth or room), casting (hiring), teach acting (training), hire and supervising an orchestra, lighting crew, sound team, and stage personnel (working with vendors and unions), and are used to working long hours. If you are looking for someone (new blood? Someone who thinks outside the box?) to join your events or trade show team, consider a theater teacher.
Do you know a vendor you trust so much that when you’re looking for a product or service that this vendor doesn’t even sell you still call him/her first? You do that because you trust them. You know they are trying to help you with no strings attached. In any industry, a trusted vendor’s experience and contacts throughout an industry is a valuable resource to their clients.
Which brings me to my philosophy regarding referral fees. To put it simply, I don’t accept them nor do I pay them. This has a successful policy for me for over 25 years. My feeling is that if I were to accept referral fees from another vendor to help them sell to my clients, it would look like I’m doing it for the extra money and not that I am trying to put the best resource in front of my clients – which is my goal. Even the best product or service isn’t always the best solution for every client.
Paying or receiving a sales commission is different than a referral. A referral is passing along contact information, making an email or face-to-face introduction and leaving it at that. The assumption is that I have screened this vendor for my clients and they are ethical, reliable, nice to work with, and have a product or service that might be a fit. I leave the rest of the sales process up to them.
Sales commissions should be accepted or paid when the entire sales process, or at least 90% of it, is completed before a connection is made. I do not sell any other products or services other than my own so I never have accepted a sales commission from another company. But I will pay a sales commission if someone calls me and says they’ve got a client ready for me – the deal is 90% done, and all I have to do is make one phone call and then be there when they want me to deliver my training.
My relationships with my clients is so important that I will do nothing to jeopardize that – and that includes making money off them for another vendor.
Here are the steps I take and what I consider when developing my own unique selling proposition (USP)
What are my differentiators?
Why people buy my products and services; What makes my company different compared to the status quo or to my competitors: And what value do my differentiators have – tangible/quantifiable (more revenue, lessen current expenses, or avoid future expenses) and intangible (it’s cool, makes me look good, helps me professionally and/or personally, etc.
What structure do I need to communicate my USP?
In a white paper, on a web site, as a brochure, or in a press release, I think you need to go to keep the focus on the, “So what?”: what’s in it for the customer. Simply saying, “I have a new exhibit staff training DVD” is fine but then I would be leaving it up to my potential customers to figure out how it benefits them. This is better: “I have a new exhibit staff training DVD that will help your exhibit staff be more productive at your trade shows so they can have more conversations with qualified visitors, generate higher quality leads, and that should lead to more sales”.
So for every feature of my product, I need to hook it up to a benefit for the customer – tangible and/or intangible. Make this connection for them. And keep it simple. If it take you a whole page to communicate your USP, that’s too long. If you really have a compelling USP then your message can be succinct; less is more.
If you’re preparing a USP for verbal communication, like in a trade show booth, it needs to be less than 20 or 30 seconds. I like this format: 1. Say something irrefutable. “I have a new exhibit staff training DVD”. 2. Say something credible. “I’ve been doing exhibit staff training for over 25 years for clients like HP, Microsoft, Astellas Pharma, Intel, Medtronic, and Apple.” 3. Give two or three reasons why people do business with you or two or three reasons why this new product stands out (these are your differentiators). “Most people do business with me because my training helps them generate more leads plus it’s fun and engaging.” 4. End it with an open-ended question to get the booth visitor talking. “So what brought you into my booth today.”
When delivering a verbal USP, it should be conversational and everyone should put it into their own words while still maintaining the key messaging.
I think a good methodology for the USP is to have marketing take the first hack at it and then send it around to the salespeople for their input. You probably won’t get much back, but it will at least be an offer for their contributions and will help them own the final USP.
1. You have to wait in lines everywhere: Checking a bag, in the jetway, for a taxi, at hotel check-in, at conference registration, for food, for another taxi, for the hotel elevator, to get a free tchotchke that even your niece won’t care about, etc.
2. The freight doors in the exhibit hall are wide open in Chicago in November.
3. The freight doors in the exhibit hall are wide open in Orlando in August.
4. Every restaurant is packed and noisy except for the ones with the $75 á la carte steaks.
5. You always see some poor guy setting up his 10×10 booth 15 minutes after the show opens.
6. Ph.Ds, MDs, and other highly educated individuals will wait in a long line for 15 minutes a free cup of lemonade (worth about $1.50).
7. It costs $75 to rent a plant for three days.
8. You will typically drink more alcohol in three days than you will for the next three months back home.
9. A dry turkey sandwich is $9.
10. A bottle of water in your hotel room is $5.
11. You suffer through monotonous ground transportation: Car to the airport, in a cab to a hotel, on a bus to the convention center, on a bus back to your hotel, in a cab to a restaurant, in a cab back to your hotel, repeat for three days.
12. You act like you remember people who know you by name.
13. You see at least one guy wearing an expensive suit and … tennis shoes.
14. The only place that’s quiet is in your hotel room.
15. You eat dinner at 9PM and stay up way too late.
16. A hotel room that usually costs $125 a night is $350 a night.
I was in Orlando last week at InfoComm and it was very busy. A good sign. And I think for most of the trade shows I’ve worked at in the past six-to-eight months, there is a renewed enthusiasm and more positive attitudes on the parts of both attendees and exhibitors. InfoComm was consistently crowded and attendees seemed to be in a buying mood. Some of this is probably some pent-up demand but I think buying budgets are loosening up too.
One issue my InfoComm client had was too small of a booth and not enough exhibit staff. This happened, I think, for two reasons. First, booth size and number of exhibit staff personnel could be lagging an up-swing in trade show attendance. Second, if you base your booth size and staffing levels solely on revenue generation from the previous year’s show, as my client did, you might not be considering all the relevant factors. Yes, lead-to-sales and ROI are important factors but trade shows are about sales and marketing. You have to consider the marketing impact when exhibiting like relationship building, awareness, and the visitors’ experience (if the booth is too busy because it’s too small and understaffed, the visitor experience can suffer).
And over the past few years, a number of my clients cut their trade show expenses by cutting out shifts and having their exhibit staff work all of the hours their booths were open. This was the case with my client at InfoComm. The result? The staff was burning out and they had no time to walk the show floor – an under appreciated benefit for any exhibit staff. I advised them to consider going back to working their staff in shifts even though it would double their staffing costs – I think it’s worth it.
I did some training and coaching for a client of mine in San Diego at the AUA Conference. What did I take away from the Urology Conference? A small cup with lemonade? Nope. And not the giveaways – they were few and far between (can you imagine what a themed squishy ball would look like?). No, what I took away from the conference was optimism. Not only specific to Urology as I continue to get encouraged by all of the new therapies and such. “The longer you live, the longer you’ll live” – especially of you men out there have prostate issues.
I only have a very personal knowledge of urology, but what I could glean from the different exhibitors offerings was very encouraging. I was also optimistic about how crowded the exhibit hall was – an increase over the previous few years.
And almost half of the attendees were International – which is usually the case at these types of conferences. Why? I’ve asked a few attendees and they say it’s because of the conference sessions. The U.S. conferences get the best speakers.
I can tell an international visitor from a domestic one by their clothes. Men from other parts of the world are not afraid to wear pastel pants, jackets, shirts, scarves, shoes, and eyeglasses. The U.S. attendees are much more conservative. But there is always at least one guy, usually a physician, who wants to dress formally in a suit but knows his feet won’t put up with his dress shoes all day so he wears his running shoes with his suit. It looks stupid and there’s always one.
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:
- Product/service interest and need.
- Role in decision making (final decision maker, recommender, influencer).
- Buying timeframe (this is highly dependent upon the normal sales cycle for a company’s product or service)
- Budget or funding
- Commitment for an appointment or other type of follow-up
- Location (some companies don’t sell or support international sales or only sell regionally)
- Revenue potential (not always a qualifier)
- 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:
- How busy the booth is
- How important the visitor is (buying potential, high profile visitor, KOL – Key Opinion Leader, etc.)
- Staffing levels
- 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.
Your exhibit staff will have the biggest impact on the success of any of your trade shows. After all, trade shows are one of the last remaining venues for face-to-face marketing and selling.
So what attributes do I think make a successful trade show staffer? It’s a long list and some of them may not apply to your booth or marketplace but very few booth staffers are as productive as they can be.
- They understand the goals and objectives for each show
- Qualified lead generation
- Positive visitor experiences
- New product introductions
- Sales off the show floor
- Visitor education
- Commitment for follow-up (appointments, phone calls, emails, etc.)
- Reinforce position in the marketplace
- Partner/Distributor/Customer support
- Press and media coverage
- They understand the enormous costs and time it takes to participate at a trade show
- They understand their roles and responsibilities
- They represent the entire company or organization to every visitor
- They know they are responsible for working the entire booth, not just an assigned area.
- They know what to do differently when the booth is slow, moderately busy, and congested.
- They do anything and everything to make the show successful; keeping the booth clean, helping out their colleagues, etc.
- They are comfortable at proactively greeting visitors who enter the booth within 15 seconds.
- They are comfortable interacting with visitors in the aisle who show interest.
- They are prepared with effective opening questions.
- They are prepared with elevator (short) answers to general questions like “What’s new?”, “Who are you and why are you here?”, and “What can you tell me about this product/service?”
- They are ready with some good qualifying questions that determine the visitor’s
- Product or service interest
- Role in purchasing decision
- Purchasing timeframe
- Budget or funding for a purchase
- Preferred method of follow-up
- They understand how to manage visitors expectations
- Length of their booth visit depending upon the value of the visitor and/or how busy the booth is.
- That a one-on-one conversation might evolve into a one-to-many conversation.
- The availability of product experts, their sales rep, management, etc.
- If the visitor’s customer service issue can be resolved in the booth.
- From the answers they receive from visitors to their questions, they can tailor their conversation to the appropriate level that is understandable and valued by visitors.
- They can determine if the visitor is a time waster, and if so, they can politely dismiss them.
- They know how to end any conversation politely and professionally.
- They know how to handle competitors, salespeople, booth beggars and other time wasters.
- They ask questions before launching into a product or service presentation or demonstration so they can provide a visitor-focused experience.
- They know that offering too much detail the visitor probably doesn’t care about is counter-productive.
- They know how to present the “So What?”. They do the translation for the visitor; not just offering features but understanding what the visitor values and offering benefits and solutions.
- They know how to position your company against any competitors.
- They are prepared to handle any objections.
- They are prepared to handle any tough or difficult questions that are consistent with their company’s formal positions.
- They know how to effectively cross-sell, up-sell, and close for the business, appointment, or phone call.
- They are prepared when their major accounts arrive at the booth:
- They have specific, achievable objectives for each major account.
- They have notified the rest of the exhibit staff as to who they expect so their key accounts can be greeted by name.
- They have an agenda for their booth visit prepared in advance; what demonstrations or presentations to set-up, any management or executives to introduce them to, etc.
- They know how to politely and professionally invite waiting visitors into a conversation or a presentation.
- They understand how to conduct a successful presentation:
- They understand their own presenter strengths and weaknesses.
- They know how to involve their audience during their presentation or demonstration.
- They have mastered key verbal and non-verbal presenter skills; eye contact, gestures, movement, voice modulation, minimizing non-words and other distracting behaviors, and closing for some action or commitment.
A lot of the visitors you’ll be interacting with in your booth are going to be veteran trade show attendees and the’ll probably have the following expectations when they enter your booth:
1. They’ll be able to talk to you for as long as they want to or until they run out of questions.
This should not be the case. To manage their time expectation, you first need to find out what they want to hear about. Then estimate how long you can spend with them. Take into account:
- How big the opportunity is with this visitor (spend as much time with huge clients as needed).
- How busy the booth is.
- How long it will take to discuss their area of interest.
- Then say something like, “Let me take five or ten minutes and show you our new product.” That’s all it take to manage their time expectation.
- Then after five or ten minutes, it’s your choice whether to continue or not depending upon if the booth got busier or less busy.
2. Even if they have to wait, they’ll be able to have one-on-one conversations.
- Not necessarily true or productive for you. If your conversation with a visitor started off as one-on-one conversation, they may think it will continue that way no matter what. If other visitors begin to wait for you to finish, you may want to invite them into your conversation (but not always). To do this politely, you need to ask permission of the visitor your currently talking with and tell them why you want to do this.
3. All of their questions will be answered completely. This may not be true if:
- You don’t know the answer to the question.
- You shouldn’t answer the question (like a question about future, unannounced products, not-yet-public financials, etc.).
- The answer might take too long based on how qualified the visitor is and how congested the booth is.
4. They’ll get a free T-shirt, water bottle, tool set, cap, etc. This may or may not be true depending upon:
- If there is anything left to give away.
- If the visitor needed to bring in something to redeem for the give away.
- If they’re just a booth-beggar or trick-or-treater with no hope of ever becoming a customer. (If they argue with you, don’t make it a customer service issue, just give them the cheapest giveaway and move on to a more productive interaction.)
- Or, if the visitor wants three items (because they have three children) you may want to hold off on giving more than one until the end of the show. Ask them to come back then.
5. They expect to walk up and receive an invitation to your company-sponsored invitation-only party where the invitations were sent out weeks ago.
- If this visitor is one you want at the party, you should have a few extra invitations around to save for these special high-quality visitors.
- Otherwise, you should politely explain the situation to a visitor you wish to deny an invitation to. Maybe finish by saying, “but it often happens that we have some cancellations, so if you’d like to check with us again, maybe the situation will have changed.”
- The visitor may not get to speak with the person they’re asking for, or with the person who can answer their question. You choices are:
- To get a message to that person.
- If they’re at the show but not in the booth to call them right in front of the visitor and ask them if they can come over to the booth.
- Get them to someone else with the ability and/or expertise to speak with them.
- You may not be able to answer the visitor’s question or know enough about a particular product or service. Your choices are:
- To get the visitor to one of your colleagues who can help them.
- To commit to get back to them later (preferably while the show is still going on). If possible, get their mobile number.
You may not have the authority to grant a requested exception, make a decision, etc. If it’s appropriate, without putting your colleague (and maybe even your boss) on-the-spot, get them to someone in higher authority.
When you walk into a networking reception, what’s the first thing you do?
Find the bar of course! And if you want to find the least crowded bar, look for the ones in the back. They’re almost always less crowded. Now that you have a drink, what’s next? Getting some food of course. So you go for the least crowded food station.
If this is your preferred way to work a networking reception then your goal seems to be to drink and eat by yourself while you hang around and wait for someone you know to spot you and come over to say “hello.” That’s not playing the networking game, that’s playing solitaire.
Waiting for someone to interact with you might work if you’re handing out free tickets to a Katy Perry – Russell Brand cage match, but it is not a great way to meet new people. And the real value of a networking event is to make new friends, catch up with old friends, and see if you can work an invitation from one of the sponsors who’s hosting an after-party in their seven-room suite.
Personally, I have no problem walking into a networking event where I don’t know anyone. In fact, I think it’s fun. Here are some tips to help you be a proactive networker at your next reception.
Realize that everyone wants to talk to someone. However, most people just don’t feel comfortable walking up to people they don’t know and starting a conversation. But aren’t you relieved and pleased when you’re alone and someone you don’t know starts a conversation with you?
So how about a different opening gambit; don’t head right for the bar. Walk up to someone you don’t know, who doesn’t have a drink, and say – pay close attention here, this is tricky – “Hi, I’m Matt Hill” (Using my name, of course, will usually cause them to turn and run, use your own name).
What will happen is, they will tell you their name and that’s how a conversation starts. And sometimes there’s even an ice-breaking networking game in place so you can move to that next. After that, ask them, “Want to go over to the bar and get a drink?” or “Want to go over a get a bite to eat?”
If you do find yourself in line for a drink or in line for an organic herb-encrusted farm-raised tuna roll, then you can ask a different ice-breaking question like, “Are you as excited as I am to taste the tuna?” Okay, maybe not. How about: “So how long have you been coming to this conference?” or “What did you think of the morning speaker and their Top 10 Strategies for Embezzling Your Budget?” My point is, most people are a little shy about starting a conversation because they haven’t prepared any ice-breaking questions. But once a conversation gets going most people are usually fine.
I also like to be a Connector. As a Connector, once I get a conversation going I ask them if they’d like to meet some other attendees that I know. They always say “yes.” So I escort them over and introduce them. At my last networking event, I connected a lot of people by doing a lot of escorting. My escort service has really caught the attention of the Conference Board.
- A good networker also commits to walking up to at least three people they don’t know and introducing themselves.
- A good networker asks questions. Prepare for your next networking event by having some ice-breaking questions ready. Start with introducing yourself. Then go for the networking game. Then ask a questions about them: How long they’ve been a attending, what they do, where they’re from, how they’re enjoying the conference so far, etc.
- A good networker is genuinely interested in meeting new people, finding out about them, asking follow-up questions, finding areas of mutual interest, and knows they can learn something from everyone.
- A good networker doesn’t talk about business until the other person brings it up. Don’t look at networking events as a perfect, captive sales opportunity. Business will come up naturally. Let it happen that way.
- A good networker continues to connect and network throughout the entire conference, not just at the formal events.
- A good networker will look for opportunities to help other attendees in any way they can: offering to introduce them to other attendees and to any leadership people you know, offering to share a cab or car back to the airport, and offering to introduce them to another attendee who might be able to help them. Take the high road, it’s always the right road.