Today, the trade show "business" consumes more than $15 billion a
year from firms just like yours. Every day there are a great
variety of shows going on in major show cities around the globe.
For most organizations, these shows represent a tremendous
expense. As such, you must make certain you are getting maximum
return for your investment and minimize wasted time and money.
Walk down the aisle of a typical show (or think back to
your last show) and look at the booth people. You'll always find
several people who stand at the side of their exhibit with their
arms folded while customers and prospects pass by. They have
presented a territorial boundary to prospective visitors, and
only the most aggressive or most needy will approach the booth.
When prospects do enter the exhibit, untrained salespeople
will allow the customer to control the situation rather than
taking control themselves. You have to encourage them to be
active, not reactive.
But, your first task is getting people to and into your
You can do this with:
* A targeted, high-visibility direct mail effort aimed at
specific prospective sub-markets.
* Pre-show PR. This entails developing special publicity
efforts outlining what will be shown in the booth during the
show and identifying the booth number to call attention to
your exhibit in the show.
* Advertising tags. This is a simple approach which again
requires at least three months' planning. Here you want to
run a strip-in on your ads something like "See us at the ZYX
Show, Date, Booth #1234".
* For very special customers and prospects, initiate a
computerized letter direct mail effort. This approach can be
highly effective when you want to:
- Have key people meet these individuals face-to- face
- Demonstrate a specific product to them
- Have management discuss specific contracts, needs, or
- Literally close a contract
A hook is any thing or action that tends to massage the
prospect's ego. Use their first name (everyone has a badge), ask
a meaningful question, or simply smile, reach out, and shake
hands like you expected to meet the prospect.
These may sound like simple selling techniques, but you'd
be surprised how often these selling courtesies are overlooked.
Common sense sales techniques work here just as well as they do
in the customer's office.
A show magnet is an obvious draw. Rather than using the
old attraction of the beautiful or attractive girl in the booth,
consider displaying your product or service in an innovative and
original manner. Use color, light, sound, or visuals, and make
them tie in well with your product.
Most booths are static. Movement is one of the best
magnets there is, yet very few people actually blend and design
it into their exhibit and display.
Another attraction is professional talent such as models,
magicians, games, contests, or some type of entertainment. Keep
in mind, though, that they should be pertinent to your product
and display. Tailor them to the message(s) you want people to
remember. Don't allow them to distract from, or worse yet,
overshadow your reasons for being at the show.
Sales promotion items and giveaways are popular magnets.
Such items should have little real value but considerable
intrinsic value so they will be retained as a further reminder of
the company and its products.
You may want to deal with customers and prospects on a
one-on-one basis, but you should be familiar with group-building
techniques so you can handle those instances when you have to
deal with more than one person at a time.
First, stop your target customer. Next, build a crowd
around him or her. This permits you to cover the audience and
all of your bases more effectively. If you want to see this
carried out as a fine art, go to a county fair sometime, and watch the
pitch person(s) with their choppers, knife sharpeners, and
similar items. Within the first ten seconds, these people know
exactly who in the crowd is going to buy, and the rest of the
people are simply window dressing.
Eye contact is of prime importance. For example, you are
talking to one or two people, and someone walking down the aisle
glances in your direction. Catch his or her eye. Briefly focus
your discussion on that person. Then make a movement which
invites the individual to join the group. But don't spend so
much time trying to attract the new person that you lose those
you already have.
Another approach is to assign people tasks. Ask one of the
people in the group to assist you, hold something, or represent a
point you are trying to highlight. Not everyone will accept the
assignment, but many will.
Including and assigning approaches work for groups of eight
to ten people. When the group becomes larger, it is better to
use a platform. This soap-box approach gives the presenter an
advantage over the audience. He or she can maintain eye contact
while demonstrating product benefits, and the audience can
usually see more of what is being demonstrated.
Getting people into the booth is only half the battle. You
must hold their attention either by setting up an expectation or
getting individuals involved.
To gain expectation, build suspense. Make the group wonder
about the answer to a question and then promise the answer only
if they listen. But make certain you pay them off with the
Sequencing is another method of keeping people in the
booth. This is simply a matter of organizing your presentation
into logical segments and presenting them so one builds upon the
other. This can succeed because it permits you to present a
precise, controlled message. People know where you are going and
receive minor payoffs with each point. And the prospects
generally won't leave until they have received the total payoff.
To get the prospect physically involved, have him or her
hold the product or an associating object. The individual will
operate or study it as you carry on your discussion.
If you use verbal involvement, you're getting the prospects
to do the talking instead of having your people make the
presentation. As in every selling situation, this approach works
because you're going to do a better job of gathering information
and tailoring your presentation to the prospects.
Visual involvement directs the customer and controls the
focus of the discussion/demonstration. By pointing out things
you want the prospects to see, you cause them to focus all of
their attention on your points and products.
Another type of visual involvement is that of A-V
presentations tailored to your exhibit. No one will stand and
watch a 15-minute slide presentation or video tape, but they will
watch a tightly produced two- to five-minute presentation.
One thing you can't afford to do is to permit people to
leave your booth until you have determined whether or not they
are viable prospects. Don't let people come in and stand around
without being helped, even if you are tied up with someone else.
Interrupt your discussion, acknowledge the individuals, and tell
them someone will be with them in a few moments.
Simply make eye contact, smile, gesture, and tell them
you'll be right with them. This gives them an obligation to stay
around until you are finished; just don't take too long.
In the meantime, give them something to do. Have them
study a specific section of a brochure or view the A-V
presentation, but keep an eye on them. As soon as you see their
interest waning (assuming you haven't gotten to them
immediately), get back to them.
Getting Rid of Visitors
Obviously, at a show you don't generally have the luxury of
spending as much time with each individual as you might like.
You will make time for the really "hot" prospects, but the others
will be in and out of the booth. The key is to determine their
level of interest. If it is low, quietly move on to more fertile
Most people will leave after a demonstration, so summarize
in a friendly manner to let them know that you are finished. If
you can't close and can't seem to "shake" the individual, use
some type of sign language to attract assistance from someone
else in the booth. This provides you with an easy and courteous
method of excusing yourself without leaving a sour taste in the
visitor's mouth or leaving him or her with a poor impression of
Trade Show Selling
Time and again, we've seen examples where salespeople have
spent weeks or months calling on an organization only to find
suddenly that they were talking to the wrong people. While this
is a strong endorsement of advertising, public relations, and
other promotion, it is of little consolation to the senior
management, sales management, or the individual salesperson --
especially when considering that sales calls now cost in excess
Unfortunately, this problem is magnified at a trade show
* The sales situation is reversed, since prospects come to you.
* You have a limited amount of time to present your facts.
* Salespeople have to make more presentations per hour than they
make a day in the field.
To alleviate the differences found in this selling
situation, clearly define the priority of the prospects you want
to reach at the show. Establish direction and focus for the
sales force. Have them target and concentrate their selling
Have a dry run. Part of your pre-show training should
include concise presentations so you can anticipate and overcome
the problems that may arise with the fast pace of the trade show
You'll probably receive a lot of resistance from your best,
seasoned salespeople, but they have to be reminded to ask the
basics -- who, what, why, and where -- in their prospecting
Remind them that they have only 90 seconds to attract,
qualify, and interest the attendee, so the key to their success
will be penetration. Have your salespeople write out their
approach. It doesn't have to be a canned presentation, but it
should be prepared.
You'll find that salespeople will ultimately be able to do
a better job. They have a structure within which to work. They
have a solid perception of what they want from the show, their
attitude will be up, and they will be more competent/relaxed on
If you want your exhibit to be a winner, develop a uniform,
positive selling attitude; develop and provide clear direction;
and train your people thoroughly in exhibit selling techniques.
The show selling effort and activity should be more than
breakfasts, lunches, and dinners with present customers...more
than late night cocktail parties. It should be a strong and
effective selling event.
Some people have attempted to put together formulas on
evaluating the cost-per-person per show. Others try to trace
actual sales to contacts made at the show, while still others use
a mixture plus a strong dose of gut-feel. The latter is probably
Rather than looking at your trade show efforts as an
expense, view them in terms of advertising and promotional
investments just as you do media advertising, sales literature,
direct mail, and publicity. Many people address the concept of a
trade show with "what's the smallest amount of space we can use
this time?", instead of "what is the most effective method of
presenting our message?"
Almost anyone (except heavy equipment or mainframe
manufacturers) would be able to get by with a 10x10 (sometimes
8x10) booth. But would it be a good platform for your products,
your company, your message?
Once you have determined the amount of floor space
required, you'll have to decide how you are going to use the
space to its fullest. The variations are considerable, and they
all ultimately affect the cost.
To determine your exhibit budget, what kind of selling will
you be doing in the booth? Will you be handing out only
literature? Will you be carrying on demonstrations? Will you be
conducting semi-private meetings in the booth? Will you be
spending considerable time with a few groups throughout the show?
What kind of graphics do you have planned? Signage? A-V
presentation? And what mood do you want to establish?
Once you have your floor plan, selling message, product
requirements, and graphic needs spelled out, you can begin to
compile your budget.
Depending upon your desire, you can work with your agency
in conjunction with an exhibit designer/constructor or directly
with an exhibit builder.
As a rule of thumb, you will probably be able to get two
years of show life out of your booth. This is assuming you
participate in four to six shows a year, have the exhibit
well-crated and shipped the best way possible in plenty of time,
and provide adequate instructions for setup and dismantling.
For a booth of moderate quality (not outstanding, but
tastefully done) you can expect to spend $2,000-$4,000 a linear
foot by the time it is completed (booth, graphics, special
effects, etc.). On top of this, you will have to figure that
good crating will cost 25-30% of your booth cost. Since booths
and crates take a terrific beating in transit and during setup,
skimping in this area can be a false savings.
To avoid overtime charges and yet get the product you want,
expect to spend three-plus months from the initiation of the
project to completion.
The above planning and budgeting considerations are based
on the design and construction of an original booth. However,
options are available like:
* Prefabricated knock-down displays
* Prefabricated panel exhibits
* Prefabricated free-standing exhibits
* Rental units from the show exhibit company
* Used/refurbished displays
While these will skew the budgeting, the same thought
process will have to be used to determine if you can, and if you
want, to use one of these alternatives.
Whichever alternative you use, consider the image you want
to project, the image you are projecting, and the image of your
competition at the show. Couple this with the task you want to
perform at the show, and you can arrive at a realistic budget.
Extending Exhibit Life
If you haven't recovered from the expense of building your
last exhibit, it may be possible to update and revitalize past
exhibits with new graphics and remodeling techniques to produce a
totally new look at a very modest expense.
Most of the time, people simply discard their earlier
booths without evaluating if there is any value left in them. If
the structure is still sound, at least some portions of earlier
booths can be saved and reused. And maybe the back walls can be
redone with new plastic laminate, carpet, or Velcro. The new
back walls provide you with a canvas on which you can "paint" a
totally new presentation and company/product image.
Another option/possibility is that you can save portions of
earlier, large booths and construct one or more smaller,
revitalized booths. This approach is especially helpful if you
participate in a broad range of shows and the level of
participation/commitment is not the same in every show.
For national shows you want major impact. However, with
regional shows you can utilize a smaller space and show a more
selected range of products/services. Finally, you may have
strictly local shows where your sales people and/or
representatives feel visibility in the target market community is
not only important but good politics.
You could use a 40x40 booth for major shows, 20x20 or
20-foot linear for regional shows, and 10x10 for local shows.
Rather than produce three-plus booths, refurbish earlier booths
to put your best foot forward in each instance -- economically.
If, after examining existing and past booths, however, you
determine you can't save even portions of them, be brutal. Get
them out. If you don't, you're going to be paying needless
storage costs for something which you cannot, and will probably
If you are considering refurbishing an old booth, keep in
mind freight and drayage costs. Previously used booths may have
not been designed with these expenses in mind, and the cost of
shipping heavy/bulky booths does add up very quickly.
Likewise, if the booth designer had a field day in
designing your exhibit and it is too complicated to set up, your
assembly costs may be way out of line, and there will be no
savings. KISS (keep it simple, stupid) works for booths just
like it works for your advertising and the products you
manufacture and sell.
But revamping an existing booth can cost about 50% of the
replacement costs, so the savings are worth considering. A
charge of this magnitude will provide for an extensive facelift
and present a totally new image and message.
Controlling Trade Show Costs
Across the country the cost of trade show services,
including shipping damage, setup, tear-down, and show support
have risen dramatically. It's a major concern to every manager.
But you can keep costs in line and even reduce service
costs by applying a little planning and attention to:
* Pre-show preparation of the exhibit
* Shipping procedures
* Information follow-through
* Rerouting evaluation
* Rerouting procedures
The summary below should help you curtail your trade show
* Pre-show preparation of the exhibit
- Is the exhibit "right" for the show?
- Does it tell the right story?
- Are any alterations necessary?
- Has it been inspected?
- Is it in good condition?
- If not, have repairs been made?
* Shipping procedures
- Has the quickest and least expensive method of shipping been
- Has the exhibit been shipped early enough?
- Has it been shipped via the proper carrier?
* Information follow-through
- Has a bill of lading been provided to those who will set up
- Have the trailer number and tracing information been
- Has the case containing set-up drawings and hardware been
- Have those in charge of the exhibit setup received copies of
the order forms for various services?
2. Floor covering?
7. Special orders?
- Have those who will set up the exhibit been notified the
identity of the person to be in charge of the exhibit?
- Also, where can they be reached at any time given?
- If an exhibit service organization is being used, has the
company person in charge been notified where he can reach
the organization's representative?
* Routing considerations
- Should you ship the exhibit back to the point of origin?
- Should you store it temporarily in the city where the show
is being held?
- Should you ship to the city where it will be exhibited next?
- Have clear instructions been given for rerouting?
Evaluate Trade Shows
- Were you successful in meeting the targeted prospects? Did
you get your theme across?
- Did you present the number of demonstrations you set as your
goal? Were the audiences for these presentations as large
as you hoped?
- Did you distribute the volume of literature you set as an
objective? Did you get the targeted number of follow-up
- Did you meet your goal in registering new names for the
company promotion list?
- What impressions from visitors about your products did you
change or reinforce? To how many visitors?
- Did you close the number of direct sales you planned?
- Did you find the number of new sales representatives or
suppliers you planned?
- Did you receive the editorial coverage from the trade press
- Did you or your staff meet the number of hidden buying
influences for existing customers that you planned? Were
key staff members introduced to the desired number of
existing customers you had set as a goal?
- Did you learn all you planned to about competitors?
- Was the total attendance what you expected?
- Was the attendance what you expected in terms of job title,
geographical location, type and size of company?
- Was the total number of visitors to the booth what you
- Was the cost-per-person demonstration or sales call what you
- Did you achieve the increased traffic through the exhibit
you planned? How does that traffic compare with previous
- Was the quality and quantity of exhibitors what you
* Exhibit Media
- Did the exhibit arrive on time? Was it installed and
dismantled according to schedule?
- Was traffic through the exhibit smooth and uncluttered?
- Was the exhibit team professional and competent?
- Did the exhibit attract the quality and type of prospects it
was intended to? Did it hold their attention?
- Was the exhibit well-lighted, and did it provide ample space
for salesmen to talk with interested prospects? Were
products/services realistically portrayed?
- Did the exhibit design adequately identify the company and
fit it to the theme of the show?
- Did the exhibit accurately reflect corporate colors, have
adequate provisions for storing and distributing literature,
and were products well displayed for viewing?
- Were the exhibits of competitors more or less effective?
Why? Which ones?
- Was the exhibit constructed on time and within budget?
- Was the overall design and appearance of the exhibit
consistent with the standards of effective exhibit design?