Marketing at Trade Shows:
the Faint of Heart
you think cold calling is nerve-racking and difficult, try working a
trade show where you go booth to booth prospecting for business.
I have seen highly competent salespeople in my business shudder at the
idea of placing themselves in harm’s way doing cold prospecting at
a convention hall.
make the task so daunting and intimidating are the signs and warnings
waiting for you as you enter the hall: “No soliciting exhibitors.
Violators will be expelled.” Although I have never been expelled,
I have had my share of harsh rebuffs from exhibitors.
makes trade show selling (guerrilla marketing) worth the effort is the
target-rich environment. Nowhere will you find 500+ companies under
one roof, with many top decision makers in attendance and available,
where you can glean very valuable information and intelligence.
the unofficial line at trade shows is that uninvited salespeople can
be seen but not heard, you need to be very subtle, brief and to the
point, respectful and humble. Unlike the code of waitresses, where at
another restaurant they leave good tips and cheers to their fellow clan,
salespeople tend not to extend the professional courtesy to uninvited
salespeople in their booths. For many it is payback time. Believe me,
I know. I have experienced hundreds of times where I was met by a salesperson
manning the booth with anger and dismissal… like, “How dare you
walk into our hallowed space?” Rightfully so, since they see you
as an inconvenience and an intrusion. They can be a humorless bunch.
as not to set you up for failure and humiliation, the following are
some ideas, verbiage and some tactics to take the sting out of potentially
putting yourself in harm’s way. The strategy is to be non-intrusive,
humble and unpredictably non-traditional.
- Prospect: “How
“Exhausted. This show is tough on the knees, but it can’t be as
tough as standing in place all day like you.”
“Do you mind if I ask you a stupid question? Worse yet, I’m not
a prospect for you.”
- Prospect: “There
are no stupid questions.”
“Who is the VP of sales that I can send some information to? (always
infer that you are going to send information. They will feel less threatened
when they decide to give you a name.) I’m with Tangent. We are
a sales training and development firm.”
“I don’t suppose you’d be kind enough to point them out to me.
Well thanks. I promise you I won’t tell them you gave me their name.”
if I go into 10 booths, I’ll be able to speak to 3 decision makers.
The percentages are similar to telephone cold calling, but they are
a little better and of course here you get the benefit of meeting them
face-to-face. My first six years in sales training, I went to an average
of 40 trade shows a year in Chicago and secured all my business exclusively
through trade show selling and marketing. It does work.
I get in front of the decision maker, my goal is to be brief and be
gone; and of course to qualify and disqualify them. I also want to build
trust and differentiation with them through the quality of my professional
following is a simple example of my approach. The approach is
very similar to a telephone cold call.
of your salespeople, whom I promised complete anonymity, pointed you
out to me. I know you are very busy with the show here. I’m not sure
if we could ever be of help to you. Can I very briefly tell you why
I stopped by your booth, and you can tell me if we should go any further
after that? We work with companies in helping them improve the effectiveness
of their salespeople. Generally if someone like yourself would have
a reason to talk with us after the show, it will be
because you have issues in the following areas:
- “Your salespeople
are doing a good job with existing customers, but aren’t bringing
in new customers to grow the business to the next level.
- “They are
closing deals, but are leaving too much money on the table, causing
the erosion of your margins.
- “Your people
are wasting a lot of valuable time doing wasteful quoting and proposing,
resulting in higher cost of sales and longer selling cycles.
any of these issues coming up enough to justify us having a conversation
now or in the future?”
whole idea is to secure a future follow-up call (face to face or telephone),
or if things aren’t too hectic in the booth and they seem to be open,
to have a more in-depth conversation right there and then. Usually this
will happen anywhere from 10% to 20%.
I get shut down at this point and I have one last shot at them, I’ll
try the following last ditch questions before I do a full retreat:
- “Has your
company made a decision not to look at any new suppliers in this area?”
- “If there
was a better way out there, and I’m not sure if we even have it, I’m
guessing from your response you wouldn’t be interested?”
- “Let me ask
you a loaded and unfair question, if I may. Do you believe that what
you’ve got is as good as it gets and it doesn’t get any better?
I told you it was unfair.”
do these questions get you any further than a confirmation that you
are barking up the wrong tree. Anywhere from 5% to 10% of the time you
will be able to get a positive outcome with these questions. The silver
lining is, you know for sure the rest aren’t a good prospect.
booth to booth at trade shows can be intimidating for the uninitiated.
Anything you can do to lighten your load and have fun at it will make
it so much less stressful and more productive.
following examples are ways to break the ice and to lighten things up
a bit. It can get boring going to 60 booths in seven hours at a show,
so you want to change things up just to keep your sanity and to stay
fresh. All these examples are for a hostile person whom you are trying
to defuse. The reality is, you’ll run into some real jerks. So at
least try to be playful, self-deprecating and unpredictable.
- “I’m probably
the last guy you wanted stopping by your booth today.”
- “Please go
easy on me, I’m terrible at this prospecting business.”
- “Please don’t
gang up on me and take pot shots at the hapless, uninvited salesperson.”
- “I’m afraid
I’m not a prospect for your company. I’m afraid it is even worse
– I’m a salesperson. If you allow me, I’ll be brief and
- “The minute
I walked in here I knew I was in trouble. Could you give me a brief
reprieve here and then I’ll be out of your hair? At least
I can tell my boss I tried.”
- “You are
probably wondering why I’m still here.”
- “You can
probably guess this is a cold solicitation. Have you ever had to do
them at a trade show? It isn’t my preferred way of introduction. They
aren’t easy. Before you tell me your company wouldn’t have any interest,
can I ask you how many salespeople your company has?”
- “I’m visiting
a couple of my customers here and I thought I’d stop by your booth
to introduce myself. I hope I’m not intruding.”
- “You are
probably hit on by a lot by salespeople stopping by your booth trying
to sell you their wares.”
- “I’m guessing
your company doesn’t look very kindly on salespeople stopping by your
booth to introduce themselves?”
- “By giving
me their name, are you going to be violating a sacred company trust?”
- “I sense
out of the goodness of your heart, you are protecting me because you
are concerned that if I follow up with your company I’ll get rejected.”
- “Are you
the official or unofficial company spokesperson on this issue?”
following is some verbiage to use on leads from a trade show, from Internet
leads and for leads in general. There are subtle differences between
lead follow-ups and cold calls. I find it useful to treat all leads
as if they were a cold lead so that I don’t assume anything, and so
I do my due diligence regarding asking tough qualifying questions.
- “So I can
get a better idea of your business, would it be okay to ask you some
specific questions about your company:
- “Was there
a specific reason you stopped by our booth, or did you just want some
- “Did you
have an immediate need you wanted to discuss, or did you just want basic
information for future needs?”
- “I’m following
up on an inquiry that you made yesterday. What were you hoping we could
help you with, or did you have any specific questions?”
- “I’m following
up on an inquiry that you made yesterday on the Internet. We always
take a realistic approach that until we know exactly what you want,
we aren’t specifically sure if we can help you or whether what we
have is right for you. If it is alright with you, I’d like to ask
you some questions to learn more about your company and why you initially
called, and we can decide if we should go any further than that.
First of all, how did you hear about us?”
- “Before I
go into specifics, let me briefly outline where we’ve been a good
fit for other companies and where we haven’t been a good fit.
We tend to be a good fit with companies who are experiencing issues
- “We tend
not to be a good fit for companies that aren’t… (enumerate all
the reasons). Which category closest fits your company’s scenario?”
key to lead follow-up is to have a very defined sales process so that
you aren’t giving out a lot of information before you really get a
feel for the prospect. This can be a little challenging because, since
the prospect made the initial contact, they’ll want to remain in control
and get their needs met for getting information. They may not be accustomed
to having a salesperson stepping back for moment and asking a lot of
questions before they give information. The guideline I use to have
balance is to look at it as an exchange or a give and take. If they
aren’t willing to share any information, then that should be a real