February 2001
Volume 43 Number 2

Trade Shows: Successful Shows in 10 Easy Steps
by Lee Edwards   Pages: 

Graphics that go with this article are available only the print version of the magazine.

The show season is here. And if there was ever a way all men (and companies) were not created equal, it's their results at trade shows. Some dealers go to shows "just to get exposure." Some do well and others do so well they have a separate sales team that just does trade shows -- be it a home show, business expo, mall show or county fair. Wherever you fit in the continuum of success, here are the top 10 tips for making a lot of money at shows.

Don't use non-sales staff
Never send non-professional sales people to man your booth. They're less likely to take names for the leads you need and they won't keep appointments. Our clients recommend that you work short shifts and have at least two sales people in your booth at all times. If you work two shifts per day, that's four sales people minimum. If you schedule only one person to work your booth, what happens when they use the restroom, step out for lunch or get tied up with a buyer?

What if you don't have enough sales people? Try recruiting professional sales people from related industries to help out. Invite valued customers or colleagues to help staff the booth if only just to greet and prescreen visitors. You can try training non-professionals on simple tasks like getting names and walking up to people. It's risky but it can be done if you devote enough time to training.

Booth design tips
You don't need to spend a lot to have a great booth. We recommend using white 1-inch or 2-inch PVC pipe to form a backdrop to your booth. Then, use a brightly colored tarp for the filler material. Just tie it to the pipes (see Figure 1) and have signs made inexpensively with a company like Kinko's, who can do it fast and inexpensively. Keep the front of your booth open. We suggest you have a water cooler at both sides of your booth (see Figures 2&3) as close to the aisle as possible.

Use a clean carpet and lots of artificial plants. Also, make it well lit, even if you use shop lights. Don't write a lot on signs. No one buys from signs and, the truth is, no one reads much from signs at shows. We recommend just identifying yourself and having a pithy catchphrase headline like, "What's In Your Water That Shouldn't Be?"

Sales people at shows are only bright and sharp for a few hours at a time. Also, show leads get cold very fast. For these two reasons, we recommend short shifts at shows. This not only keeps sales people fresh, but when they meet a potential client, they can say, "I'm off at 3:00, how about if I come by this evening and provide a free water test?" Sales people are more likely to get into the house with an immediate appointment than if they call them three or four days later. We suggest setting your schedule in writing, so there are no misunderstandings about who was supposed to man the booth.

If you just send your team to the show without training, they won't be successful. You need to spend four or five sessions training them on approaching customers, going over the script, setting their goals and listing their responsibilities. If it isn't second nature, it won't happen, so spend a serious amount of time on training. Just because they know how to sell doesn't mean they know what to do at shows.

Setting goals
You need written goals that you can communicate to your team if you want to succeed. We suggest you set a goal of one appointment per person per 10 minutes on the floor. That means that if you have four people working a show for 20 hours each, they would work a total of 80 man-hours or 4,800 minutes. That means the goal would be to set 480 appointments total, or 120 appointments each. Some appointments will fall apart, so your goal might be to have half actually result in a demonstration. That means 60 demonstrations each. You might set a closing rate of 33 percent, or 20 sales each and 80 sales for the show. These numbers are achievable if you follow the article's tips. Many of our clients have achieved this level of success. And even if you don't quite hit the target, giving them something to shoot for helps your staff focus its efforts.

Basic rules
The following basic rules should be enforced at your show if you want to be successful: 1. Work all shifts assigned from start to finish on the floor -- no phone calls, no family and no friends. 2. No chairs. The shifts are short, so work hard while in the booth. 3. Follow the dress code set. 4. No alcohol during the show. 5. No smoking by staff at or near the booth. 6. Restrict talking to other sales people in the booth -- they usually aren't going to buy anything! 7. Walk right up to people and use the script set out by the company -- no waiting for people to walk up to you. 8. Average one appointment every 10 minutes for your shift. All contact names and appointments must be handed in at the end of each shift.

Supervising a show
Most dealers supervise by dropping in unexpectedly to make sure the staff is there and aggressively following the script and plan. Also, a manager should be on hand at the end of each shift to count the number of leads and appointments handed in. They should immediately praise team members who meet or exceed the goal and refocus those who don't.

Basic script
We strongly urge you to write a script that your team follows. It should end with an appointment. If your team approaches people aggressively and hands out water, they should talk to someone every three minutes. Based on our experience, one out of three will give you an appointment -- that's six per hour. The secret is not to ask if they want a water sample, but to hand them the sample as they're walking by.

Here's a situational example that illustrates an effective approach. Stand at the edge of the booth with a cup or bottle of cold water in your hand. Go right up to people and say something like, "Would you like to see what purified water really tastes like?" Take a step forward and push the water toward their hand and say: "Have a drink on us." Their hand will come up and take it. Once they have it, they usually stop and drink it. You say: "How do you like that water?"

Once they nod their heads in approval, say, "Doctors recommend you test your water every year to make sure everything is OK. As part of our show promotion, our company is testing water for folks like you at no charge during the show. Now would be a good time to get it tested, since it doesn't cost anything. I'll be off at 3:00. Would tonight or tomorrow be more convenient for you and your family?"

Keep busy in slow times
There will be slow times at any show. Train your staff to take cold, treated water cups or bottles to personnel in other booths, security guards, etc. Even when a show is dead, there are probably 1,000 people in there who can be pitched. If you don't train your team to do this, it won't happen.

After show debriefing
After each shift, pick up the names and appointments set. Make sure you check each salesperson to see if they met their goal of six appointments per hour. If they didn't, work with them right on the spot until both of you are confident they can do it. The day after the show, go over the numbers with your staff. Did the show pay for itself? Do you want to be in that show again? Do you want your booth in a different location? What worked and what didn't? Make your decisions now while you can remember what you want to do next year. Don't book shows too close together. Your staff will be tired after a show and will need time to run all the appointments and spend a few nights with their families before another show.

Those are 10 tips that make a difference in show selling. Some say it sounds like a lot of work. It is -- but if you come away from a show selling 50 or 60 systems, it's worth it. Don't go for exposure or to give away cards. Have a plan, set goals, train your team and make it happen. It's worth the effort.

About the author
Lee Edwards is a consultant with Sales and Management Solutions, a Lockport, N.Y. consulting firm that specializes in audio, video and live training designed exclusively for the water improvement industry. For a free brochure and demonstration cassette, contact Edwards at (800) 941-0068, (716) 735-9758 (fax) or email: salesco@msn.com