I’m sitting at the airport on my way back from Contract Pharma 2019 in New Jersey and I wanted to go over some of the best (and worst) practices you see at trade shows. The fall trade show season is in in full swing so a great time to think about how you work your booth to bring in new business.
The main objective for your booth is to attract and engage customers and prospects that will generate business. You can do some really simple things (and avoid some others) to make sure you meet those objectives, and justify the cost of attending as an exhibitor.
- Booth – Make sure you have an appropriate booth for your industry and conference. The Contract Pharma conference I just attended is a tabletop only conference. This is nice because companies big and small all are on a relatively level playing field. I did see some exhibitors who didn’t bring a booth to fit their 6-foot draped table. Some brought no signage and just put product on their table and sat in a chair in front to their display. You can buy a decent tabletop exhibit for $500 or less and it can last you years. Part of exhibiting at these shows is that it conveys something about your professionalism to your potential customers. What does it say to them when you pay for the travel, exhibiting fees and pay someone to staff your booth but you won’t spend a few hundred dollars to look professional and like you belong. It doesn’t have to be expensive of fancy, but you only get one chance to make the first impression.
- Dress – Trade shows are trending towards a more casual dress code even in the most formal spaces. The important thing is to always dress appropriately for the industry and location. Know your space and dress accordingly. You want to make sure you are making your guests comfortable, and ensure your staff are confident about how they are dressed relative to attendees. Also know the location. Even in the same industry, conferences in Southern California may dress more casually than similar events in New York. I have seen booth staff dressed in a nice blue suit paired with the latest white Nikes. Although more comfortable, this is not always great combination. If you have foot issues, try to find an athletic shoe that is comfortable but not as casual as gym sneakers. They are out there. You will be on your feet all day so balance comfort and style.
- Food – Even if you are short staffed, never eat in the booth. Not everyone enjoys the scent of that exceptional conference hall soup or slice of pizza as much as you. I have seen booth staff sitting at a booth table chowing down on messy foods. Sometimes your great lead’s business card can be ruined by spilled meal. Make your booth a “no food zone”, unless you are giving it out to customers as part of a reception or event. It helps to keep the booth cleaner and odor free. Take turns leaving the booth to eat. Also don’t chew gum in your booth. You are there to talk to people and create that relationship.
- Body Language – Always have booth staff standing on the outside edges of your booth engaging attendees walking by, particularly those slowing down to read your messaging or watching booth videos. Sometimes you have just a split-second window to engage them before they walk off to the next booth. Asking if they have questions is a great conversation starter. If you sit in the back of the booth you may just miss that next great opportunity. Also being proactive in this way demonstrates a bit about company culture to a prospective customer. Hopefully this same culture is applied as continue interacting with your business. Face to face interaction is why meetings still work. Take every opportunity to benefit.
- Phones – This is the number one challenge at trade shows today. I can’t tell you how many times you walk by a company booth and see a lone company representative head down fully engaged in their phone. Sometimes they’ll look up at you, rad your badge, assess if you might be a potential customer, and then put their head back down if you don’t meet their criteria. As tempting as it may be to try to get some work done on your phone in the booth, nothing says “I’m not interested in talking to you” more than this. If you have a booth partner, which I recommend you always do, then take turns stepping away from your booth so you can handle emails and make business calls. Business doesn’t stop because you are at a conference, but while you are there you should be focused on every new opportunity. While in the booth put your phone on silent and use your time engaging the attendees. Aren’t we on our phones enough anyway?
So, in summary, the most important thing to remember about trade show booths is that connecting face to face with existing or potential customers is 100% why you are there. Most business is conducted over the phone or by email/text, but conferences and trade shows are rare opportunities to create those relationships and get to know real people you’ll be working with. Know your audience, be professional, and most importantly focus on the people.
Next time I’ll talk more about booth design and function. More Bio-Atomic Scientific Marketing tips to come.
Kevin McCarthy – Managing Director – Bio-Atomic Exhibits