As a marketing consultant specializing in the building products industry, I’ve been able to attend hundreds of trade shows, design trade show booths for my clients, and even train sales representatives to work in trade show booths. But until a few years ago, I had never actually worked in a trade show booth. What I learned by using the show as a laboratory reconfirmed some of what I’ve been teaching, and also taught this old marketing hound a few new tricks.
Most importantly, it reaffirmed the importance of trade shows to develop important new sales contacts and prospects. In the course of just a few minutes, it is possible to have meaningful conversations with a show attendee that goes beyond a “simple pitch,” providing two-way dialogue that enables you to identify customer needs, change customer attitudes, and lead them to take the next step toward making a decision to actually purchase your product.
I was working the show on behalf of Engelhard Corporation (now BASF), manufacturers of MetaMax brand high-reactivity metakaolin. While advertising and pre-show promotion can set the groundwork, there’s nothing like face-to-face time to help win friends and influence people.
I took a proactive approach toward drawing people into the booth. High-reactivity metakaolin is still a relatively new product in the industry, and only a few people visiting the booth had ever used it. So I had to create a way to make them feel comfortable to come into the booth and show some interest. I did this by positioning myself at the front corner of the booth, just inside the aisle line. With a big grin and open body language, I would try to establish eye contact with people walking down the aisle. When doing so, I began a conversation that drew them into the subject of our booth. Instead of “Hi, Joe, how are things in Sioux City?” reading from the badge and feigning a relationship, I would use an open-ended question to spark their curiosity. For example:
-          Do you know the four ways metakaolin can improve your concrete?
-          Have you had a chance to use metakaolin in your concrete yet? Or simply,
-          What type of concrete work do you do?
Some people would simply nod their head and say, “not interested,” and walk by. That was alright, since not everybody at the show is a potential user of metakaolin. But most of the people would reply in a way that provided an opportunity to start a brief discussion. For example, “No, I don’t know the four ways.” – Would allow me to explain how metakaolin improved concrete strength, durability, workability, and appearance. Or when I asked them the type of work they did, if they said “countertops,” then I could immediately respond by saying, “Metakaolin will give you a denser, more stain-resistant concrete.”

I will be sharing more tips about working the trade show at CONSTRUCT 2010 in Philadelphia next week.  Give time and location link. Come hear the presentation or call Chusid Associates at 818-774-0003 to discuss how you can make the most of your trade show investments.