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I just flew in from the trade show, and, boy, are the booths tired

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The joke allegedly dates back to the vaudeville era: “I just flew in from Dallas, and, boy, are my arms tired.” And while it hasn't gotten any better with time, neither have many trade show efforts. Recently, I was at a b-to-b conference that included an exhibition floor. I was amazed that in this day and age, when magazines and Google offer countless tips (Google returned over 23,000 hits when I searched for “trade show best practices”), we still see horrible booths and deplorable show floor etiquette. Sure, some companies really had their house in order. Their show presence was clean, open and inviting, well-rehearsed, fun, informative—and they engaged with their prospects. However, those were the exceptions. Throughout the show, I saw booth staff members who should have been engaging their prospects with friendly smiles but instead were on their phones or emailing. I also saw tired and hard-to-read booth graphics. This show happens to use much of the exhibition time to feed the attendees on the show floor and, as a result, I saw many exhibitors eating or talking to prospects with plates of food in their hands. As b-to-b marketers with little time and even more scant budgets, we often send the local sales team to staff the booth. But do we set clear expectations for them? I have always recommended a clear list of dos and don'ts for the show floor. The local salesperson rarely knows what to do when in the booth. Some are naturals, but many are not. They likely have been to many shows, but they often don't have enough guidance and expectation-setting to know what is at stake in terms of both cost and opportunity. While every company has its own culture and practices, the seven universal truths that I always share with my teams as they head onto the show floor are: Keep your booth open. Placing the literature table in between you and the prospect acts as a barrier to conversation. Smile and engage your prospects. Step out to greet them. Don't eat in the booth. No one looks good with spinach in their teeth. Texting and emailing can wait. You have less than three seconds to make contact with your prospect as he or she walks past. Keep the graphics simple and the copy minimal. Your prospects can take in about the same amount of information as a billboard at 60 miles per hour. Have a hook. Most people are not naturals at this, and having something to talk about with a prospect will help the process. Capture the information and follow up within two days. A cold lead is a dead lead. In the offline and seemingly old-school world of trade shows, there are still good prospects to be found, but it requires that we all remember some basics that go all the way back to the days of vaudeville. Tom Nightingale is president-sales and marketing at ModusLink Global Solutions.
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