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

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"I just flew in from Dallas and boy are my arms tired." This joke allegedly dates back to the vaudeville era. And while the joke is ancient and hasn't gotten any better with time, neither have many tradeshow efforts. Last week I was at a B2B 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, these were the exceptions.  

Throughout the show, I saw booth staff that should have been engaging their prospects with friendly smiles and interesting means to capture leads. However, the vast majority had tired and hard-to-read booth graphics. Often their staff members were on their phones or emailing. 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 B2B marketers with little time and even more scant budget, we often send the local sales team to staff the booth. But do we set clear expectations with them? I have always recommended a clear list of dos and don'ts for the show floor. The local sales person rarely knows what to do when in the booth. Some are naturals, but not many. He or she has undoubtedly been to many shows, but they really don't have enough guidance and expectation-setting to know what is at stake both in terms of 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 include:

  1. Keep your booth open – placing the literature table in between you and the prospect acts as a barrier to conversation.
  2. Smile and engage your prospects - step out to greet them.
  3. Don't eat in the booth – no one looks good with spinach in his teeth.
  4. Texting and emailing can wait – you have less than three seconds to make contact with your prospect as they walk past.
  5. 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.
  6. Have a hook – most people are not naturals at this and having something to talk about with a prospect will help the process.
  7. 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 tradeshows, 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 vaudeville days.

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