Trade show expenses must be considered marketing costs. And in my view, all marketing costs should be termed investments. Marketing is to get leads, leads are for sales, and sales are . . . well, if I have to tell you this part, you’re not really in business.

Think of your trade display as an advertisement. A “headline” of focus should immediately grab the attention of — and demonstrate a benefit to — the trade show attendee. The money-loser displays are almost always self-impressed shrines to their creators. The “we, me, us, our” mentality that dooms advertising does the same to your trade show display. Focus on your strongest immediate benefit to the attendee and don’t lose sight of it.

This can be done with a written headline that tops your display, or a clearly demonstrated benefit that attracts the most attention. Sadly, in 90% of the cases, your company name is not a headline. It doesn’t work in the yellow pages; it doesn’t work at a trade show.

Have secondary benefits displayed smaller and more specific. Any highly specific items of interest should be available only at the counter, within physical contact range of the booth. This is where your rep is able to communicate personally with prospects. This contact is where 70-80% of your prospects step toward (or away from) a buying decision.

Who’s Out There? Knowing Can Be Very Profitable

Trade show crowds move in three segments. The aisle of walkers farthest from your booth does not want to be bothered. They’re “strollers” who are only mildly interested, and are mostly looking for their benefits from a distance. That’s why your headline needs to grab them. You will not have a chance at attracting them otherwise.

The middle group — slightly closer to you — are “feeders” who meander in and out of booth range. They stop at more booths than strollers, so you must quickly assess their interest level. These people swoop in, walk by several booths, then swoop again. Feeders can definitely be sold with the right script and follow-up.

The closest group is comprised of two types. The first type is the “taker,” a person who is out only for free stuff — the more the better and as often as possible. I personally advocate the use of stun-guns for such, but absent that, I’d be inclined to reserve handouts for real prospects.

The second type is usually a “buyer.” They’re fast, on a mission, and are there to experience full value from their attendance. Buyers generally state their cause at introduction by either saying they’re interested in something or by responding positively to your initial query (more on that in a moment.) Be ready for these people, because doing business is why both of you are there. Shake hands. Tell them their gain. State more benefits. Set up the close.
Never let a buyer slip by without action. Make an appointment for follow up. Find out who you should call on. Set up a way to accurately determine their “true gain” (they’ll love you for this). Give them your contact info and support material, thank them, and — unless you’re engaged in heavy discussion — let them move on. The worst mistake you can make is talk too long and have them mentally begging you to shut up. Be professional and friendly, but concise.

The Most Valuable Part of any Trade Show

Above all, remember, if you don’t get contact information from prospects, you may as well stay home. Getting a business card that entitles them to a discount, more info, a free survey, is absolutely the most important thing you can gain.

The next most valuable part is using that information. An alarming 81% of vendors have little or no systematic follow up. That’s why it is imperative that you break that sub-standard performance. Send them the literature, call them, put them on your e-zine list — but stay in touch with them or you can rightfully consider your efforts wasted.

Trade shows are exciting, fun, and can be extremely profitable. Our company’s most profitable three weeks are those following trade shows. But you must do it right. Since most don’t, it makes your good efforts even more rewarding.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. Hudson, Ink has recently launched the HVAC Sales Power Pack, a product designed to improve presentation skills, increase sales closes and includes a bonus manual on “HVAC Trade Show Magic.” CB readers can get a free 16-page booklet, “How to Double Your HVAC Sales in 90 Days” by calling 800/489-9099 or faxing the request on letterhead to 334/262-1115. For more information, visit www.hudsonink.com.