Eleven Mistakes that Torpedo Your Trade Show SalesTrade shows are a vital component of many companies’ marketing mix. From general shows to specialty functions; tiny, local shows to gigantic, international affairs; consumer shows to industry events, trade shows are a 13 billion dollar-a-year industry in the U.S. alone.

And sadly, much of that money is wasted. Because a tremendous number of organizations make a variety of mistakes that sabotage their chances for success at the shows they exhibit at. (And then they complain that trade shows don’t produce results.)

What kinds of mistakes do they make? Here are eleven for you to learn from and avoid.

1. Failing to plan
A successful trade show experience doesn’t just happen. It requires weeks—or even months—of careful planning. But too many organizations wait until the last minute and just throw things together. That’s a recipe for disaster.

2. Sending too few people
A lot of organizations view trade shows as expenses, and as a result, they make a concerted effort to keep costs down. One of the ways they do that is by sending as few people as possible. Which is exactly the opposite of what smart organizations do. Savvy companies understand that a trade show is an investment, and to maximize the return on that investment, they need to send as many people as possible. Because the more people staffing your exhibit, the more attendees they can engage with.

3. Neglecting to differentiate
It’s easy for a buyer to forget who’s who at a show. So many of the exhibits look alike. So many of the products and services appear to be similar. And so many of the words, phrases, and sentences spoken by the booth staffers are identical. If you’re not different, you’re not memorable.

4. Doing no pre-show marketing
If you don’t do any marketing before the show, you’re betting on every attendee passing by—and seeing—your exhibit. Which is okay if you happen to be positioned right at the show entrance. But if your booth space is literally anywhere else, there’s a good chance a large number of attendees will never walk past your exhibit. Or will be looking at something else—easy to do at a show—when they do walk by. Marketing to the list of registered attendees in advance of the show increases your chances of getting them to your booth. Which is why you’re exhibiting in the first place.

5. Not training for the show
Selling on a show floor is different from selling in any other situation. As such, the people who represent your company need specialized training to be effective at the show. Yet not enough organizations provide such training for their people, leading to poor show results.

6. Ignoring visitors
Getting attendees to stop in their tracks and give you’re their attention is a challenge. It’s a challenge that must be met actively. And it’s a challenge that many booth staffers fail miserably at. I frequently see booth staff:

• Talking to each other
• Looking around without acknowledging visitors
• Playing with or talking on their cell phone
• Smiling at passing attendees without saying a word
• Reading
• Eating

And how often have you seen a booth at a show completely unattended? All of these behaviors communicate to attendees that they aren’t excited to be there. And if you’re not excited about your business, why should visitors be?

7. Not asking questions
There are typically way more attendees at a show than you can possibly talk with. But not every attendee is your buyer. So you need to separate the people who are your prospects from the people who aren’t. And the fastest, simplest way to do that is to ask visitors questions. But too many booth staffers don’t. Instead, they try to pitch their product or service to every person they can. The problem is, while they’re busy pitching to a person who can’t use their offering, two, three, or four people who could are walking right by.

8. Delivering bad presentations
There’s massive competition for your visitor’s time and attention at a show. Which means your presentation needs to be quick, engaging, and memorable. Droning on and on about boring facts and figures will cause your prospect to mentally check out and get away from you as quickly as possible. And if your presentation isn’t memorable, what’s the point in making it?

9. Giving away the wrong type of prize
When exhibiting at shows, many companies give away a cool prize to encourage people to stop and provide their contact information. And while giving away a TV or a necklace or a gift basket can get you a lot of names, it’s actually counterproductive. You’re at the show to gather prospects. And the first characteristic of a prospect is they have a need for your product or service. If you give away a prize everybody wants, you’re drowning your sales team in names of people who will never buy from you. At best, it wastes their time. At worst, it encourages them not to follow up at all. If you give away something, make it a prize that only your prospects would be interested in.

10. Overlooking small—yet important—details
When it comes to your exhibit, no detail is insignificant. Everything about your display either builds trust in your organization or erodes it. That includes things like:

• Signage
• Lighting
• Carpeting and padding
• Cleanliness
• Staff friendliness
• Photos and videos
• Your marketing message
• Staff knowledge
• Demos

Seemingly tiny details can mean the difference between success and failure.

11. Not following up
While some deals close on the show floor, the vast majority of sales are concluded after the show. Which means follow up is crucial. Yet far too few sales teams bother to follow up on the leads they receive from shows. I’ve given my contact information to hundreds of exhibitors at shows and almost never hear from any. If you’re not actively following up, you almost may as well not go to the show at all.

Trade shows can be one of your most effective marketing tactics. They’re targeted, trackable, flexible, and proven. Avoid the above mistakes by investing in proper planning, staffing, and training, and your next show can be a huge sales success.

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