Qualifying Trade Show Attendees

November 21, 2023

Here they come! The keynote speech is over, and everyone is spilling onto the exhibit floor. But how do you sort through the throngs and engage your best prospects, those people who can really benefit from what you are selling?  Let’s say a couple of people are approaching your booth and slowing down to see what you have to offer. It’s up to your booth staff to engage them in conversation and find out what they are looking for. But what’s the best way to start?

You might try any of the following sample engagement techniques, outlined by Natural Training in their blog article, Eight Techniques to Sell More at Trade Shows, Conventions, Exhibitions and Events.

  • Establish eye contact.20x20 rental booth stand
  • Have an initial question, observation, or piece of research to engage.
  • Introduce yourself and find out where they are from.
  • John, what is your personal goal for attending this trade show?
  • Margaret, what is it that brought you to our stand today?
  • What aspects of our stand/offering particularly catch your eye?
  • Would you like a bigger bag to help carry all of your things?
  • Could I ask for your feedback/opinion/advice on XYZ?

Whatever your opening line, it should be focused on the customer’s needs and interests.

Be strategic.

Long before you get to the show floor, your marketing and sales team should have decided on a strategy with measurable goals for the show, whether it be to launch a new product, generate leads, conduct product demonstrations, or even to close sales.

According to Natural Training, “Your strategy will be enhanced if you are in tune with what your customers want. In our experience, customers want the following from attending a trade show: variety, interesting exhibits and products with hot new ideas, information/ knowledge/insights that they didn’t know before, and to NOT feel pestered by sales folk. Selling is fine, pushy selling isn’t.”

Find out the visitor’s role.

An article in SME Toolkit gives this advice about trade show prospects. “The first thing you should do once you meet someone new is establish who they are (buyer, decision maker, supplier, competitor, etc.) and where they’re located. This way you won’t end up spending important time with a person who isn’t responsible for buying your product/service, or who is located in a region your company doesn’t serve. You can find this information out by asking some key questions, looking at their badge, or requesting a business card, which will have the person’s title and address.”

Ask about their business concerns.

Lest you appear too pushy, make sure to engage the prospect in conversation about what brings him or her to the show and what interests them about your products or services. Better yet, if it’s a good prospect, start asking questions about what business problems they have that your products or services might solve. The SME Toolkit article offers suggestions on how to go about building a relationship with a good prospect. “Engage a prospect by asking open-ended questions – ones that require more than a yes/ no answer. This will help you determine their needs and interests. Focus your responses on how your product or service can meet these needs. Be sure to observe the 80/20 rule – listen 80% of the time and talk 20% of the time. Try to avoid any kind of prepared sales pitch, which can begin to sound robotic after you’ve said it for the 50th time.”

Invest time in a good prospect.

Natural Training advises, “The first thing to remember is that engagement rarely happens all at once. Instead, it’s one small baby step at a time. Eye contact, question, response, question, observation and so on. Trade show sellers can only advance to the next stage if the last stage was successful. Small steps. That’s the challenge: trade show sellers must earn the right at each stage by making the next stage of the conversation even more interesting and alluring. If your goal is to pre-qualify and book an appointment, then think about the path with the least amount of hassle or confusion for the prospect. Then practice it and iron out the wrinkles.”

Cultivate your best prospects at the show and after.

Of course, closing a sale during the show may not be possible, depending on what you are selling and the client’s purchasing process. According to Hubspot, “While on-site sales may be your main goal, businesses with a longer sales cycle may find it challenging to close a deal with a prospect whose first interaction with their business/ products is the event. But that doesn’t mean the sale has to be lost. Don’t be pushy with prospects who don’t seem ready to buy on site; after the event has come to an end, follow up with your leads, enter them into lead nurturing campaigns to make them readier to buy, and continue building the relationship with the contacts and leads you’ve interacted with on site.”

If you have a longer sales cycle, come up with tactics that can engage your prospect and ensure they will respond positively when you get in touch after the conference. “In your trade show marketing, you should always be prompting attendees to complete a certain action. So, if you’re looking to increase on-site sales, you need to make sure you connect the call-to-action (CTA) in your marketing materials to something attendees can do at the event.”

For example, you could make a special promotional offer to attendees of the show or offer to arrange a private consultation during the show. “In addition to your booth area, you should reserve a room that is near the trade show floor/ event to answer any remaining questions, talk about prices, and ultimately close deals. This will give you a chance to talk one-on-one with the people who are really interested in your product or service and give them the attention they need for you to close deals.”

Avoid a hard sell.

Rather than dump literature on a prospect or try to force a sale before the show closes, let them know you will be available whenever they want to know more. It’s good manners and it’s good business.

As Natural Training puts it, “If the team feels they are pestering customers, they will get nowhere fast. Everyone has to know, and be reminded, that people are paying to get into the venue, and they want ideas. Customers for the most part want to buy, and they want to feel like they have personally achieved something. That something might be for example “to come back to the office with three new ways to do their job faster/better/cheaper.” Don’t forget to ask your client what that ‘something’ is!”

The next time you’re at a trade show, try these tips to qualify your best prospects and help turn them into customers.

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