Strictly Sales Episode 8: How to Work Trade Shows

It doesn’t take long to get burnt out and discouraged from going to trade shows. After a few long days of meaningless mingling in over-crowded convention halls, it can be hard to find to motivation to go to them. But that’s because you’re going about them all wrong. Luckily, sales executive and educator Jeff Hoffman has some pointers on what to do to ensure you get the most out of the investment and come back to your boss with real results.
In this episode of Strictly Sales with Jeff Hoffman, Jeff reveals his secrets on how to effectively work a trade show. Listen in below.

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Key Takeaways

  • Recognize the shelf life of a trade show lead. This typically expires once the show is over.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. You’re going to be on your feet all day, so make sure you’re as comfortable as possible.
  • Switch up the venue when you’re talking to a lead. Someone is more likely to remember you if you talk to them in a place where they haven’t talked to everyone else, so walk with them to a hallway or somewhere more quiet.
  • Put your booth right near the exit of the largest keynotes. This area gets the most foot traffic.
  • Be creative, have fun with it.

“When I started in sales, in enterprise sales, I hated trade shows. Hated them. It doesn’t take long to get really dejected from attending, and it took me a while to figure out how to work them effectively. Be creative and have fun with it and chalk it up as paying your dues as a sales rep, which you’ve got to do.”

— Jeff Hoffman, M. J. Hoffman and Associates

Transcript


 
Announcer: This is strictly sales with Jeff Hoffman and CeCe Bazar. For more information go to OpenView Labs or MJHoffman.com.
CeCe: Hi everyone, and thanks so much for tuning in again to Strictly Sales with Jeff Hoffman. Jeff, welcome back.
Jeff: Yeah, thanks. Thanks, CeCe.
CeCe: We have heard from some people, and one of the questions we’re getting a lot is it’s coming up on trade show season and people in sales are starting to think, okay trade shows happening, let’s end marketing. It’s a waste of my time. My feet are tired. I feel like I have nothing to say.
Jeff, let’s talk trade shows for sales. What are your thoughts?
Jeff: Yeah. Boy, when I started in sales, in enterprise sales, I hated trade shows, hated them. You know, it’s two or three days in a windowless basement of the Javits Center or the Moscone Center or wherever you are or whatever city you’re in, and you’re scanning people’s badges all day to get your requisite lead queue up. You’re having the same kind of mindless conversation time and time again. You’re probably positioned within earshot of a competitor or two. You’re just kind of having that kind of same smile, and the worst bit is 95% of the people who attend a trade show are probably not your buyers. Probably a third of them are just there looking for jobs and are walking around with their CV or their LinkedIn profile. Then you’ve got another group that’s really just people on break from their trade show responsibilities.
CeCe: Totally.
Jeff: And then, of course, you’ve got the people that maybe are in your named accounts, but my goodness they’re so down in the org chart that they have Wednesday free at 2 o’clock to walk around a tradeshow and get free Frisbees and coolies. Probably not your main lead. It doesn’t take long to get really dejected from attending, and it took me a while to figure out how to work them effectively.
CeCe: So what’s the secret?
Jeff: Well, there’s a but. The number one secret is whatever your boss or your marketing executive is telling you to do is probably wrong. So, certainly, you have responsibilities to your company, and whatever they ask you to do that’s required of your role, you do it. But their advice on how to work a trade show is probably pretty backwards.
The first thing I want to do is I want to recognize who my leads are, if any, at the trade show, and I’m going to stack rank them. I stack rank them in the following order. Number one, I comb all the speakers and keynotes and panel participants that are speaking at the trade show, probably in events that I’m not going to because I’m probably working the vendor floor. But the first thing I’m going to do is get a copy of who’s speaking and if any of them have any connections either in LinkedIn or directly in companies that I covet. So it’s the first small list I make. That’s my A list.
CeCe: Okay.
Jeff: My B list is for anybody, any vendor or trade show participant, whether it’s a sponsor or a booth provider, that’s also a possible lead for me. So if you want to sell to a teleconferencing organization and they’re a sponsor of the event, that would make my B list. They may or may not have attendees there, and if they do, they’re probably salespeople. But that would be my B list, because I think that’s a decent prospect.
Then my third one is for any prospective accounts that are in the town where the trade show is actually being held, regardless of their attendance. So if it’s being held in New York, I’m very keen on thinking about my New York prospects, and that’s my C list.
Those are the three lists that I’m going to work. Any leads that come in through a trade show attendee, well that’s gravy, but I’m not really going to pursue them very diligently.
CeCe: I love that, and I also think so many people get caught up in that lead list that you can buy from whomever is throwing the event, right before, that has like 3,000 people on it and you spend the week prior like digging through that for your top lead or for someone who might be associated with a company, and that’s a waste of time. This is a quick and easy way to prioritize the people you need to see there.
Jeff: Yeah. When I had to work a trade show back in the day, I treated it like an event. So I thought that the work I did prior to the trade show was far more important than the work I did at the trade show. So I might spend two or three weeks pinging all of those A, B and C lists in order to try to get attention from them, regardless if I see them at the trade show or not, like, “Hello, CeCe. I see that you’re speaking on Wednesday, the 12th, at XYZ conference. I’m actually going to be there for three days as a representative for my company, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to be working the floor at the time of your speech. But I’d love to hear what you’re speaking about. Is there a way I can get a copy of your deck prior to the event?”
CeCe: Okay. Hello, “Why You? Why You Now?” Did everyone just hear that? That’s your reason for reaching out. I love it.
Jeff: Yeah. So for all fans of the Why? Why Now? technique that we talk a lot about, that’s part and parcel of it. But what a great excuse to reach somebody, and who care if you even see him at the event? Who cares about the trade show? It’s a great excuse. Someone who is speaking at a trade show is probably working for weeks on their prep, on their speech, and you’re going to be the first person to ask about it.
CeCe: I love it.
Jeff: That’s pretty compelling. So that’s one big thing I do. Another thing I do is I recognize the shelf life of a trade show lead, and statistically the shelf life of a trade show lead typically expires when the trade show is over. So the quality of the lead is probably as good as the trade show dates. So the trade show is going Monday through Thursday, you pretty much have till Thursday to follow up on any attendees. You try following up with them on Friday or the following Monday, you’ll have hit rates that are similar to cold calling.
CeCe: Totally, and just think about everybody else who’s at that trade show on that exhibit hall floor. They’re all sending their emails that Friday or that Monday. So you don’t want to get lost in the shuffle there.
Jeff: That’s right. What I used to do — this is before CRM and even before a lot of good ways to do lead routing — I would always have . . . all great sales reps have internal champions as well as external champions, and I always tried to have someone in my company in legal, contracts and HR, purchasing and marketing that I could go to for help. With field marketing and Marcom, I’d have folks where I would say, even if I didn’t work the tradeshow, I would call someone who’s working the floor, and I’d say, “Don’t worry about scanning the badges. Just read to me the name and the company and the phone number of the business cards in my territory you got in the last four hours.”
CeCe: Wow.
Jeff: And they would literally just read them over the phone. It might be 50, and they would just read them over the phone. Any company I liked I would write down the number and the name, and then I’d call that person. Remember they were at out booth in the last three hours. I’d say something like, “Hi, CeCe. We’ve never met, but I got your name from Barbara. She said she spoke to you about two hours ago at our event, and she thought it would be great for me to follow up with you directly, which I’m happy to do. I’m sure you’re still on the sales floor and looking at vendors and looking at booths right now. If you just take a break, could you call my cell phone?” You’d be surprised, if you reference something that’s happening now, how quickly you can get a response.
CeCe: I think that’s fantastic. So Jeff, sometimes though you’re right. Maybe your VP of sales or your CEO of your smaller company or CMO is saying, “We need you on the floor at the ME Exhibit Hall.” Any quick tips for when you’re standing there? Do you stand at your booth? Do you walk around? What do you?
Jeff: Start with good shoes, because you’re standing on concrete with like a quarter of an inch of thin carpeting. So your back is going to kill, and you’re knees are going to kill, so wear like really comfortable shoes. I’m not kidding. You really should.
Don’t worry about loading up on your business cards and all that other nonsense. I think you should walk around because I think you need a change of venue. The way I usually walk around is I’ll stand at the booth, and I’ll be scanning and talking to people. If there’s anyone that maybe their title or maybe their company or maybe our conversation makes what I call the C- list, because again I don’t think any attendee makes the C list in my lead queue. But if they make the C- list, then I usually have a little conversation. We exchange business cards, shake hands, and they walk off. I wait like 60 seconds, and then I walk down the hallway where they are walking, whichever direction they’re walking in and catch up with them and say something like, “Oh, CeCe, I’m sorry. I almost forgot,” and I’ll say something else, and then I let them go.
I find that me leaving the booth and walking in the hallway part, like between booths, like this venue change happens where I will anchor myself in your memory more than the 50 reps you talked to over the last 3 days, just because I went 20 feet in one direction. So I do that too.
CeCe: Love it. Well, I think for everyone listening, who’s getting ready to go to a trade show, first thing you’ve got to do, go back, make your A, B, C lists. Stack rank the speakers and the panelists. Take a look at all the vendors, people who are sponsoring. Add those to your B list, and then look at your prospective accounts that are local to where the conference is going to be and start pinging those people, and I think you’ll be in great, great shape going in to the conference.
Jeff: Yeah. Oh, one last thing to do I think of as well, if you’re going to park yourself anywhere and you get any kind of option when it comes to where you can put your booth, always put it right near the exit of the largest keynotes, because that’s where you’ll get the most traffic is generally by the auditoriums, not by the lunch and not by the big vendor and not by the concession area, or not by the bathrooms, but definitely by the actual auditorium. Be creative and have fun with it and chalk it up as paying your dues as a sales rep, which you’ve got to do.
CeCe: Absolutely. Jeff, thanks so much.
Jeff: You bet.
Image by Mark
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