7 Rules for Selling at Trade Shows

Last Updated Oct 28, 2011 5:39 PM EDT

I'm not a big fan of trade shows as a way of generating sales leads. However, it's been said that "into every marketing campaign some trade show must fall", so here are some handy-dandy rules to help ensure that you get at least something out of the expense:
  • RULE #1: Avoid Being Blackmailed. Trade show organizers often try to sell pricey booth space by raising the specter that your customers will think you're going out of business if you don't show up. Ignore them and decide to attend only if you think it's useful or cost-effective. If you're worried about customers thinking you're in trouble, rent a suite in a nearby hotel, and hold a big party. It will cost about 1/10th as much and have more impact anyway.
  • RULE #2: Ignore Marketing's "We Gotta Be There." Marketeers love ALL trade show because they can run up the expense account and network (i.e. job seek and/or sleep with) with other marketeers. Nothing wrong with that, but it might not be the best way to spend your marketing dollars.
  • RULE #3: Don't Expect Many Good Leads. Most trade shows are fairly worthless when it comes to generating sales leads, because the bulk of the attendees are either other vendors, the customers of those vendors, or your current customers. Usually the actual sales leads are pretty slim pickings.
  • RULE #4: Expect to Pay a LOT Per Lead. It's not at all unusual to pay as much as $100,000 to attend a big trade show booth, and come out of the trade show with around less than a hundred usable leads. And some of them, of course, won't convert. Run the numbers and make sure that it's worth the effort.
  • RULE #5: Use the Show To Reward Your Customers. The main point of being at a big trade show is to schmooze your current customer base and make them feel special. You get a lot of face-to-face time that can strengthen your relationships. That's got value and can be strategic, so it may be worth it go, even if you don't expect to get a lot of leads.
  • RULE #6: Spend Some Time Doing Competitive Research. Trade shows are an excellent way to find out what the competition is releasing in the future, who they're positioning it, and how they're approaching their customer base. Don't waste the opportunity. Hint: Have a debriefing after the show to discuss what everyone learned.
READERS: Any more rules that ought to be on the list?

NOTE: An easy-to-follow system for selling B2B -- including an entire chapter on demonstrating products -- is provided in my new book How to Say It: Business to Business Selling available for purchase here.


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