Dr. Elliott B. Jaffa


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A Funny Thing Happened at the Trade Show: When Will the Vendors Get It?

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Once upon a time a meeting planner was feeling low and had this strong need to be nurtured. The doctor prescribed Springtime in the Park. There were over 500 exhibitors looking for her business, and 95% of them asked the same opening question, "How are you!" Like they really care! If she said she needed a kidney, would someone have offered her one of his? I don't think so. If she said she were running a fever, would someone make her some homemade chicken soup? I doubt it.

The point is, Where did these people get their sales training? More specifically, have any been groomed in trade show training? Some did ask, "Have you ever been to...?" naming their destination or property. Others handed out brochures to anyone who would accept them. Like it's actually going to get read back at the office! One exhibitor handed out travel clocks - a rather nice ad specialty - to people walking by without obtaining any information or interest whatsoever.

Think about your own association's expo or trade show. You probably don't offer trade show training to your exhibitors the day before. Yet who knows the profile of your members and attendees better than you? And, would exhibitors even attend? Exhibitors, who believe they know it all, are often quick to complain when they don't generate enough leads or business at a trade show.

Let me share two Springtime case studies.

Case 1: I asked Kitty Ratcliffe, President of the Jacksonville CVB, how business was. She replied that no one is going to admit that it could be better. I accepted her implied nonverbal challenge. I told her to pick out any attendee walking the aisle, and I would get them to stay at her booth for as long as she wanted.

After a few people walked by, she said, "That one." Using the name on her badge, I asked the woman, "What's the capital of Oregon?" She thought and said, "Portland." I cocked my head, wrinkled my brow, and said, "I don't think so. Are you sure?" While she thought some more. I said, "I know it's not Eugene." I asked the same question to two more people walking by whom joined our group. Still no correct answer. I then asked another person.

Kitty now had four attendees standing in front of her booth. Finally, a fifth person came up with Salem. I snapped my fingers and said, "That's it!" These five people had been standing at Kitty's booth for almost five minutes, an extraordinary amount of time for this type of trade show. When the group dissipated, Kitty gave me my due reward by saying, "You're good."

Case 2: I love to watch the pros. When talking to a prospect Sally Levy of the San Francisco CVB acknowledges her friends who might be walking by with a slight nod of her head or a wink of the eye giving the prospect 110% of her attention. Julie Dodds of the Anchorage CVB is in constant motion: personally escorting - not inviting - prospects into her booth while gleaning meeting information. These "seasoned" people know how to work a trade show booth. The key word here is "seasoned." When exhibiting at a trade show, the corporate suits or polos should not send a rookie.

Moral 1: Association executives, now hear this! Exhibit sales account for a large part of your revenues. Offer added value to your exhibitors by providing them a dynamic, hands-on educational program on trade show training. The people in your association who know your members best partners the seminar with a trade show trainer. Exhibitors who generate leads and subsequent sales often increase their square footage the following year which amounts to more money in your cash register.

Moral 2: Attention suppliers, vendors, and exhibitors! Trade show training is significantly different from the traditional sales or cold call. If you're not going to provide trade show training to your people, then you may as well as flush your check for exhibit space down the toilet.

Dr. Elliott B. Jaffa
(703) 931-0040