Trade Show “Selling”

Problem: Companies invest many thousands of dollars attending trade shows annually. Often the results are disappointing. When asked why they continue to attend, we hear things like, “if we don’t attend our customers will think we’re in trouble” and “our competitors are there, so we need to be.” Hardly an offensive strategy, wouldn’t you agree? If you’re wondering why the results aren’t so hot, at least part of the answer lies in this story.

Analysis: A close friend of ours attended a high tech trade show recently. He’s semi-retired and was there primarily because he was thinking about developing content for an online training program and wanted to see what the latest and greatest was in technology to deliver online training. He reported the following back to us: “I was somewhat apprehensive about attending this show since I’m not a very technically oriented person. I was interested to see what was out there in the way of Learning Management Systems, software that could create assessments, and other things that I might utilize for a program that I was thinking about creating. After I stopped at the first booth that looked interesting, my worst fears were realized. I asked a fellow named Chuck, the west coast regional sales manager, what his company did as it was the only question I could think to ask without exposing my ignorance. He immediately took me to a PC and launched into a demo of the software his company sold. Of course, I asked very few questions which seemed only to encourage Chuck to show me more features of the product. I assume he was trying to find something that I’d get excited about. After about 10 minutes he asked me if I had any questions. The only one I could think to ask was whether or not he had a brochure I could take with me. It was the only way I could think of to get out of there.”

“After I left Chuck’s booth it occurred to me that he had never once asked me any questions about what I did, what I was looking for or why I had stopped by his booth. I was not a prospect for him and yet he had invested considerable time with me without ever finding this out. It was unbelievable. How much sense does that make? I couldn’t help wondering how many people who might have been good prospects walked by the booth without stopping because Chuck and his associate were busy talking to non-prospects like myself.”

Our friend went on to say that his experience at this booth was hardly unusual. In fact, it was the norm. Nobody asked any questions, preferring instead to provide comprehensive technical demonstrations of their products and services.

Solution: No wonder so many of these companies complain about their results from trade shows. Their “salespeople” are confused about what selling really is. A demo to anybody before you’ve qualified them is not selling. Quite the contrary, it could be self-sabotage. Qualify first.

Try asking these simple questions at your next trade show before you get the urge to do a demo:

  • “What do you do?”
  • “What prompted you to stop by our booth?”
  • “What challenges are you looking to resolve at this show?”

These three questions should give you enough information to decide whether or not to spend more time with the suspect and what questions to ask next to qualify more extensively.