Gaining traction and developing relationships from the trade show floor can be a challenge. Your team’s first task is to garner show-goer attention and draw eyeballs and interest to the booth. Many trade show exhibitors focus heavily on this aim, assuming that if they get attention at the booth, and get their products in front of people, the rest will fall in line. It won’t.
Trade show attendees come to these events expecting their attention to be preyed upon. They will only engage deeply with those brands who capture more than attention - intrigue, loyalty, trust, and empathy. Building these requires five steps:
Step 1: Developing customer connections
Once you have been as loud, as pretty, or as intriguing as necessary to draw foot traffic to your booth, what’s next? How do you make sure these attendees don’t just enter your contest, play your game, or steal your swag and then leave? The answer lies in the connection you build with each attendee.
Learn and use the first names of every booth visitor you have. Ask them questions before you tell them anything about your product. Notice things about them. Compliment them in a platonic and appropriate way. Provide something informational, entertaining, or valuable to them. Ask nothing in return.
Think about it this way: If you went up to a stranger at your spin class and asked them to be your friend, they would be weirded out and feel a pressure that would not only turn them away in the moment, but create a negative barrier to future engagement with you. If instead, you ask this stranger questions, show a genuine interest in her, and remember details she shares, your friendship can manifest naturally.
Step 2: Keeping the conversation alive
Once you have developed an initial connection with your booth visitor and he or she shows an interest in continued conversation, you - the exhibitor - have a responsibility to keep that conversation alive. If you don’t, the visitor will very likely move on. If you do, the visitor is going to be happy to continue chatting. Your approach can include sharing details about your brand and product, but should focus more on learning about each customer - what are their interests, needs, or frustrations? Remember: not all of these people want your product and even fewer want to be sold to. Most visitors are in a learning phase, not a buying phase, at the event.
Step 3: Showing empathy to customers’ needs
Once you’ve asked those hard-hitting questions to learn more about each visitor, hone in: how can you show solidarity, solve a problem, or demonstrate compassion? When a customer feels that the conversation is benefiting them, they are more likely to continue it. Without providing that benefit, the assumption will always be that you’re just keeping them on the hook with the hopes of selling them something. If that’s true, it’s time to change your mindset -- you will sell more product by delighting your ideal buyer in a memorable way before you ask for their credit card number.
Step 4: Building trust from the booth
By delighting your booth visitors before you ask them to buy anything, you are building trust. You can also build trust by being ultra-transparent and passionately honest about your product or service and what you will do with the emails or phone numbers you’re asking these visitors to give. Everything you do should be done with a lens on what customers want, and with a lens on what will either build or destroy trust between you and your customers. Tell them what they can expect and then deliver on it. Go above and beyond to deserve their continued engagement.
Step 5: Following up thoughtfully
When it comes time to follow up with leads you met at a trade show, you have options. Many sales teams will take leads from trade shows and follow up via email or by phone, which is fine. However, use caution when handing these details off from your trade show booth staff to a sales team. Customers who hear from a new person from your team may be less open. Where possible, make sure the initial follow-up is from the person each customer spoke to at the show. Another approach for follow-up is via social media and the same rules apply. If that customer feels like the next communication with your brand is a push to buy, he or she will feel just as alienated as if you’d tried to push the sale at your first meeting. Relationships are more than a handshake to close a mutual deal - they take finessing and patience and humanity. Make sure you’re bringing those things to the table when you follow up.
Is your trade show exhibit staff selling, selling, selling or building honest and valuable relationships on behalf of your company? Which one are you pushing them to do? Which one are you empowering them to do? By training your staff to build and foster quality relationships, you can ensure better lead quality, more successful follow-ups, and a much higher potential ROI from every event.
To learn more about lead management, read our guide called "A Trade Show Team’s Guide to Lead Management: Taking a Collaborative Approach Between Marketing & Sales."