Thursday, May 29, 2008

Leads--gathering and otherwise

The single biggest challenge I have ever encountered with shows (on whatever scale) is how to collect leads and what to do with them after you've collected them. The problem seems to start with the simple act of collecting them. There are three steps:

1. Collecting them.
2. Processing them.
3. Taking action with them.

Collecting. Whether you have a sophisticated electronic system or you just collect business cards in a fish bowl, you need to record who visited your booth. Take a step up to a form (providing a stapler and pen to your staffers) and you can add when they stopped by and the visitor's specific requirements of product and service. If you do it electroncially, consider printing out the form and collecting notes on the printout to go with the end-result electronic spreadsheet.

Processing. At the end of each day of the show, do some evaluation of each lead. Categorize them by importance--is the lead hot, medium or cool? Or do they require action now or can you hold them off with a brochure or a letter? Should you pass off the leads to the area sales rep tonight or wait until the end of the show? Can you get your telemarketing staff started on the leads before the end of the show?

Taking action. If you have a sales data base or management system (CRM or other; they need to be entered and given to the appropriate sales person or executive to take action. Don't let them go cold: you've put a lot of effort into earning these leads, don't let them go to waste. Implement!

Lesson learned: collect, evaluate and take action. Rinse and repeat as necessary.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Show evaluation: walking a show

The best way to evaluate a potential addition to your show schedule is to actually visit the show. Whether you have to buy an airline ticket and plan a trip or park near your local exhibit hall when the show comes to your town, it will payment immense dividends for you to walk teh floor of a show.

To help you judge the show, you will ahve already done your homework on it:

1. Is it in your market?
2. Do your customers or prospects attend and visit the show floor?
3. Do your competitors or partners attend?

You can make up a simple scorecard to judge the show. And always make notes for later evaluation. Once you have these data and done the other research you require (we'll cover the whole judging process in another entry), you're ready to hit the floor. Get a badge and a good pair of walking shows and a stack of cards--we're going to a show!

1. Where does the traffic go when you enter the hall?
2. Where and who are the big players on the floor?
3. What is working to engage visitors on the show floor and who is doing it?

Traffic. Most North Americans enter a hall and go right. There any number of hall traffic patterns, but this seems to be common. However, you may have those who come in, go left and circle the hall, aisle by aisle, like a grocery store shopper. Pay attention to who is going where. Do the corner booths get attention? How well are the islands attracting traffic? What's going on in the back of the hall? Where are visitors "pooling" or congregating?

Big players and prominent booths. When you first walk in the front door, who is there? How big is their booth? Do they use a hanging sign? Which way do their demos face? How is there staff deployed? Are there some big players at the back or sides of the hall?

Engagement. What are exhibitors doing to engage visitors? Is it staff deployment, booth demos on the aisle or a specific giveaway? Are there any live presentations? Which exhibitors used direct mail to get you to their booth (you'll know this if you're preregistered for the show)?

Lesson learned: keep your eyes and ears open as you walk; seeing is believing.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Choosing an exhibit house

I was reminded of this process and experience recently when a business acquaintance told me he had to make some changes to his program. Whether it's cost-, geography- or personality-driven, sometimes a change has to be made.

Moving your exhibit properties is a big deal--or not Others in the industry have written exhaustively (and well) about this topic, among them Candy Adams and others on the staff of Exhibitor Magazine. This not meant to be an end-all or be-all, rather a starting place. Remember these three points when considering a new exhibit company:

1. Do you like them?
2. Are they convenient?
3. Can they do what you ask?

Do you like them? My chamber of commerce friends all live by the axiom, "people do business with people they like". It's true. If you don't want to meet the account executive or any of teh staff, why bother? That interpersonal relationship will drive just about everything else. It's like everything else in life: it's all about timing and chemistry. This also includes do you like the quality and type of their work.

Are they convenient? This doesn't necessarily mean that they have to be around the corner, but access is important. When I sold exhibits, one of the biggest obstacles to engaging a new client was where you were located in relation to where their program was managed. However, access and convenience can also mean where your properties are in relation to where you major shows are, the cost of storage and transportation in Texas versus California versus New Jersey, or the proximity of other vendors (graphics, van lines) to the main location. It also means do they have FTP sites, can you see photos of your properties or manage them from on-line, and other access measures.

Can they do what you ask? If you need a rental property at the last minute in a city you're not familiar with, can they come through? How many passes of a graphic revision does it take to get to production ready? Do they understand your properties well enough that if you call and ask about the "graphic that fits into the light box of the 20x20 we used at the NACS show" they will know which graphic you are talking about? Are they consistent about delivering what you ask regularly, on time and within your budget parameters? Do they ask and then confirm what it is you want before doing it and then sending you a bill anyway? This really goes back to point one.

If you do decide to change exhibit companies, always, always do it with professionalism and class. Don't burn the bridge because you never know when you will encounter these folks again. Be sure to settle up your bills, ask for and get what is yours and make a clean break.

Lesson learned: doing business with people you respect and like for a cost you can afford will always result in the product you need and want.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Using literature effectively at a show

It never fails. The client wants to bring all of the brochures and collateral the company has on its shelves to a show. While the printed word in a 2-D form is a great supplement to an effective trade show, it can also be a distraction or a detriment. Three things come to mind when literature becomes involved with a trade show:

1. Handing literature to a client says "goodbye."
2. Extra, precious resources (money) is spent on shipping literature.
3. Literature makes a great follow up mailing after the show.

Saying goodbye. When a staffer hands a brochure to a visitor, it usually means the visitor has asked for it or the staffer is politely saying the conversation is over. It can also be a crutch for your sales staff, particularly those who choose to pass out giveaways and literature, rather than talking to or qualifying visitors to the exhibit.

Shipping. In my experience, I've seen the same literature shipped out that was shipped into the show. Why spend your valuable budget on shipping literature that may go unused?
In addition, it also takes up valuable storage space in the booth during the show.

Following up. Since you want an excuse to contact your tracked and untracked leads after the show, why not use the opportunity to send them that brochure with a promise to call them?

Lesson learned: brochures and your time are valuable. Use them wisely.


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

In praise of rental booths

I admit it, I'm a convert. I always thought you had to own a custom booth to be a big player. But with the pressures of financial performance a daily reality, having a quality image on the show floor has to be rethought. Enter the rental custom booth.

There are three reasons I like this concept:
1. I can just pack my stuff and walk away at the end of the show.
2. The pricing is predictable in that I&D, drayage, and rentals (structure, carpet, pad, funishings, cleaning) are combined in a single contract (that is, if you use the general contractor as I did at this most recent show).
3. It can be repeated and works well for programs of four shows or fewer.

While it ain't the latest in design, for a tech company or a company with a conflict or reduced budget, this can work very well. While it is a compromise in some areas, it is workable and delivers the messages that are critical for the client: those related to product and about how serious they are about cost containment.

Lesson Learned: judicious choice of vendor and display can result in immense cost savings and improved ROI.


(thanks to Freeman Decorating and Retalix)

The Booth Staff Meeting

The show is about to start, so it's time to gather the staff for a briefing before the attendees flood onto the show floor. At NACStech, we had a staff of about 12 for the 7 workstations. The meeting was led by the two main sales people for the business unit. We took 15 minutes to brief them on three key topics and take a quick tour of the booth:

1. How to take and record leads.
2. Booth etiquette, rules and expectations.
3. Customers and others to expect in the booth.

A quick tour taking them to each station confirmed who was to demo what product or offering at each station.

How to take and record leads. We emphasized that leads are why we are at the show. We demo'd the lead device, scanning a badge, showing them how to fill out and attach the comment form and where to stow the finished lead. (for the record, the first day yielded 54 contacts, which is actually up by about 30% over last year's show).

Booth etiquette, rules and expectations. No eating, no drinking, smoking, talking on cell phones or congregating needlessly. Engage the customer, deliver the messages you've been coached with, and qualify people before gathering the lead.

Customers and others to expect in the booth. The sales guys gave us a short list of which top customers would be by and what demos they expected to be shown. We also advised the team that press and media should be directed to the VP of Marketing or me.

The first day went well. Looking forward to the second day.

Lesson learned: plan your work and work your plan.


Monday, May 5, 2008

NACStech, the first set up day

I'm at the National Association of Convenience Stores Technical Show (otherwise known as NACStech) this week. The show runs Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning at the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center in Grapevine, Texas.

The show participation is down this year (about 100 exhibitors as compared to 125 last year in Nashville) according to the organizer. The show floor is about the same size, but the bigger players (Gilbarco, Pinnacle) have downsized to 20x20s.

Participation is probably down due to FMI (Food Marketing Institute) being held on the same days. Many of the companies at this show also exhibit at FMI, causing some to forsake NCStech for FMI.

Retalix has a 20x30 which is prominent on the floor. The rental booth looks great and focuses more on product and less on the exhibit.

The exhibiting companies at this show cover many categories: pay systems (Abierto Networks), POS software (Retalix, Pinnacle, Veriphone), POS and dispensing hardware (Radiant, Gilbarco, Dresser, Tidal Engineering), kiosks, displays, check recovery to name a few.

More as the days of the show wear on.


Sunday, May 4, 2008

Facing the initial set up at a show

It is always a good thing to show up early to the show floor. You can see if your frieght has arrived, among other things, but basically get the "lay of the land."

Once you get past the usually who-ha of wrist bands and where things are, you get to the booth space to see what awaits you. For example, when I arrived at the space at NACStech at the Gaylord in Grapevine, Texas, I was greeted with a few surprises. Not what I wanted, but not insurmountable.

I specifically had asked when I could arrive to lay down CAT 5 cables for our network BEFORE the carpet was to go down. When arrived at the agreed-upon time, the carpet and pad were already down. No mater, the contractor guys were there and rolled things back. The engineer and I made quick work of getting cables down and labeled. A short conversation with the IT guys and the internet line was installed.

The rented workstations weren't exactly configured the way we wanted them. However, we were able to shuffle graphics and we were back in business. Let's see what tomorrow brings.

Lesson learned: always, always bring your orders to show site and advise your vendors of changes/exceptions as you go.