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BeanCast 55: Johnny Wall

It's getting to be that season again. Summer and Fall see an endless paraded of industry events and if you're like most marketers I've met, they are the bane of your existence.

Tradeshows can be fun of course. Vegas has it's...good points. (Remember, I know...I did my marketing podcast, The BeanCast from Vegas this past year.) Trouble is, the fun parts usually have nothing to do with why we're there. And the things that give us justification for our expense reports are grueling at best.

But I would like to suggest that the underlying dread most of us feel has less to do with the work involved as it does with our sense of accomplishment.

Most of us go to these events knowing that people are just showing up for our free stuffed animals and to enter our Wii drawing. We know in our hearts that most of our time there will be unproductive and wasted effort. And we are absolutely sure that we will walk away without a single lead.

But here's the rub. These shows must be working for someone. They keep happening. There must be some value somewhere. And before you say, "Sure, for the guys with the football field space and a dozen LCD panels," that represents less than half the space at most of these events. What about the rest of these companies? Are they all simply being duped?

Two Groups

What I've noticed over time is that the organizations who get the most from tradeshows fall into two basic groups. Group one is the company that has the hottest thing(s) since sliced bread and whether they are in a big or small space, everybody is stopping by to see them. Group two can include some of group one, but is at its heart an organization that has laid out clear expectations, objectives and strategies and follows through with focus.

I've worked with a lot of companies over the years helping them get the most from tradeshows. And while this is not a comprehensive plan for success, these are just a few of the pointers I usually give to help ensure my clients are embracing a "group two" approach.

Don't Neglect Nor Underestimate Branding Value

The most common mistake among tradeshow marketers is to try and tell their story in their booth graphics. Instead, I always encourage clients to be simple and memorable.

Let's face it, your brochure is going in the trash and your pitch will blur together with a thousand other impressions in their mind. But if your brand presentation is unique and memorable, you'll at the very least have built a starting point for future communications. Your brand means legitimacy and relevancy when you next communicate with them. It may not always lead to a sale, but neither does a busy and forgettable booth. Don't underestimate the value of your brand when designing the booth, materials and pre/post show communications.

Intrigue More Than Sell

It's only human to try and compress the sale into those few minutes within the booth. We tend to instantly size up the lead, qualify/disqualify them and move on.

However, just like in any other B2B marketing program, the objective has to clearly be set on lead generation. If we get the sale, all the better. But that cannot be why we are there, because it short-circuits more potential relationships than generates new sales.

That's why I'm a huge advocate of NEVER telling your whole story. At no point in pre-show communications or during the event should you give them all the facts unless they a ready to sign on the dotted line. Tradeshows are about sizzle. It's about standing out. And just like you are sizing up a prospects potential, they are looking for any reason to disqualify you from consideration.

DON'T GIVE IT TO THEM!

Get them so excited they'll be eager for that callback. Have that rap ready that leads them to eagerly await that demo or info packet. And even then, keep them wanting more.

The thing we forget is that people rarely sign on for half-million dollar contracts based on a brochure alone. So don't cheat your sales force from doing what they can do better than any materials you can put in their hands. Let the marketing intrigue and let sales sell.

Keep Them Moving Deeper

Even in a small booth, there needs to be a strategy for physically moving them deeper into the experience. And one of the most underplayed cards is the pass-off.

The best booths have front line "attractors." Whether it's the guy with Wiimote, the theater presenter or the girl in the bikini, they are there to get people to stop. (And no, I do not recommend bikinis unless you are selling them. But that's a whole 'nother blog post.) This front line is all about teasing with fun and facts. It is the first step in qualifying.

Once targets are identified, they are passed off to the "sizzlers." This group is standing inside the booth or sitted comfortably. These are the people doing impressive hands-on demos or talking success numbers.

If after this there is even deeper interest, the prospect is passed off to the "connectors." This is where the prospect is taken to the back room or off the floor for deeper discussion about their needs. And that is key. This is not about closing, but about identifying what the customer's specific needs are with the promise that you will be getting back in touch with a specific plan to meet those needs at no charge or obligation. The essentially eliminates that cold follow-up call and makes it a value-add contact.

It's Simple, But Not Easy

There's a saying that I use: 

Marketing is simple. It's just not easy.

The things I am suggesting here (and the many more points that I don't have room to discuss) are really very simple premises. People like drama. They like being treated personally. They like knowing solutions fit. And while creating this "cadence of communication," as I call it, is a lot of hard work, it can still make all the difference for your next show.

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