Guest post: how to work a trade show


Then I visit companies at local tradeshows and events, I always analyze their marketing tactics. It’s not enough to just show up to the event and wear the company T-shirt; you have to actually sell your products and services. Unfortunately the decision maker who signed off on the budget for the tradeshow booth is not always attending the actual event. If you stuck 100 small business OWNERS in these booths or people who were trained really well by the small business owners, they’d be selling their socks off.

Given that so many excellent companies make basic mistakes when promoting their companies, I thought I’d go into a few of my basic rules for each tradeshow.

Get The Business Card – First things first, you’ve paid to be at a show, you’ve spent money on your signs or booth (hopefully), the first thing you should do is ask for your visitor’s information. In fact you should ask for it before you start to sell them if you can. That’s what you went there for right? I visited no less than 25 businesses at a recent tradeshow, walked into their booths and took their collateral (if they had any) and not ONE person asked me for my information.

Print Collateral – Printing is expensive and it harms the environment I know. But you’ve got to give at least one handout about your company so that people remember you after they leave. Make sure it’s on recycled paper! At this recent show I attended there were at least five booths I stopped by that didn’t have ANY collateral, just goofy giveaways.

Tell People What You Do – Don’t make people guess. If you’ve got a banner stand or a sign, make sure you tell people what you do on it along with your logo. It doesn’t have to be too wordy, just get your main points across. When you walk by a tradeshow booth and it only displays a solitary logo, it doesn’t necessarily make me want to stop and ask someone what their company does.

Be Knowledgeable – If you send staff, make sure they are trained know what they’re talking about. If they don’t know an answer to a question they should not try to make anything up, they should just say “I’m not sure about that, I’ll take that question down on your business card and follow up with an answer in an email.” Then make sure they write it on the back of the business card. I stopped by one booth and asked the person in it a question about how their technology worked, not only did they not know how it worked, they didn’t know who their primary customer was and they negated themselves about 3 times during a 7 minute discussion.

Be Approachable, Do the Approaching – A bunch of people from the same company standing around talking to each other the entire time isn’t going to draw in a crowd. Your staff have to approach people and start the conversation. For my email marketing company VerticalResponse, the starter question is something like “Are you sending emails to your customers?” That begins the conversation.

The Worst Impression – My pet peeve at a tradeshow? If you have to make a call and you have other staff in the booth, step away and make the call. People don’t want to come up to ask anyone questions if they are on the phone. Another pet peeve is having too much clutter around a booth. Stash your coats and bags under the table or behind the booth. No one wants to do business with a messy company. Maybe it’s the Virgo in me.

If you stick with these basic tradeshow rules, you should see better results in your sign ups and interest generated by each event. After any trade show that my company has spent money on my first question to the team is: ‘How many leads did we get and when are we sending our first email to them?'”

It’s just Marketing 101.

Janine Popick is the CEO and co-founder of VerticalResponse (Inc. 5000 2006-2009), a leading self-service direct marketing provider to over 75,000 small businesses. Janine is VerticalResponse’s CEB (Chief Executive Blogger) and won the 2006 ClickZ Best Marketing Blog Award, the 2007 Stevie Award for Best Blog, a 2008 SIIA Codie Finalist for best blog and 2009 Stevie Finalist for Best Blog. She is a columnist for Inc Magazine’s “Women in Business” column and has been published in DM News as well featured in Entrepreneur Magazine, ClickZ, and B2B Magazine. She frequently enjoys traveling.

Janine brings over 17 years of experience leading direct and Internet marketing programs for some of the biggest brands in technology and entertainment. Janine lead the Direct division of NBC Internet as well as She also managed direct marketing for a variety of technology companies like Claris Corp. a wholly owned subsidiary of Apple Inc., Insignia Solutions and Symantec Corporation.

Janine holds a Bachelor’s degree from Hofstra University in Communications and English. She has been a private investor and serves as an advisor in the U.S. and Europe.

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