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How to Have Effective Trade Show Booth Interactions

I’m returning from my first conference/trade show in over a year. It’s wonderful to be able to hit the road again and meet customers face-to-face. After all, humans are social creatures, and while the last year has brought some interesting innovations in virtual events like wine tastings over Zoom, there really is no substitute for in-person conversation.

I’ve been “working the booth” now for nearly ten years, first as a solutions consultant, and then as a product manager and product marketer. Yet I’ve often noticed that booth conversations between vendor reps and customers can be extremely awkward. It doesn’t have to be this way. Here are some tips for you as an exhibitor to make the most of your customer interactions at the booth, all distilled from advice that I’ve given to sales and marketing teams over the years to prepare them to have effective conversations with customers on the show floor.

  • Have the “what does your company do” pitch down cold. While your company probably has a corporate fact sheet with the elevator pitch on it, don’t just memorize it and recite it. Make the explanation your own and describe your firm’s business as though you were teaching your mom. Speak in short sentences and avoid complicated technical jargon. Also, with complex products, you might want to ask them a little bit about themselves first, so you can tailor your explanation. For example, when I was at Chef, I had different initial explanations based on whether the attendee was more of a software developer or an operations person.
  • The conversation should be more about them, not you. Once you’ve given your initial pitch, take a pause, and ask them if that’s something they might be interested in. Or ask them how they currently solve the problems that your product purportedly is solving.
  • If they’re still interested, keep the conversation flowing by asking more about them. What is their current role? What does their company do? Where are they located, why did they stop in at the booth, what projects are they working on, etc. Given the opportunity, people love to talk about themselves. You’re trying to establish some common ground right off the bat to see if there’s more common ground (i.e., if they have a pain point that maps well to your solution space or not)
  • Use collateral – and demos – sparingly. Leverage them to reinforce a point you’ve made verbally (i.e., as a visual aid to explain something with fewer words) or if they were particularly interested in your product and you want them to remember what you discussed when they’re back at their desk next Monday. Don’t just hand out datasheets willy-nilly unless you want to ensure that most of it ends up in customers’ recycle bins. (By the way, product marketers: simplify your booth collateral. That’s a topic for another post.)
  • Learn how to wrap up an unproductive conversation. This can happen if the customer isn’t a good fit for your product, or if they’re a “booth vampire” (someone that just wants to talk and monopolize your time). Here’s an example: “It was really nice to speak with you. Have a sticker and I hope you enjoy the rest of the conference.”
  • Take good notes for your sales / marketing team. If you had a fruitful conversation, write down the details in the lead scanner so that your account team can have a meaningful follow-up. Speaking of which, it’d be great if post-conference outreach emails could be customized to include the topic that was discussed… a topic for yet another blog post later.

I hope you find these tips valuable as we re-enter the world of physical events. Wishing you many productive conversations at the booth!

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