Adjust your strategy when working trade show

Trade shows are to salespeople what Christmas is to retailers. All year long, you look forward to a brief period when you have the potential to sell a great deal of merchandise.

Most salespeople will, at some point, be asked by their managers to work a booth at a trade show. Understand, however, that selling at a show is different than selling one-on-one. Your approach needs to reflect these obvious differences in the selling climate.

Obtain a list of attendees at least two weeks before the show. Plan to have meetings with targeted prospects – either at the booth, in your hospitality suite or over breakfast or dinner. Never eat alone or with coworkers!

Plan your attack. Leverage the time and energy available to you to achieve optimum results. Draw up a plan with specific goals such as these: Re-establish relationships with former customers, refresh relationships with current customers, make sales calls on a specific number of new prospects, “listen” to the current market and “shop” the competition.

Use a team approach. If you attend the show with colleagues, assign individuals to certain parts of the show plan. Take advantage of the talents and interests of team members as well as their personal contacts. Meet often to debrief prospects, strategies and new ways to attract people to your booth. Check in with each other early in the morning to agree on the day’s tactics.

Arrive a day early and stay a day later. Arriving early assures that you are rested and organized on the first day of the show. It also will give you a chance to make opportune calls on participants who might have arrived early. Staying a day (or two, or three) later gives you a chance to see hot prospects.

Consider conducting a “group meeting” where prospects who are interested at your booth come back to see you in your hospitality suite either that evening or the next for a formal discussion/presentation of your service. Nail down prospects’ commitments to attend by stamping either “FIRST CLASS” or “STAND-BY” on their “Invitation Cards.” “FIRST CLASS means you are coming, and I don’t have to worry you’re at home watching ‘60 Minutes’ when you’ve committed to be at my meeting; and STAND-BY means you’d like to attend, and in all good efforts you’ll try and make it, but you haven’t committed in your own mind you’ll be there for certain.” If the group presentation won’t work in your business (it should, especially if you are selling a service), then use these same “words” for setting up face-to-face appointments in the few days after the show.

Learn how to sift the prospects from the suspects – quickly!  You don’t have to tell your story to everyone, and it’s OK to ask questions to determine who is qualified to hear your story. Far too many salespeople working trade shows drop immediately into their spiel once someone hesitates even for a second or two in front of the booth, deciding whether or not he or she wants to see and hear more.

Don’t serve as an educator at a trade show. You should be asking questions to determine who gets your time and energy. At the same time, you should be looking for a decision, even if it’s a “no,” from the prospects you are talking to at the booth.  Sometimes it’s worse to have too many leads after a show is over than too few.

The pace of trade-show selling is more accelerated than the standard sales call.  While you are selling one prospect, 10 more could be passing you by. Get the proper training to “juggle” prospects simultaneously. Learn how to get prospects to tell you what they want in a hurry.

Bob Bolak, president of Sandler Training in northwest Denver, can be reached at


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