For the self-employed, trade shows and conventions are a golden opportunity to gain exposure for your service or product offering. Unfortunately many hopeful entrepreneurs take on their first show with no idea of how to get the most new business for their trade-show dollars.

Trade show participation is typically one of the more costly marketing strategies, so it pays to have a solid plan for success before you set up your trade show booth.

For maximum revenue impact, your trade show strategy should include these four elements:

  1. Have your sales skills prepared and polished

    Before you get anywhere near the trade show, know your sales process inside and out. You will only have a few short moments with each prospect, so you have to make that valuable time count. Here are some sales skills to count on:
    • Be prepared with qualifying questions so you don't waste valuable time with those who have no need for your product or service. Ask questions that will uncover your potential buyer's needs.
    • Listen carefully for buyer hot buttons that will reveal your prospect's buying motivation. If you address their specific needs (instead of offering a canned presentation), they will be much more likely to buy from you.
    • Anticipate objections, and be prepared with answers that will increase the buyer's confidence. This will allow you to transform passive interest into qualified hot sales leads.
  2. Have a prospect-gathering strategy

    Lead generation for future sales is the number one goal of trade show participation. Most people do not intend to make purchasing decisions at trade shows. While many attend in order to gather product information, the majority of trade show attendees come for entertainment purposes it's just a nice way to get out of the office on a Friday afternoon. Simply put, without some way to gather information on prospect leads, your time and money are wasted.

    There are several means for gathering prospect leads:

    • Collect and make notes on business cards for business-to-business trade shows
    • Have them sign up for your insider-information newsletter
    • Set appointments for prospect follow up with in-office or in-home visits
    Be sure that your information-gathering tool collects all the information you need. You don't want to find out at the last minute that your contact card should have had a line for cell phone

    When the show is over you will need to distinguish hot and warm leads from the mildly interested. This will help you set your follow up priority list and generate new business quickly.
  3. Be proactive to initiate conversation

    Once your booth is finally set up and the crowd begins to arrive, you must be ready to take the lead in starting up conversations with visitors. If you sit back and wait for people to ask about your product, you will be ignored.

    It doesn't take an extrovert to be a great conversation starter if you follow these few tips:
    • Stand, rather than sit, so that you'll be at eye level with your audience
    • Seek out initial eye contact
    • Be approachable with an inviting smile
    • Don't have a table between you and the crowd
    • Be prepared with open ended questions that lead to conversation
  4. Have a lead follow up strategy

    Once the show is over, don't sit too long on those precious leads. Have a follow up strategy in place to contact them before they forget all about you and your offering. For best results, contact all your leads within the first two weeks of the show.

    Your follow up strategy will most likely involve a phone call to the prospect. This is where so many good intentions fail. Let's face it, making phone calls feels an awful lot like telemarketing, and you didn't start up your business so that you could be a telemarketer. Right?

    Making the first call is the most difficult, but if you remember a few important distinctions, it will be a lot easier to get through your list of calls:
    • You are calling people who gave you their contact information; therefore you are not making unsolicited phone calls.
    • Since these people have already met you, you are not a stranger to them.
    • You are calling people who have already shown interest in your product.
    Contacting leads after the show requires your greatest selling skills. Much depends on how well you established rapport during your initial visit at the trade show. Did you leave them with something to remember you by or were you just another face in a long row of displays? In your post-show follow up you'll need to take them from "Yeah, that looks like a cool product" to "When can you deliver that, and do you take Visa or Master Card?"

As with all small business owners, your marketing budget has its limits; you want to make sure that your trade shows are paying off by generating new business. For the highest return on your trade show investment, prepare a solid strategy before you go. You'll see a boost in sales that will have impact the whole year through.
Deborah Walker
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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Deborah Walker, CCMC is a Career Coach helping job seekers compete in the toughest job market. Her clients gain top performing skills in resume writing, interview preparation and salary negotiation. Read more job-search tips and see sample resumes at:
http://www.AlphaAdvantage.com