Part 2: Beyond the booth
Tradeshows are the big dance for innovative technology companies, but they can also be overwhelming.
Blinking lights, moving parts and wall-to-wall people — it’s easy to just want to huddle around the candy bowl with your coworkers.
A showtime gameplan, a consistent system for recording contacts and a little friendly competition can increase productivity, reduce fatigue and make sure the team comes back to the office victorious.
In part one of our Tech Tradeshow Tips series, we covered tradeshow planning, how to boost pre-show buzz and booth design best practices. In part two, we’ll share our experience on how to make the most of your team’s time at the show.
1. Make a big splash
There is a lot to compete with at tradeshows. After you’ve dialed in your positioning and boiled it down to the one most important thing you want to say, find an attention-getting way to say it.
Case in point:
In 2016, Scout, the makers of server and application monitoring software, needed a brand refresh and tradeshow presence that would position them to take on the dominant player in the field. We knew if we could get people to do a head-to-head comparison, they’d convert to Scout.
The Big Idea: We dared people not to fall in love with Scout, offering them a free puppy if they didn’t like the software more than the competition.
The results: Scout left the show with 225 qualified leads (and zero puppy transactions). The application monitoring section of the company was acquired in 2017. Scout was fully acquired the following year, and the owner retired (for the first time) at 38. Sweet.
2. Get to the pain point
Every tradeshow attendee is there to solve one kind of problem or another. The tradeshow floor is a gold mine for identifying those customer pain points. You just have to work it.
Develop a list of open-ended questions around your field of expertise. Craft them to identify the most pressing industry needs, without being colored by what you already know (or think you know). Then ask away! It’s OK to get personal: How can your expertise make their lives easier? You’ll gain insight about what keeps your potential customers up at night, understand what your company can do to better serve them and generate ideas for future thought leadership content — or even new products.
3. Make it a game
In the innovative tech space, tradeshows are typically staffed by a mixture of outgoing salespeople and introverted tech people. The sales team is good to go — working a show is the dream they all dream of. However, some on your tech team (and sometimes your principals) would rather curl up with a nice machine than shake another hand.
Up your tradeshow game with gamification. Hey, what isn’t being gamified these days? Turn your team’s outreach efforts into a friendly competition. Develop a set of conversation starters, give each team member the same tools to record their interactions and assign a sliding scale of points for different levels of engagement. For example: meet someone new, 1 point; get a business card, 5 points; document a pain point, 10 points; secure a followup meeting, 20 points.
If the tech team has no chance of beating the sales team, handicap their scores or offer different incentives. The goal is not to have an individual winner, but to get everyone on the team engaged.
Gamify it. Meet someone new: 1 point. Document a new pain point: 10 points. Book a follow-up meeting: 20 points.
4. Separate work time and free time
Tradeshows are often an all-day affair, so it’s important to schedule in advance when folks are representing the company and when they’re doing their own thing. The lines between work and fun have a tendency to blur. Often some of the best business gets done at happy hours or other social outings. We made one of our best tradeshow connections in line for the bathroom. So if there’s a possibility of work getting done, then it’s work.
But people can’t thrive or represent the company well if they are expected to be “on” 24/7. Make sure everyone feels good about their commitment and compensation. Schedule staggered time for folks to recharge — with a long workout, exploring the city or finding a quiet place to relax. The team will all have a better, more productive show.
5. Divide and conquer
At tech tradeshows, we always see a few booths where the entire team is huddled around the candy jar like it’s the office water cooler. A tradeshow presence does not begin and end at the booth. Keep your booth adequately staffed, of course, but get out and walk the floor, too. Try to see the show through the eyes of your potential customers. What grabs you? What underwhelms? Peruse your competitors’ booths. Meet someone new. Get walking and talking.
A conversation with a stranger is much more valuable than a conversation with a coworker.
6. Tag up / brand up
You made the investment to come to the show. Now’s your time to shine.
Don’t make people read your conference pass to see who you represent. Custom name tags and appropriate logo-d apparel can help extend your presence beyond the booth. You’ll multiply your brand impressions and have more meaningful engagements.
Next: It’s all about the follow through
About Tom Campbell:
Tom is Toolbox’s co-founder and creative director. When he’s not keeping the ‘Box rocking, Tom can be found backstopping his beer league hockey team or playing drums for local bar bands. He’s also a founder and fairy godfather of Art Lab Fort Collins and keeper of TomLovesTheLibertyBell.com, a quirky repository of stories and stats on Liberty Bell replicas around the world.
About Toolbox Creative:
Toolbox Creative is a B2B Brand Engineering firm, helping the 3D Printing, AgTech and CleanTech industries change the world. We distill complex technologies into powerful identity systems, websites and marketing tactics that align sales and marketing efforts, create lasting impact and build brand love.