Trade Show God: How to maximise sales at a trade shows

 In Entertainment Ideas

The ultimate guide to making sales at Trade Shows

A quick Google search for ‘ways to maximise sales at trade shows’ will bring up a number of articles from the likes of tech crunch, Forbes you name it. They’re all awful articles written in 5 minutes by some one who has little to no experience on the subject.

I’ve performed at hundreds of trade shows all over the world and despite cultural and organisational differences between industries and host countries they all seem to work in relatively the same way. I’ve been studying these shows but mostly the exhibitors and their sales teams. How they work to bring in business and keep their stand busy even when the show is quiet and lacking footfall.

My findings have solidified my long term beliefs about trade show events and I would like to explain these so that you can not only benefit from my professional experience, but also understand more about the inner-workings of trade shows sales.


To win at trade shows and achieve the state of on-site-sale superstar you’re going to have to learn to approach every passer by with a refined hook question. Something that’s going to stop them in the tracks, usually completely unrelated to your business pitch. You use this to slowly edge in your brand and pitch and eventually make the sale.

I often hear the same thing from clients, they pitch the idea of having a magician on their stand to attract attention only to find scepticism as to how much value someone like me can add to such an event.

First, let me explain the theory of trade show marketing and lead generation, something I have first hand experience in a wide range of industries.

A company puts together an event where they source sponsors, exhibitors and attendees. They stick them in the same room and facilitate networking, sales and B2B.

Companies can spend anywhere from £1000 to £100,000 and sometimes even more on their entire trade show budget, just for one 3 day event. Let me explain why this can often be a massive waste of money if not correctly executed. This is of course my opinion, theorised after countless days spent at trade shows all over the world from the perspective as an individual with the sole purpose of generating inbound leads for my client.

The Stand

I will speak in first person and identify the client or potential exhibitor as “you”. You will first decide how big you want your stand to be at the trade show. Now this usually has a few prerequisites, your budget, your overall brand presence in the industry and lastly how much room you actually need for your products/displays/machinery. If your budget is large, you will undoubtably try to spend all of it and thus get the biggest stand available. If you are an industry leader, you want to give of a large brand presence and will thus invest or increase your budget to insure your stand is large, illustrating that your company is the most established in your industry, thus keeping up appearances. This brings me onto talking about your brand presence which much be upheld. You superiors, directors or CEO will expect the company to upkeep it’s presence in the industry. This may be through the size or stature of your stand and it’s something that you cannot avoid. Lastly if you’re a company that produced a product, you will need a larger stand to accommodate that product or product line, if it’s a large product you will need a large stand. For example, if you’re a small start up software company you hardly need a 10x10m stand at a smooth $75,000. It’s not really going to increase your sales, I shall explain why.

The size of your stand is not proportional to the sales you will execute. It’s only function is to increase the exposure or your company by allowing for more branding and also to upkeep your visual stature in comparison to your competitors. If you have a bigger stand that your main competitor you are of course going to be perceived as a more established company in your potential customers subconscious.

Enough about the stand, let’s get onto the actual day.

Attendees will arrive at the trade show for a number of reasons, perhaps to visit many of the day conferences, or to discover new companies to do business with. Often, they’re much like a shopper in a department store shopping for Christmas presents. They don’t really know what they want or need until they’re given the choice, shown something new and interesting, it’s the classic Apple scenario. No one needs a waterproof phone or two rear cameras until they’re told how great it is to have these features. Soon after they wonder how they ever survived without 4G internet, Bluetooth headphones and a front facing camera for their ever important selfies. I digress.

These attendees will walk around the trade show like a school fete, usually checking out every stand with little dedication unless of course it’s a stand they already have a relationship with, or have seen their products before and wish to engage in further conversation.

At a trade show there are three types of potential visitor to your stand. The hot lead, that’s a client you already do business with, perhaps you want to increase the deal, sell more products and build a deeper relationship. These are often best done in person because even to this day, business is done with people. Perhaps to your surprise, it’s far less effective doing business through a website, phone call or advert. People love to buy and sell to people and build relationships.

The warm lead is like a hot lead except you’ve not actually built a professional relationship yet. The potential lead knows about your business, your products and services but wants to create a relationship, learn more about how your company is going to help them, or perhaps is yet to finalise the negotiations of your deal. They will come to your stand to speak to you in person perhaps for the first time. This is a crucial time for you, if the relationship is built on a strong foundation you can expect a long term business deal in the not so distant future.

The cold lead is the area which I am most interested in for a number of reasons. At a trade show, you have an incredible opportunity to drum up potential business as all the work in getting potential leads to your stand has been done for you. The trade show will be full of potential clients, all in the area of industry that applies to your business. It’s as if every potential customer you could ever have is put into one room and you have the chance to convert them into a client.

This is where this article will really pick up steam. Converting them.

You hear it time and time again, 70,000 attendees from 3 industries in over 50 counties. The statistic which are often correct, are astounding. So why do you consistently fail to create sales on your trade show stand?

It’s simple. You have zero inbound lead generation.

What do I mean by this? Other than your huge stand, bold artwork and perhaps expensive video display, you probably have no method for bringing footfall to your stand.

I am going to use an example here, I was at the Oil and Gas show this year in Norway. The stand opposite had hired a blonde, attractive nurse, who worked part time as a model/trade show girl. She wore a figure hugging dress and smiled almost effortlessly at passers by. Most of them stopped to grab a sandwich from a tray she was carrying, they would smile at her and then carry on their way. In no time at all, the sandwiches had disappeared and all that was left was an empty tray and an empty stand. Occupied by 5 dumbfounded sales executives, probably clueless as to how no one has talked to them yet.

I stood there, as I brought in lead after lead, converting them over to the sales team on my stand as they watched in wonder at the rate I could bring in potential sales. They sat on their trade show stools, mouth hanging open at the number of passers by that stopped to talk to me. Only to watch them engaging in long conversations with my sales team as they jotted down their details and explained their products in great length.

We took passers by and we converted them into warm leads, people who didn’t know a thing about our company or our products. I won’t lie, the previous day my client told me they had 10 people on the stand, in total! 24 hours later they have 10 people on the stand every 10 minutes.

So Tom, what’s the secret?

Well, let’s first identify the problem. Your company will no doubt employ sales staff, on a salary. They have targets, goals, maybe they get a bonus if they do well but there is no tangible target at these trade shows. They will stand around and wait for customers to come to them. They stand there in their branded t shirts, next to machinery or a glossy television display waiting to demo something. The problem is no one had the time to stop and ASK what it is that they’re actually selling. They will quite literally watch hundreds if not thousands of potential leads walk by their stand because they’re not paid to grab them. Nor are they paid to be rejected countless times.

That’s half the problem.

Half of the these people walking past the stand will say no! They’re too busy to stop and chat, they’re too busy to take in any new information. Any salesman who gets enough rejection at a trade show will eventually give up and sit on the comfort of their stool. Perhaps they will even stand on the edge of the display, waiting for someone to open the conversation with them.

This is the big secret.

It HAS to be the other way round.

The reason that I can bring in 100’s of potential leads per day is that I will stop everyone that walks past our stand and hook them. By hook them I mean, get them to stop and stand still. A lot of them will say no, tell you that they’re too busy or perhaps not even answer you at all (they’re the worst ones) but regardless of the rejection you have to keep pushing. Now at this point, you’re gold, you can try to nudge in what you do and qualify the lead. Do they know who we are? Do they work in our industry? Do they have a need for our product or service?

Once you know these things, you can confidently qualify them. If they aren’t qualified don’t waste your time chit-chatting as there are potential clients, million dollar sales or long term B2B sales just walking on by. Say Thanks, move on. The next passer by could just be a smoking hot lead.

So what am I saying here? Essentially you have to try to speak to everyone that’s walking by, you’ll have to put in the work to get the reward and this is often impossible because your sales team aren’t going to work like mules when the status quo is to stand still and wait for the clients to come to you.

Expanding on this point, if potential leads are running on by at the speed of light and you’re stuck with a ‘perhaps, maybe’ lead that could just be cold in the water. You’re losing out big time. Well that’s why you have a fisherman.

The fisherman has one job, a special job, and they need not know a thing about your company or their products as their job is to draw people onto the stand and hook their interest. Once they have done that they qualify the lead and immediately send them on their way, or qualify the lead over to one of your sales team. This way your sales team stays fresh and ready to land the big deals. Plus you don’t clog up your supply chain with time consuming potentials.

This is where I come into the mix. I am in fact a fisherman and I cast a big net. I stop people, show them a 20 second magic trick and in that time place enough information into their head as to decide whether or not we can convert them into a lead. If it’s Luke warm I send them to the sales team and if not, no time wasting, I send them on their way.

My job is to bring in leads, it’s not to do magic. My job is to get those potential leads in and keep your sales team busy with enquirers. I do this by branding my magic to include your company name, logo, products and services. I structure the routines I perform around your business so that even my magic is selling or qualifying.

I am not on a salary, I am hired exclusively for a couple of days to bring people to the stand and that’s what I am passionate about doing because trade shows are recurring. If I can prove my worth to you, I know you will have me back time and time again.

When you’re spending $50-100K on a three day event, flying me to your show for under $10k is a a no brainier. You need to make a return on your investment and that may never happen, especially at the quieter shows. However spending 10% of your budget on a good fisherman will insure a huge return on your investment and 100s of potential leads.

Get in touch today and I can present concepts to you within hours, showing you how we can make your trade show schedule a success.

I also have other products I use to hook leads. I create giant iPad touchscreen experiences which I use to bring people to the stand. Immersive touchscreen games built using your brands products or services.

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