Kind of a long post but filled with my Tradeshowgypsy pearls of wisdom!
Well gypsies we are in full-swing Spring show season! Shows have been phenomenal this year thus far. Industries are buzzing with new innovative technologies and products; and have a moving target market segment thing going on. Organizations from the Enterprise groups to Start-ups are engaging with everyone they can get their hands on to determine what the next steps will be and in what market segment. Watch out; here come the magic words! “Research & Development” (R&D). Yes, I said it, the words that have been put on the back burner for so long that everyone thought it was just an obscure part of the stove!
Research and development, future planning with those hit or miss ideas that are worked on behind the scenes and schedule of immediate products. For the first time in a long-time I heard the R&D phrase used by several larger organizations that are now speaking to the fact that teams are now formed, and working on not only the latest in technology but those long-shot ideas that may or may not pan out. Companies are looking to jump into markets no one ever thought they would be in, but investors and growth cycles are screaming for NEW ideas, not just NextGen products.
The NEW-R&D model is also being done through solicitations on social media. I am sure you have seen them on a variety of sites and blogs. Such and such company wants to hear from you, they want to know what you think about a specific issue or in general on certain technologies, projects or future needs. They offer all kinds of things for contributing viable ideas. Data mining online is in fast and frenzy mode, and why? You guessed it, one way it is used, is for R&D planning!
Shows are now adding a bit of extension to this by hosting Hackathons and Hands-On Labs to display working products or developed solutions generating that right on the show floor solutions excitement. The value-add is huge when you can display a great application of working product or solution and have qualified staff to answer questions! Shows are the perfect venue to get a demo out to larger groups and provide answers by qualified customer service staff. Get your participation off to the press to garner even more promotion. Some products/services do not lend themselves to this type of display, but a video trailer of working product and an appointment calendar do great! Check out your Hackathon teams to find the bright stars to bring into your company.
Though I am an occasional card reader/clairvoyant; ok most of the time they are business cards and “oh man here they come, I&D with that – your freight is lost look”! I do know one thing for certain, people want to work and are creators at heart, and nothing can stop that from happening. Where there is a will there is a way, and in most cases, several ways; and by encouraging the best-of-the-best of those hardworking internal staff to contribute their ideas and reward them for them, is innovative and keeps the best staff working for your organization long-term and the wheels turning for growth. Companies know this; they just get caught up in the tangles of projected quarterly revenue and forget that taking the next step/next gen is only one way to keep moving forward. Taking the brainstorm sessions seriously with a variety of options is the way to go beyond having just the next step into discovering new directions and spinning up with continued growth momentum. Shows often are huge brainstorming sessions if you listen closely!
On the gypsy side attending/hosting/managing/working shows; getting to see and hear about all of this is exciting! Thus validating our tradeshowgypsy contribution to the world! Assisting companies to get the word out, and find the right people, products, services and customers to drive this creativity, and really put it into practice or on the shelves. The show floor is not only a great medium to “market” but to learn, so here are the other ways the best-of-the-best can bring more value to their organizations through shows.
Sales and Business Development staff, who really pay attention and make a show more than just sore feet and the “same old thing” can bring in new dollars and growth information. Often sales and BD go to a show because they are sent, or feel they “have” to go because it is within their territory. They attend with no real incentive to add any extra effort to just being there as a body in the booth. Unless, they are some of the few who know the secret to really taking advantage of the magic that occurs on a show floor!
Companies rarely train staff in this area, and feel it should be intuitive, or a part of the J.O.B. Errr…guess what? You are wasting your money sending people to shows who don’t want to be there; who would rather talk about the internal company issues to their co-workers than to engage with the customers walking by their booth; who complain they could be more effective making calls or back in the office; and often rely on a few leads from people they already know. Big surprise here, staff who think this way are probably right, they have set their expectations and their level of effort so the results are what they expect.
However, best-of-the-best staff who know how to work shows, know the more people they talk with, the more NEW business they can generate! The diamond leads at a show are often in camouflage of a general badge – yes they do that! When you engage with them and give them your full attention, they will fess up and pass on a real card with genuine contact information.
Encouraging sales teams with rewards to get a sale off the show floor; or see who gets the highest number of quality leads; or certain product leads; any of these ideas can be a great way to spark that competitive spirit and generate some excitement in your booth. Sounds silly or non-professional? Watch two sales staff go after a game (darts, checkers, cards, video anything, doesn’t matter) they are a competitive lot! This is a skill! Encourage it and incentivize with a reward and watch your shows become much more effective. This will help keep sales staff from just showing up for booth duty like a death sentence! This also generates what I call “Booth Buzz” that feeling of enthusiasm when you walk up to the booth and you know the people there are not only welcoming but happy you walked in and are ready to find out what you do and tell you what they do! This creates a viral effect, people congregate where they see more people, just a natural state of human tradeshow behavior “show sheepness” (yes I know, not a real word, but you know what I mean!)…it just happens.
The people who represent your company at the shows should be your best – the kind of people who can form a TAG-TEAM and go after everyone who walks past the booth, having people who are technical in nature, who are sales and know a real-customer, who are qualified to talk to analysts/investors/press; who can work with and respond to the general requests and marketing inquiries. Sending BD or product marketing to the talks and listen closely to the opposing perspectives, take notes, talk to speakers, and take into consideration what is going on internally for your organization. This may require show staff to take turns because it can be grueling, especially if the speakers are bad.
The key is to gather as much information as the show has to offer. This can be 2 people; they just have to want to be there and do a little due diligence and be ready to switch off to make the most out of the show. Not saying it is easy but it certainly is easier when staff know why they are there and want to be there.
A RED FLAG issue – SEND SPEAKERS WHO ARE DYNAMIC – if the speaker is your boss and they are let’s just say a little on the lessor side of dynamic – help them out! Send them YouTube videos of competitors who might be good speakers and let them know they will be there; or find a motivational speaker encouraging good speaking habits. If you feel weird about doing that and think they may be offended. Send them a video of a Customer who might be there who may have a video giving a talk (hopefully a good one) and let them see the energy of the person in action. All of this can be found on the web either on YouTube or often on Company sites! Let your high-level speakers know who their peers will be on the stage so they are prepared and ask organizers for stats on attendance for speakers so there are comparable numbers you can provide.
Video their presentation too, so they have something to work with the next time! This is just a good way of planting the seeds to get a little enthusiasm going before their presentation and gives them a little background for the show and the presentation. This can become a standard practice of doing a little extra for them so they have something to generate interest and energy for their presentation. This also helps keep them from having to watch the hall clear when it is their turn to speak as they pull out their 30 slides of 20 bullet points each! Also keeps your gypsy head intact!
Pull the team together at the end of the show (get away days are notorious for everyone bailing before the end of the show, if this is the case do it the night before), preferably in a group as you get a lot more feedback than through an after the show meeting as people rarely take notes and will provide minimal information. This feedback is crucial to making the decision to not only invest and return to that particular event, but to check into new possibilities of product development, pricing, promotion, product release planning; you name it, the information is valuable if it doesn’t just go by the way side or in a folder called; yes we attended this show; or, this show sucked!
Don’t let staff skate by on generalities, find out why, if they say we didn’t see new customers; find out what they did to invite people they wanted to see; or if they scheduled a side meeting. Who did they meet at the show that they didn’t know prior? Could anyone they may have met be a partner/supplier? What are attendees doing in their businesses and could it be a new area we should be looking into? Some of this can be programmed into lead machines but rarely do teams take the time to get real details entered? Let staff know this is going to happen and to keep track of who and what was said. Get the goods before you leave the show; this also helps generate ROI for the event and value for the company.
The key to making this all work is to spread the lessons-learned throughout the organization; generate a show report and bring it up for group discussion and real consideration with all levels in all departments. Often organizations just want the numbers of leads to go into the funnel of lead generation after a show – there is more value to a show, you just have to do the work to make it viable and not rely solely on the leads. Shows are costly and having real participation and engagement with all the best company resources is the way to make those dollars work for the company. Get the staff inspired and send people who enjoy working the shows creating a win-win for everyone. Then spread the word, often there are many value driven connections that occur and really do tie back to a financial conversion through a conversation at a show.
Well gypsies, back home to the wagon circle to regroup and sort through my own notes, leads, and do laundry! But get ready this is not only spring show season but spring break for traveling families and college students! Lots more folks in airports and hotels, give yourself the gifts of leaving early, a little bit more patience, and maybe some noise cancelling headphones! Travel safely gypsies!