The Critical 60 Seconds for Tradeshow Exhibitors

Your interaction with a potential customer begins the instant she or he can see your booth. That’s when they start that internal process where they decide to walk in … or walk past. The most precarious part is right at the end. They are literally at your booth at the yes-or-no moment. What you do now can make the difference between a new customer or a missed opportunity. Here’s what to do in the critical 60 seconds at any trade show.

The Decision Process

That important person is about 20 feet away when the decision process starts. She/he looks at your booth, graphics and signage and quickly ponders:

  1. What is this booth about?
  2. Have I heard of this company before?
  3. Is it anything I care about?
  4. Is it worth my time to check it out?

The entire process takes less than 10 seconds. If you have developed a solid pre-show marketing strategy, then you have already helped them make the decision. If your show strategy is to attract the people walking by, it’s time to execute your Engagement Plan.

Your Engagement Plan

You’ll find hundreds of strategies for increasing engagement at trade shows online – and the Shepard team knows them all. Most involve grabbing attention and then slipping in a fast, rehearsed “elevator pitch” before the person walks away. It’s a little like fishing and hoping you have the right bait. In reality, your elevator pitch is effective only when the person is ready to hear it.

The problem is you are talking about the wrong thing at the right time. So here’s the smarter Shepard Engagement Plan: The key to the critical 60 seconds at any trade show is to … talk about them first and not about you.

The Clock Is Ticking

In that first minute, you have to accomplish two goals. Everything that follows depends on them.

  • Give the potential customer the relevant information they need.
  • Learn the information you need.

From that potential customer’s perspective, here’s what needs to happen. You only have seconds to:

  • Attract attention.
  • Offer enough relevant value to make them stop and consider your booth.
  • Give them compelling reasons to have a conversation.

That just gets them to stop at the edge of your booth. This is when your booth team has to approach them and give them personal reasons to start a real conversation. Make it all about them.

  • Ask questions about their business, needs and objectives.
  • Ask questions about how you can help them reach their goals or solve their problems.

The First Words Out of Your Mouth? Their Name

Remember that classic advice, “You only have one chance to make a first impression”? The first thing you say is crucial to having that person stop or just blow past you. Here’s one of my favorite tips. That person is wearing a name badge. Step over, offer a handshake and say their name. Most people forget their name is on the badge, so they will stop. Then ask an open-ended question that’s about them and why they are there.

Good – “Hi, Jerry. What brings you to the XYZ Conference?”

Bad – “Hi, can I ask you a question? Are you happy with your current billing system?”

The Conversation Begins

When that attendee stops for a moment, ask another question that’s all about them. Ask about their company, their job and what they do. Now, pay close attention – instead of jumping to your elevator pitch, keep asking qualifying questions that put them and their problems first. More opportunities are lost at trade shows because the team members rush to sell. Remember, people love to buy – they hate being sold.

Ask, Listen and Relate

Be patient. As you have a conversation, it won’t be long before the other person starts to ask you questions. Keep your answers short and focused. Make sure they:

  • Are relevant to where you are and what is happening.
  • Relate to their world and situation.
  • Offer something the person might want or need.

It’s Better to Say Too Little than Too Much

It’s better to say too little than just nervously run on and on. If the other person wants to know more, she/he will ask. My rule of thumb is 15 seconds. If the answer takes longer than that, you may be saying too much. Don’t base your total booth experience on your demo. If it takes more than 2 minutes, over half the people will walk away.

What Do You Ask?

This is a key point that many trade show exhibitors miss. The product information, marketing and demos are all about you. But all your questions have to be about that potential customer. So you need some inside intelligence that gives you an inside track on their “hot buttons.” Where do you get it? From your current customers.

  • What information made your current customers buy from you?
  • What were their challenges or issues?
  • What benefits helped them achieve their goals?

When you know that information, it’s much easier to customize the conversation with that potential customer. Remember, you are talking to a specific person. If you don’t know what benefits to emphasize, just ask! Asking and discussing makes it a conversation and not just a presentation.

Checking Out

From time to time, stop and ask if you are answering their questions or telling them the right things. This makes you look professional and courteous. “Am I giving you the information you need?” will make a big, positive impression. Remember, you are competing for their time.

The Quick Save if Things Go Wrong

Even if you do everything right, the conversation sometimes may go wrong. The person simply might not be interested. Maybe they aren’t target business or your company doesn’t solve their problem. So here’s how to flip that flop back into an opportunity. At Shepard, we’re big on relationships. You have developed a potential relationship, so don’t waste it. Find a way to help and take the extra step.

  • Who do you know who might solve their problem?
  • Is there a company or product at the show that might be relevant?
  • Be a solution anyway.

Give directions, share a contact and leave everything on a positive note. Be a friend and not a sales person. You now have a new ally of your business who may refer a new customer to you.

Use Those Critical 60 Seconds

Years ago, the old strategy said that trade shows were a game of numbers. Get’em In. Get’em Pitched. Get’em Sold. Today’s trade shows are a game of relationships. People buy from people – not companies. Relationships take time to listen, learn and relate.

The critical 60 seconds at any trade show are when your customer wonders, “What’s in it for me and why should I care?” You have to make them curious enough to stop and find out. So don’t sell.

  • Talk about them and not about you.
  • Give them relevant information they want and need.
  • Create a conversation instead of a presentation.
  • Be a solution, no matter what happens.

You may want to grab them and cut to the chase. All that conversation is just small talk. But it’s small talk with a big purpose. You can’t trick people into listening. Blasting the crowd with an elevator pitch is like trying to hit 100 moving targets! The goal of the critical 60 seconds at any trade show is to get people to see themselves in the solutions you are offering. That is the ultimate reason why any customer does business with you. And your trade show will be a success.

Shepard is a full-service event production company. We design, develop and manage trade shows, corporate and other events throughout the U.S.