Contractors who find themselves between projects should consider investing some time in manning a table at a trade show. The opportunities to do so are frequent—they include luxury home tours, garden shows, building and home supply events, and real estate functions. Prospective homeowners who are considering a new build generally take the time to gather ideas for architectural choices, housing plans and layouts, and interior and exterior materials, especially features that are newer, innovative, and save energy. Essentially, these potential clients are pre-house shopping for concepts that reflect their dream for creating a unique home that meets their space and comfort needs, as well as their desire to save energy and have a lower impact on the environment. Contractors should take advantage of these events for their built-in marketing opportunities because a trade show provides the chance to do live advertising, where you sell yourself and your business ethic as much as you sell your product and services.
TIP: Read this article on Meeting a Prospect for the First Time.
- Prepare: It goes without saying that your website and hard-copy marketing materials should be professionally designed, as well as regularly maintained and updated. This is the source material that you will be directing your booth visitors to and the product that you’re giving them now. If you’ve successfully engaged these people, they’re going to pore over your brochure and visit your website once they get home, so make sure everything is in top condition beforehand. That includes testing your website’s links and navigation to make sure there aren’t any glitches that need intervention. Whether you have an event lined up or are considering participating in one for the first time, always have a trade show kit that is ready to go. Preparing ahead of time will virtually guarantee a productive experience, even if you don’t nail any new clients.
- Pre-Promote: Always let your former clients and prospects know that you’ll have a booth at an upcoming event. An event is the perfect excuse for a local press release.
- Quality: Invest in high-quality images for your booth. Don’t be cheap. “Go big or go home”—this conventional wisdom cannot be denied. Especially if you’ve reached the midpoint in your career, you want to meet your market’s needs by offering quality instead of merely economy. This means providing materials and services that are more expensive than that of your usual competitors. Your sales pitch and your trade show display should reflect that. Invest in durable, high-quality signage and displays. For outdoor events, have a sturdy table, a chair for yourself and a “booth buddy” or employee, and two chairs for visitors who will be glad to take a load off and, consequently, will be more receptive to your message. Also for primarily outdoor use, invest in a customized tent that provides shade and a bit of quiet and privacy, especially at events that are noisy and get a lot of foot traffic. Put your name and logo on everything.
- Use a headline on your booth’s sign that attracts attention.
- Wear attire appropriate for the event. Your shirt should display your company logo.
- Try to get booth space near the food court.
- Open the conversation with visitors by asking, “What attracted you to our booth?”
- Get out in the aisle and engage people with your giveaways.
- Use a prepared script to get the conversation started with prospects who stop by. Be enthusiastic when speaking to everyone.
- Schedule an initial meeting with a prospect at the show.
- Have two people man the booth at all times.
- Have free snacks and bottled water available for booth visitors.
- Send follow-up marketing pieces to everyone who gives you their contact information.
- Use large flat-screen monitors to display interesting videos and slide shows.
- Don’t agree to sponsor an event (for a fee) unless you can man the table or have someone man it for you. You’d essentially be paying rent for table space for a stack of your brochures, and that’s not the wisest investment of your marketing budget.
- Don’t use your company name as the headline for your booth unless it clearly reflects what you do.
- Don’t display old or outdated images, or use old brochures or other dated marketing materials.
- Don’t ask, “Can I help you?” You should be directing the conversation.
- Don’t sit.
- Don’t act bored.
- Don’t eat food at your booth.
- Don’t limit your event choices. Think of other events where your direct competition will not be in attendance. Consider events that your desired prospects are likely to attend, including those that may exist slightly outside the traditional market. Affluent prospects visit boat shows, auto shows, and other events and exhibits that feature high-ticket purchases and luxury goods. They’ll be at energy symposiums, sustainable-living fairs, alternative building fairs, and community events—rather than only home shows.
After each event—even before you’ve replenished your supply of brochures and business cards—do a post-game decompression. Take some time to reflect and write down what went well and what didn’t. This is especially essential if you had a representative at the show in your place. Figure out what you (and/or your rep) can do better next time, whether it’s being better prepared with information for certain questions, deciding to offer some new or different freebies (which, of course, should have your logo and contact information on them), whether you should have had refreshments (or different ones) available for your visitors (and your staff or yourself), or whether you had any issues with the venue’s facilities or staff that will inform your future requests for other shows. An indispensable skill of being a good marketer for your business is to ask for and process feedback, so make a thorough self-assessment after each event in preparation for the next one. Make your time and effort count. This will boost your confidence, as well as keep you realistic about how effectively you’re marketing your business live.