If you build it will they come?

Attending the Gloucester Business Show today, there was a great buzz in the room and for me, lots of faces that i knew and some that i didn’t, only to realize that we had conversed via social media but never actually met.

There were some great exhibition displays (some of which i had a hand in and it was nice to see them in the flesh rather then on screen) and others that were more straight forward.

so what does it take to to make an effective display for an exhibition?

Are you just going to lay out your stand and hope that people pick up your collateral, take it away and ingest it’s content later or are you going to engage with those delegates and find those that really do have a need for your product or services?

We’ve all seen stands that offer to win a bottle of champagne by dropping your business card in a big goldfish bowl, but this kind of data collection is hit and miss and tends to yield a low hit rate and, to be honest, if there’s a chance of free champagne, I’ll drop my business card in there regardless of my interest in the product, wouldn’t you?

The key to engagement is to have people manning your stand that are knowledgeable about your business and can connect with those delegates that have a serious potential need in what you do.

Hired hands are good and if well briefed can certainly grab those with interest in you and sell your services, but there is nothing quite like those on the front line, your staff, those with the intricate knowledge of your business, how it runs and what it does for your clients.

Don’t be dissuaded if you’re a sole trader, that’s great, because you know what it takes to keep your business running and the passion you have behind it.

But how do you engage?

While some are erudite public speakers and able to hold a individual or crowed, enthralled with their vibrant linguistic display, if we are honest, most of us aren’t quite up to that standard.

Most people who network regularly will have a pretty polished ‘elevator pitch’, beyond this takes a little bit more work, so how do you break the ice with those delegates and generate the right connections?

There are several way, you could just catch people as they go by and try and entice them in to learn more about you, which, because we’re British, the majority of us don’t do this sort of thing, we just stand their with a handful of leaflets trying to palm them on to anyone waking past.


You can lure those with more then a fleeting interest in with the promise or a FREE giveaway of a branded USB drive or branded stress ball (in exchange for a small amount of data collection if they would just like to fill out this post card, thank you).

That sounds a bit Machiavellian doesn’t it…

…well it is…

…sort of.

What you are doing is giving someone a premium promotional product that they will either use on a regular basis, or it will sit their, pride of place, on their desk, showing them your logo, 5 days a week, so that when they need whatever it is that you do, hopefully you’re the first name that comes to mind to get in touch with.

What they are giving you is a little bit of engagement while they fill out the back of the postcard data form, which is the ideal time to find out more about their business and sell yours, you have them for the time it takes to fill out that form to handing over their promotional items that they want so much.
But how is this different from just using the goldfish bowl to collect business cards I hear you cry? Well, they either just want to collect as much free stuff as possible at these kind of events, regardless of what it is, or by agreeing to take a little time in filling out their data they have a interest or need in what it is you do.

The goldfish bowl is a bit like trying to catch a black cat. At night. Wearing a blindfold. You might do it, but the conversion rate is going to be low, on the other hand, by offering something a little bit better, for their information and a bit of engagement, you’ve a better chance of converting those to positive leads and business after the show by following up. They’ll remember you, hopefully be using your giveaway and be more receptive to finding out more about your services, a bit like removing the blindfold and giving you a torch.

But the key to any of this is engagement, i see people walking past stands and exchanging hellos with the person on the stand (i’m guilty of this) and the exhibitor responding in kind but not making use of this as an in road.

I’m reminded about an old boss of mine who worked at the height of the insurance sales boom in the early 90’s, that time when you could walk out of a telesales job in the afternoon and be in a new one the next day (fortunately for me i was still in education at the time). A time of open plan offices, wall street boom and Gordon Gecko as a poster boy, people made sales call from under their desk and bells were rung when targets were met (actually, this kind if thing probably still goes on).

One thing that stuck though was his engagement and sussing out people on the phone, to the point that if he knew that it was going nowhere he would close down the conversation, thank them for their £20 and hang up.

It didn’t cost them any money, but in his head he explained that that was how he based his calls, aiming for a conversion rate of 1 in 5 and that every time he made a sale it was £100 commission for him, so there was no point in keeping people on the phone trying to convince them when it was a dead end, it was best to move on and engage with the next person.

I’m not saying that you should as ruthless as that, but don’t let that opening opportunity go to waste, you could be just what they are looking for, they just don’t know it yet.

Regardless of how you lure delegates to your stand, the key is conversation, find out about their business, see if what you do might be beneficial to them, if not, politeness cost nothing and you can you can move onto the next person that makes eye contact and says hello.