28 May 2024, 11:48
By Elish Bul-Godley Jan 29, 2014

10 ways to sabotage (and save) your next trade event

You have just invested a lot in exhibition real estate, researched the target market, designed elaborate displays – or just splashed out on expensive event sponsorship at a trade show in the months to come. Job done? You’re about to lose a lot of cash if you think so!

I have pulled together some basic common sense sales tips from past research and event professionals in the field, to compile this list of behavioural do’s and dont’s for your sales teams at the next event. Even if you have ticked all the pre-event marketing checklists and social media-ed your imminent arrival to the hilt, never forget people are the real interface with potential customers. At the end of the day, what you do on the showroom floor will make or break this opportunity.

I am talking about the body language and the lack of rapport that inevitably results when sales teams just do not realise the full potential of face-to-face marketing opportunities at events. It’s all about making sure your sales team is way more approachable than the stand next door, and there are some definite cues to getting it right or wrong. Ensure your sales team’s behaviour doesn’t jeopardise the opportunity and flush away that investment!

Behavioural do’s and dont’s for event sales teams

Why is body language, establishing rapport and micro expression important? 70-90% of our communication takes place visually, before the first word is spoken. So gesture, tone and overall demeanour are details you need to take seriously at trade events and conventions.

What not to do at your next event

Events are all about face-to-face connections and rapport, and if that wasn’t the deciding factor in a successful event, then surely we would all just work online and have robots on our stands instead?

Do not:

* Appear bored, stand-offish and look like you’d rather be somewhere else instead of networking and business building, says Suzana Ahmad, Clarion Events Asia. This means avoiding defensive posturing, eg arms folded, standing behind an obstacle, reading something else when you should be making eye contact, wearing a frown, etc …

* Act like your stand is some exclusive club, huddle in groups with other team members and engage in exclusive banter with your back to the passing trade. It is intimidating and unprofessional.

* Exude uneasiness and show your back to the audience or hide behind your laptop/mobile device. Genuinely try to enjoy what you do and pay attention to passing trade, not to your Facebook account.

* Come across all smarmy and overly slick either. People can get intimidated. Prospects can tell by the pre-rehearsed, overly clever and culturally awkward one-liners you may have been spewing lately. They can also tell if you have an over-trained sales team with pre-rehearsed scripts that involve no listening whatsoever.

"It’s all about making sure your sales team is way more approachable than the stand next door"

* Come across too relaxed either, lying in state on garden chairs whilst not making an effort to approach visitors, says Maggie Teeling, a multilingual and independent professional for trade shows and conferences. Likewise, do not lean on your stand or fiddle with your phone whilst manning the stand, says Sandra Chau, media sales at Mash Media.

* Be lethargic. Being energetic shows enthusiasm and creates the right ambiance at your stand and encourages positivity about your brand, says Fatima R, @Nexus54 – lethargy makes us all look ever so slightly stupid.

* Rely on flyers alone, and the act of pushing them into the hands of passing trade. In fact, flyers can be a turn-off to some people who do not want more junk mail in their carrier bags, says Sandra Chau.

* Take your eyes off the aisle if you are at an exhibition space. This means staff need to be focused outward and not looking down or into the stand. They should be establishing eye contact with potential passing trade within 6ft of the stand. If senior management or colleagues insist on talking in big clumps in the aisle outside your stand, make sure you move them so they don’t become an obstacle to passing trade or their line of sight, vis-a-vis key promotional displays.

* Be obvious when reading name badges of visitors you are talking to and repeat back their whole name as though you know them. It’s intimidating, crass and makes people feel like a number in a factory. If you are trying to filter prospects, do it the social and intelligent way – ask friendly, open-ended questions whilst genuinely trying to learn about the person (something salespeople should be focusing 90% of the conversation on).

* Invade your prospective client’s personal and thinking space by getting too close and leaving them insufficient time to experience the product, sample it or watch a demonstration before actually giving them your ‘spiel’.

Now for the antidote …

Positive sales tips to remember when selling at events

It’s not about body count – it’s about getting valuable leads and establishing rapport. It is about engaging, understanding and, most of all, connecting on a human level.

So, do:

* Ask for training tips from the event organiser. Be sure to provide key guidelines, tips and relevant staff training for your stakeholders or your own staff, says Leigh Kealton, Exhibition & Promotions Pte Ltd, Australia.

* Be inviting and stand along your stand perimeter or in front of your booth. This means using open gestures that encourage your passer-by into your private space for one-to-one attention, ie your stand, says Adam Blakney, Diversified Exhibitions, Australia.

* Understand that visitors are at different stages of their buying cycle. As an exhibitor, it is an art to immediately gauge where a visitor is in the cycle, and then adequately address their issues. Your body language is important in both situations because you don’t want to close off if the visitor isn’t ready to sign up, and you don’t want to be seen as pushy for someone who is ready to buy, says Adam Blakney. This also means asking nice, friendly, open questions at the start.

* Be energetic. Even if there is absolutely nothing to do, find ways to look active and awake, and move around with a clear, open expression. Show interest in your customers, visitors and products.

* Engage with eye contact. Eye contact establishes trust, exudes confidence and approachability, plus it can exude charisma, and also confirms that the client has your attention.

"Even if there is absolutely nothing to do, find ways to look active and awake, and move around with a clear, open expression"

* Appear at ease with what you are doing and the people you are talking to.

* Engage with fellow exhibitors instead of avoiding eye contact and pointlessly marking territories, says Maggie Teeling. It might come in handy in the long term, especially if they are not direct competitors. If you aren’t at the stand and otherwise disposed, they may pitch in and direct people to you.

* Ask open questions and be genuine when learning about the customer. If you are a sales manager, then make sure you let your team spend sufficient time listening and learning. Don’t put them under pressure to get through a large body count of contacts at the risk of losing valuable learning opportunities. Potential customers are people, not numbers, and they know when they are being treated like one.

* Provide your sales team with tools to engage people with, as drawing people to a stand can be like cold calling. So, help your team to interact and attract during an event. Give them a demonstration, feature display, prize draw, sampling platform, or some kind of interactive in-booth activity that will help them break the ice. Flyers are useful only if they aren’t handed out indiscriminately and are used as an ice breaker.

* Let your personality shine through – be enthusiastic and smile. Bring a sense of humour, and don’t be afraid. Think of it as a way to turn strangers into new friends and discover more about the business. After all, people visiting trade events and conferences have paid to get there, so at least half are there to learn. Isn’t that half the battle won?

Key sales takeaway

I hope these sales tips help. And yes, they do sound like plain old common sense. You need to be ticking these off your checklist on the big day, and don’t take them for granted when briefing your team. You may be a master at these, but does the rest of your team know what is expected? This is especially true if team members from other parts of your organisation take part, not just the sales department.

If you are paying money to be there, or are organising an event, don’t waste it all by appearing unapproachable in the flesh on the day itself. Remember, it is not enough to just turn up.

Have you more insights, sales tips or real-life examples on how to possess the right body language at an event? Do share your thoughts.

Elish Bul-Godley is a freelance blogger, community manager and event organiser with the Irish Furniture & Interiors Fair.

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