October 19, 2007

How NOT to behave at a trade show

Recently I attended the California Association of REALTORS® Expo in Anaheim, CA. This was my first time attending a true trade show for real estate professionals, but not my first trade show ever. And unbelievably, I saw a lot of tactics that worked to draw people into your booth and some tactics that were shockingly inappropriate.

It seems to be common sense that you'd want to put your best foot forward at any trade show you attend. Not only common sense, but it's smart marketing. A company is spending anywhere between $5000 and $8000 to exhibit at a trade show, taking into consideration the basic booth set up, decor, marketing materials, travel expenses, trade show services, and man hours. So it seems like a no brainer that you'd want to not only put your best foot forward in terms of materials, giveaways, and booth furniture and displays, but also send the best employees you have as well.

At first I thought it was a pet peeve that the exhibitors in the booth besides ours were annoying me. But after talking to my fellow representatives of PsPrint working in the booth with me, I found it was not just my imagination running away from me. We had your basic 10x10 booth space, and so did the mortgage company that shall remain nameless next to us. We had three people conservatively staffing the booth... and even with three of us, a 6' long table full of print samples on one corner, and a square podium with a monitor and laptop to show off our website on the other, it was a bit tight at times maneuvering around each other.

This company had no less than 10 people staffing their booth. 10! And they were different people every day, so they were coming in fresh with nothing but possibly a coworker's recap on the day beforehand, if that. They also, being a well known mortgage brand, had a big booth display set up, which took up room, and a TV running their commercials, a high table with freebies and marketing information, and two-three chairs in the booth. There was nil in the way of room for them to get around each other within the confines of their booth, so of course they spilled out into the aisles.

That was when I began to have a problem. Not only were they in the aisles like street team promoters, but a few took a shining to hanging out directly in front of our web display podium, at times even leaning on it while chatting up attendees passing through. Not only did this bug me a lot being that they were blocking a pretty intragral part of our display set up, but it just irked me in terms of decorum as well. As a representative of my company, yes I'm trying to get passers-by interested enough to stop by my booth and take a look at what we have to offer and let me bend their ear a bit. Of course we're all there for the bottom line - sales. But never would I go stand in front of someone else's booth and try to recruit attendees to my cause. It smacks of shady business dealings and just lack of concern.

In doing a quick Google search to check to make sure I wasn't overreacting in believing this to be rude behavior on the part of our neighboring booth staff, I found a blog post online titled Trade Show Etiquette written at Big-Images.com. Okay I admit, I'm guilty of sitting and, at this last show, eating. I'm a relative newbie in the trade show circuit, so I'm learning still and I can almost guarantee you that I won't be doing either of those two behaviors again next month at NAR's Expo.

At one point my coworker even shooed a rep away from in front of our podium because he needed to show a prospective client something and this other rep was chatting someone up while leaning shamelessly on a piece of OUR booth display. And he had the nerve to shoot back a dirty look. Why would anyone think that's acceptable behavior? It's loitering if it's outside a shop, but okay if it's outside another exhibitor's booth? I don't know about any of the attendees feelings getting grappled by these representatives of the mortgage company, but as a fellow exhibitor I'd be hard pressed to ever use this company when the time comes for me to finally buy a home, based solely on their reactions.

I wish I could say that said mortgage company was the worst example of trade show etiquette I saw there, but it wasn't. There were a few sign companies selling message riders for the yard signs, and most were pretty calm. But upon walking around the show floor just to check it out, a coworker and I literally had a guy jump out in front of us holding a huge message rider sign like a barracade shouting something about low prices or something. At that rate I wasn't paying attention to his product, his pitch, his company name, nada. Just the fact that he literally blocked our path and we had to side step to get around him.

If the Sprint guy at the mall yells out to you check them out, but you have a Verizon phone and you're happy with it, do you stop? You certainly don't pull a U turn and listen to his entire pitch. It's rude, no matter how you slice it. And incredibly poor marketing tactics of that particular representative of that company.

So if I could give you one tip for the future, pay attention to who you send to a trade show to represent your company. If you're going to a trade show, make sure you know how to act. Think about the show from an attendee stand point if you get the urge to jump out at anyone like a beggar on the street asking for spare change. And stay in your own booth.


Anonymous said...

Desperate does as desperate is... ain't that close to what Forrest Gump's Momma would say?

Anonymous said...

you're a just what we call a simple bad looser! in the sales and marketing business it's all about competition hence the statement "dog eat dog world" - well, pretty exaggerated, however, you really sound as if you're not fit for this.. maybe go camping or something..