Why Marketing Should Never Man Trade Show Booths Alone

By Peter Gillett

Conventional thinking says it’s marketing’s job to generate leads…so why have salespeople in the booth at a trade show?

Here’s why. Today, with digital media, social media, and Web meetings, prospects and customers can hide behind the Internet. The days of face-to-face meetings and power lunches are mostly gone. This makes trade shows a prime place where salespeople can press the flesh, see their customers, and talk with prospects for the first time.

When marketers alone are stationed at your trade-show booth, salespeople lose an opportunity for potentially valuable engagements. This is made worse by the fact that some marketers show little interest in doing the work of engaging with attendees or qualifying them as prospects.  

Here’s an example. Recently, we were invited by one of our clients, Cummins Diesel, to attend the Southampton Boat Show to salivate over their fabulous power boats and classic yachts. As an admirer of the brand and having worked with Sunseeker in the past, I thought this would be a fun and interesting experience.

In the morning, my first stop was to Sunseeker’s reception desk on the dock, where I asked for a mini-tour. However, even though no one else was present, we were advised by the marketing woman that it was too busy and to “go sling our hook” (a nautical term!). As it happened, I didn’t have a few million dollars in my back pocket at that particular moment, but she didn’t know that – nor did she make any attempt to find out. She simply turned us away.

Along the next dock was an unfamiliar brand, Prestige Yachts, a competitor to Sunseeker. This time, without hesitation, a reception crew member asked if I would like to have a tour, and asked if I’d like a salesperson to show me around or if I preferred to explore solo.

The reception team at Prestige was clearly in marketing, but was also there to generate leads for the sales team. Contrast this to Sunseeker, whose team was there to flaunt their wares and entertain existing customers.

Takeaway: Only employ marketing personnel at events if they are going to team up with sales and facilitate the buying process – not work against it.

Unfortunately, marketing often spends more time worrying about what’s going to be written on the T-shirt than creating an intelligent event strategy. And, if there is an event strategy, salespeople are rarely involved in creating it. Instead, salespeople are required to attend a trade show because marketing needs someone to man the booth. But this approach can be a waste of time for salespeople, who end up having to talk with a lot of unqualified prospects.

It’s time salespeople begin to see the real value in being at a trade show. They should say: “Hey, marketing, I want to invite these hot prospects and customers to this event so I can engage with them.” Ensure your booth is designed to both entertain and encourage meaningful discussions. 

Both sales and marketing need to agree on a strategy before they invest in trade shows. With that in mind, here are four reasons it makes sense to exhibit at an event:

#1: Grow the brand.

You want to get your company name out there to boost awareness. 

#2: Collect leads.

If it’s collecting leads, you need a really efficient lead scanning process so you can scan people and do some early qualification. Ensure no one walks past the booth who is not scanned.

#3: Have qualified sales conversations.

It’s true that many people walking around trade shows are doing research and kicking tires. While some people want to spend money, it’s usually a waste of time for highly paid salespeople to stand in a booth trying to pick those people out. When salespeople attend a trade show, they don’t want to stand around giving out swag and capturing unqualified leads. They want to speak with folks who have genuine need and budget. Marketing should help connect salespeople only to potential buyers. Lead generation software scans the badge or business card, and a history comes up. Pre-set questions can guide the salesperson through a conversation and suggest appropriate collateral to give the attendee. It’s a mini sales meeting in the booth. 

#4: Host pre-planned meetings with prospects.

Your priority is not collecting leads – it’s connecting with customers and prospects who are attending the show. The trade show becomes the catalyst for setting up meetings. The trade show and booth become secondary.

I see this scenario often at Dreamforce, with big consultants such as Accenture, Deloitte, and PWC. If you walk into their booth to collect swag, they politely ask you to leave. Their booths are very clearly set up for pre-planned meeting spaces.

Trade shows and other events serve as a bookmark in a series of planned activities that could start six or nine months beforehand and may continue six to nine months after all the leads have been followed up. It’s the gathering in the middle that brings people together. 

The days of sales and marketing teams working in isolation are over. They must be working hand in glove months before a show, during the show, and months after the show. During the event, marketing and sales must assume their defined roles to enhance the buyer experience and optimize sales performance.

Peter Gillett is CEO of Zuant, where he’s responsible for driving product development and client roll-outs of the company’s award-winning Mobile Lead Capture app across U.S. corporations. “Zuant” is a French word meaning “fast and light.” An entrepreneur and innovator, Peter created the world’s first Web-based CRM system funded by Lucent Technologies in the 1990s. CRM, lead generation, and follow-up are still the focus for Zuant and its network of NACCENT call centers around the globe. Contact Peter via email at Pete@Zuant.com.

About Lisa

Editorial Director at SellingPower.com.
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