Last week, my wife and I walked a large flower and patio show. It was her idea. I’ve worked so many shows that it’s not my idea of fun. However, we had a good time. We enjoyed the outdoor living displays, saw a few new products and talked to a couple of vendors who knew what they were doing. The show took up two large pavilions at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. It took us more than an hour to walk the show, so there was exercise as well. (That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.) What also made it enjoyable for me was sharing a running commentary of all the show workers I saw doing it wrong. My wife seemed to get a kick out of my critiques. I observed more poor work habits than good. Of the entire show, we only met a few booth workers who were well trained, enthusiastic, and informed.

How to avoid prospects

This is 90% of what we saw at the show. For many vendors, it had to be a waste of time and money.

  • Workers in the back of the booth sitting down using their phones. I can’t tell you the number of booths I walked in and was totally ignored.
  • Co-workers spending all their time chatting each other up unaware of potential customers.
  • Vendors staring through you. No smiles. Resting grumpy face. People who didn’t want to be there.
  • Inappropriate dress, for example, ripped jeans and an unbranded T-shirt—really?
  • Carnival barker. We only encountered this a couple of times, but it’s almost as bad as being ignored. “Hey you! Lady come here! You need to see this! I guess you don’t want to get a great deal then.” I felt as if I’d just got off a plane at some Caribbean resort.

How to engage

First off, get off your butt. I never allowed chairs in booths. Need a break, fine, but not while you’re in the booth. Stand at the front of the booth and SMILE. Make eye contact and greet people. A few years ago at the same show, I was asked to critique a residential electrical contractor’s booth. They had gone all out and built a small home. Impressive. They had a discount and sign up give-away. Good idea. They were not procuring leads. They sat and chatted as folks walked by. I introduced myself and asked if I could try. I grabbed a clipboard and a few drawing entry forms. As folks walked by I said Hello and asked if they were homeowners? If they said yes I followed up with this, “There’s one thing I know for sure, someday you’ll need an electrical contractor, you might as well sign up while you’re here.” In less than 30 minutes 10 homeowners signed up, more than had signed up the two previous days. As each prospect signed up, I asked, “What’s your next home electrical project?” Five of the prospects told me their projects. I introduced them to members of the team to answer their questions. Three of the homeowners set up appointments for a free estimate. The lesson? Be friendly and ask open-ended questions.

  • What brought you to the show?
  • How are you enjoying it?
  • What are you looking for in particular?
  • What’s your next project?
  • What questions do you have?
  • How would you use our product?
  • Where would you put this if it was yours?

These questions may not fit your product or service, but hopefully, you get the idea. Ask prospects who, what, when, where, why, and how questions pertaining to what you have to offer.

One more observation

How did 90 % of the trade show workers at this show fail my test? That’s a good question. I’ll wager, in many cases, the people paying for the booth either don’t know or don’t get it. People need trained and held accountable. Why was nobody watching? Do you know what’s going on at your trade show booth?

Three vendors stood out for their professionalism

Diamond Shine Epoxy Flooring Owner Jason Freund greeted my wife and me as we passed his booth. He answered all of our questions sharing pros and cons. It was refreshing. He was informative, engaging, and helpful. He walked us through the epoxy flooring process and offered helpful advice.

Unique Home Solutions In the spirit of transparency I’m a former employee of this organization, but go see for yourself. My wife and I were greeted by a friendly smiling uniformed team member. The young lady asked what our next home improvement was, and my wife informed her we had their products and my previous association with the company. I walked into at least three other home improvement booths, looked at samples, and was totally ignored. This team was on it.

White Oak Construction I have former direct reports that work at this company, but it didn’t matter. I didn’t know the young people working the show. As we walked by, the two workers, both standing at the front of the booth smiling, greeted us. One asked how we liked the show, and then what our next project was. Good job.