Trade Shows: The Power of One Person (or “At least take my business card!”)

I recently attended the OC Largest Mixer event at the OC Fairgrounds. I was looking to connect with local freelancers who provide web design services, graphic artists and videographers.  The videographer is needed for a local women’s group, WomanSage.  I am on their board and we are looking into some testimonials and filming of some of our upcoming events. Well, I found a web design firm pretty quickly. They assured me they were, in fact, freelancers and would be happy to talk with me offline about their services. Great.  Got their card, gave them mine.  Image Display Group, by the way.  Eager to do business. Nice people.

Then, right around the corner, lo and behold a video company! A self-running demo flashed across a small laptop perched atop one of those cylindrical pedestals at the front of the booth. Two young women stood towards the back, chatting it up with each other.  Unnoticed I took a peek at the demo and waited patiently while they finished their conversation. I introduced myself, mentioned I was with a local womens’ group and was looking into creating some videos for their YouTube channel.  They appeared attentive so I ventured on to mention that we wanted  to start modestly, perhaps just a few filmed testimonials to begin with, but looking to build a relationship and hopefully grow.

Okay, I realize that I am not their ideal customer. A middle-aged woman representing a non-profit group.  Phrases like “starting modestly” and “a few testimonials”. Not something that brings out the band and marching elephants. Yet, with no other prospects in sight, I was surprised at the utter lack of interest! One of the women suggested I check with local colleges and find an intern (something I have already considered). I had to reach around her to get their card (not sure why I bothered, but it seemed like something one does at a trade show).  After a brief “Thanks, I’ll do that.” I walked away as they resumed their chat-up, moving a bit further back in the booth, so as not to be disturbed again.

I know trade shows — I get it. Hours upon hours standing and smiling. Endlessly repeating your value proposition.  Lots of dead ends. But this is 2012, not 2001. You need people. You don’t know who might bring you your next lucrative deal.

So, words of wisdom to anyone who has set up a 10 x 10 and hoped to come back with a decent ROI:

1)      People in front, always! Don’t “hide” in the dark.

2)      Stand apart, not together. You’ll appear more open to starting a conversation.

3)      No chairs. You might as well have a sign “I’m taking a break, leave me alone.” C’mon people, your prospects aren’t sitting down!

4)      Do not chat with each other.  Chat with your prospects.

5)      Don’t tinker endlessly with the demo software. That tells your prospect “I’m busy, this software is screwed up. So come back later.”

6)      Don’t ever let anyone leave your booth without getting their card and jotting a quick note (who, why, what). Then put it in your database. Done.

Why all of these rules? Because you don’t know who is walking up to your booth. You may not realize the power of that one person to influence another and so on. Perhaps that person is a middle aged woman, seeking services for a non –profit. But if it’s Susan Saldibar, she knows people, recommends businesses, talks with other companies, attends meetings and mixers and – you guessed it — writes blogs.

Today more than ever before, small businesses must use people power to build a pipeline and a reputation. Every person you meet has the power and potential to connect you with your next customer. So — small videographer — smile, be responsive, take my card and follow up with me.  Especially in this economy….you can’t afford not to!

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