An conference (trade show) is the biggest permission-selling event for your business. It’s one of those rare times when a prospect has come to a venue because they are in the market for your product or service. They want to buy or get information otherwise they wouldn’t have spent time registering and travelling to the venue.

But conferences are a massive investment for your business. How many times have we heard “we spent £10,000′s on the show and didn’t get anything out of it” Why?

There are common sinful mistakes made at trade shows and exhibitions, so let’s have a look at how the 7 deadly ones can be resolved:

1. Greed – Wanting too much of something.

There is a temptation to try and grab the contact details of every visitor. Not everyone that pauses by the stand or ventures on are leads. The business card drop box will give you a load of contacts, sure but that’s it, by the time you have followed those up you could have spent more productive time following meaningful qualified leads.

The art is to filter visitors by asking open questions at the right point in the conversation. This way you can quickly qualify the visitor for purchase intention, timescale, budget and attitudes towards your product of service.

Asking simple open questions like ‘What are you planning to use our product for?’ or ‘Do you have a project you’re or your company are working on at the moment?’ with the right supplementary questions will allow you to sort the cold, from the warm and hot leads.

2. Gluttony – Over-indulgence or over-consumption to the point of waste

We all get a bit giddy at exhibition time, you’re planning a show and there is a budget to spend. We want to do a good job and show the boss and your competitors what a big noise you can make. So the danger is to spend on advertising, literature, giveaways and gimmicks without a plan, because if we spend loads and make a noise we will get a return on investment surely? Then forget about the effect that post-show activity can also have.

Think about return on investment as a starting point and put objectives behind the promotional activity. What can be gained from the budget? X amount of visitors attended from Y invitations, because the new product/service or offer drove them to your stand. X amount of column inches secured in the press because of a particular activity or piece of research carried out on the stand.

Targeted communications drive traffic to your stand with a call to action to measure the effectiveness. Segment your existing customers and prospects and those on the show organiser’s database and talk to them directly. Use the budget to create a buzz and a talking point, be daring use your stand to harvest opinion and turn it in to post show PR. Gimmicks will grab attention; planned measurable activity will start that long term relationship.

3. Lust – An intense desire

Exhibition time is a great way to socialise with customers, colleagues and old colleagues. A night away or two in a hotel with the company paying… what could possibly go wrong? Nothing wrong with a few cold ones to be sociable with a customer or colleague, but remember tomorrow morning you’re on duty. Hands up I’ve done it, crawled in to bed at 2am, have to be down for breakfast at 7.30am, and on the stand for 8am.

Think about the visitor to your stand the next day. How appealing do you look red-eyed and a little nauseous? What impact is that having on your company brand? And the message you’re projecting… “I don’t want your business; I couldn’t be bothered to turn up this morning looking like I want to talk to you.”

All that money spent on the stand and communication campaigns have been wasted in an instant. I’m sure the sales manager will have an equally dim view if you waste potential leads any other time.

Take the staff out by all means, but do it post-show or back at base, where those who helped in the background but didn’t get to go to the show can also be involved. Say your thanks, share the numbers, reward the stars, but do it when it won’t affect the biggest selling opportunity the company has.

4. Envy – Jealousy, wanting to have what someone has.

So other companies have bigger stands and appear to over shadow yours; bigger is not always better!

Quality over quantity. Think about it, if you take your budget for the exhibition and you spend 70-80% of it on the stand space, the rest on new literature, staff clothing, samples, hotels, subsistence etc, you won’t have much left. Think smarter; book a stand and plan a design that is simple and effective, and that delivers your objectives for the show; aim for no more than 50% of your budget. Use the rest of the budget for proactive pre- and post-show PR and communications to drive traffic to your stand and create a post-show buzz when the competitors may have taken their finger off the pulse.

Plan an integrated communication plan using traceable media channels; consider employing a telemarketing resource to call your database before the show or follow up on leads. Spending a load of money to be the biggest firework in the display is no substitute for being the sparkler that keeps your attention and provides return on investment.

5. Sloth – Being too slow or lazy at doing something or failure to do things that one should do.

Get off your backside! Phones away, lunch off the stand, don’t huddle with colleagues. I’ve already said it, but it’s worth repeating, as exhibitions really are the biggest permission-selling event your company may do. Thousands of visitors are open to your product and are looking to buy or to satisfy a requirement for information. Approach everyone who hovers by the stand or enters it, some are shyer than others. Ask open questions to start the conversation, have some screening ones in your repartee so you can assess their intentions without putting them off. Don’t judge visitors by how they look or act, don’t be afraid to ask a leading question.

I once got a product in to a national DIY retailer by listening and asking the right questions. Remember you have 2 ears and 1 mouth, so use them in that ratio.

OK don’t ambush everyone but make sure you approach those that show interest. Consider for example a 2-3 day exhibition that has 20,000 visitors and 50% (10,000) pass your stand, 20% of them show an interest by pausing by or visiting the stand that’s 2000 people. If you take 500 leads and your budget was £50,000 each lead is worth £100 just to break even. So the more you speak to and more efficient you are at qualifying leads, the less of a cost burden they are and the easier it is to recoup the cost and fill the sales funnel.

6. Wrath – Uncontrolled feelings of anger and aversion.

“We used to trade with that customer, but didn’t want to talk to him.” Don’t hold a grudge! Exhibitions are great neutral environments to talk through issues with present or old customers. You are not on each other’s territory and it’s easy to go off for a coffee or a drink to discuss things. So if you see someone at the show that you haven’t done business with for a while, for whatever reason, approach them, say hello and start that conversation.

The company gatekeeper isn’t there to block your approach. A simple smile and handshake can start that relationship again. “Nice to see you again… it’s been a while… how’s business… are you still working with…” are all great places to start. You never know they may have changed company and are now looking for your product or service. They may have been promoted or are unhappy with their current supplier. Offer reassurance that whatever issue forced you apart may now have been resolved; they may actually prefer your company or product but you didn’t know. At an exhibition it is an ideal time to rebuild those bridges and connections. “Let’s catch up again soon, I’ll give you a call next week” is a great way to finish.

7. Pride – Being too self-satisfied

So you’re at an exhibition, how are you going to get the best out of the show?Simple, show all your products on the stand with an information laden design showcasing your company, the features and benefits of all the products or services. Sounds great, but stop and think. What is your message? Is there a better way? How can you really stand out?

If your stand is too crowded there are two problems for your visitor. Firstly visitors will only generally come onto the stand if they have a reason to talk to you; others need a little encouragement. Okay the staff can do that, but a partially interested visitor might want to walk on for a look and gather some information before engaging with the staff.

If the stand is too crowded with products, their path onto the inner stand may be blocked, stopping them wander on any further. Sounds strange but psychologically people don’t like barriers, especially if they are out of their comfort zone; we are not all confident, some will pause and walk by if they can see an unhindered way on.

Secondly is information overload. OK we want to showcase our company/product/services. But let’s think of the passing visitor, what can they see at 5-10 meters? Is your messaging clear and concise? What message do you want them to take away? Is it not better to focus on one or two messages that are relevant to the visitor? Maybe just lead with a new product or those that are more relevant to the audience. Once you have them onto the stand you can then talk through the rest of your products and harvest them as a lead; up sell and cross sell. Talk about the rest of your products, but use other communication channels pre- and post-show. Don’t forget once they leave you haven’t lost them if you have their details. Your stand messaging should be clear, concise, targeted and integrated with other show related activity.