Recently I visited a marketing trade show here in the Bay Area. I always get excited to learn about new marketing technologies that help businesses grow so off the exhibit floor I went. What I found was kind of lame. It seemed like none of the companies exhibiting knew how to market their company and none of the people working at these booths knew the first thing about working a trade show. It’s more than wearing a company shirt.

Sometimes I think it’s the difference between someone who is working the show who actually wrote the check for it, versus a team of people that are a few steps removed from that person. If you stuck 100 small business OWNERS in these booths or people who were trained really well by the small business owners, they’d have out-worked any of these people.

Get The Business Card – First things first, you’ve paid to be at a show, you’ve spent money on your signs or booth (hopefully), the first thing you should do is ask for your visitor’s information. In fact you should ask for it before you start to sell them if you can. That’s what you went there for right? I visited no less than 25 businesses at this particular show, walked into their booths and took their collateral (if they had any) and not ONE person asked me for my information.

Print Collateral – Printing is expensive and it harms the environment I know. But you’ve got to give at least one handout about your company so that people remember you after they leave. Make sure it’s on recycled paper! There were at least 5 booths I stopped by that didn’t have ANY collateral, just goofy giveaways.

Tell People What You Do – If you’ve got a banner stand or a sign, make sure you tell people what you do on it along with your logo. Don’t make people guess. It doesn’t have to be too wordy, just get your main points across. About 25% of the booths I walked by just displayed a logo, nothing else. It doesn’t necessarily make me want to stop and ask someone what it is they do.

Be Knowledgeable – If you send staff, make sure they are trained know what they’re talking about. If they don’t know an answer to a question they should not try to make anything up, they should just say “I’m not sure about that, I’ll take that question down on your business card and follow up with an answer in an email.” Then make sure they write it on the back of the business card. I stopped by one booth and asked the person in it a question about how their technology worked, not only did they not know how it worked, they didn’t know who their primary customer was and they negated themselves about 3 times during a 7 minute discussion.

Be Approachable, Do the Approaching – A bunch of people from the same company standing around talking to each other the entire time isn’t going to draw in a crowd. Your staff has to approach people and start the conversation. For VerticalResponse the starter question is something like “Are you sending emails to your customers?” That begins the conversation.

Pet peeve? If you have to make a call and you have other staff in the booth, step away and make the call. People don’t want to come up to ask anyone questions if they are on the phone. My favorite? One booth had velvet ropes around the booth so you couldn’t walk into it, only the people who worked there could and one person was inside the ropes on the phone!

Another pet peeve is having too much clutter around a booth. Stash your coats and bags under the table or behind the booth. No one wants to do business with a messy company. Maybe it’s the Virgo in me.

These companies may be good at providing marketing technologies, but they couldn’t bring it back to the basics of good marketing in general. I was walking the show with our head of operations and I said to him “Wow, this is really bad. You can bet that after any trade show we spend money on my first question is: ‘How many leads did we get and when are we sending our first email to them?’”

Marketing 101.

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