The Big Event Podcast: Trade Show Etiquette

Stefan and Karen from Akkroo talking about event etiquette

In this episode of The Big Event podcast, Akkroo’s Karen Beasley, Account Executive, and Stefan Cordery, Marketing Manager discuss trade show and event etiquette. With so much money invested exhibiting at events, you need to have your best team on your stand to make the most of this opportunity to get out and meet prospects – face-to-face.

In this episode, we cover:

  • Making the best first impression.
  • Starting conversations.
  • Respecting people’s time during the event.
  • The importance of timely follow-up after the event.

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Read the transcript

Karen [K] and Stefan [S] discuss event etiquette on The Big Event podcast.

S: Hello and welcome to The Big Event with Akkroo. Joining me today is Karen, who’s one of our Account Executives at Akkroo. Hello Karen.

K: Hello.

S: What are we talking about today?

K: Trade show etiquette.

S: Yes, a big topic that’s come up in the office quite a lot recently because we’ve recently returned from an event and we have not only been an exhibitor, we’ve also been a visitor to events, so we’ve seen-

K: We’ve seen it all. The good, bad, and some very ugly.

S: Yes, I’d totally agree. OK, well let’s jump straight into it. Etiquette, where do we start? Shall we start with first impressions?

K: First impressions are very important. Being open, friendly, not being distracted on your phone… wearing comfortable shoes!

S: Well I suppose it makes you happier!

K: Being comfortable.

S: Yep, being approachable. I definitely think, at the last event we visited in London – was it 700-odd exhibitors – there was one of our neighbours who shall not be named… I can’t actually remember their name… but it definitely looked like these two guys had uprooted their office and re-rooted it on the trade show floor.

K: Tapping away!

S: Yeah. There’s definitely quiet moments during the show – you know, we were just stood around catching up on a couple of emails – and they were just heads down, someone would come past, didn’t engage… You know, I visited other stands as well and I know Mike – one of our other people who works in Marketing – walked around the show and it was almost like you’d approach a trade show stand and people on the stand would just turn their back and walk away. And it’s not a good start, is it?

K: No, I stood out to one Canadian visitor because he said ‘I’ve walked past eight stands and you’re the first person to stop me’. And I stopped with a friendly ‘what brings you to the show?’ You know, a little bit of small talk, see what they’re interested in… I mean, not everybody that comes to the event, or even comes to your stand, is going to be a prospect. But it’s good to find out, right – that’s what you’re there for. Quickly qualify, and I think the buyer today has so much more information, and they’ve made an effort to come to the event and probably travelled nearly two hours. I know we had, to east London or west London. If they’ve made all that effort in coming, and the journey, to see you, it’s something that they want to get face-to-face. It’s not something that they want to get in terms of a website or materials. They want to see what kind of company you are, what’s your culture, how approachable are you, do you talk about references. And I think that’s really important, that you give them that time, you listen to why they’re there, and you have a very quick rapport-building pitch.

S: Yeah. I think when we were talking about this the other day, we referred to it as respecting people’s time at trade shows. Because you gave that example of the average journey time in London is 1hr 45 – obviously there’s events going on all around the world, but capital cities are probably very similar. And if you’re going to these events, you need to give people the time of day and give them the information they want.

K: So who do you send? You have to send people that have got energy, you need to give people fresh air breaks as well, you need to send people that are approachable. There might be different people that enjoy a stand environment and that are… they know your product offering wide enough to talk to everybody – customers, partners, prospects, media. And we’ve got to be ready for those different angles. One customer was talking about a junior team and he had a very bad experience. He said they show up and they threw up. You don’t want to have pitch-heavy, pushy, arrogant sales people on your show.

S: Yeah, I think some of the best trade show stands I’ve been to is where you do have a mixture because you can, if you have your kind of front-line people who welcome you in and gain some sort of information, if it’s outside of their kind of area of expertise or knowledge, they can easily pass them off to someone. You know, I’m a marketer; if I turn up on a stand I might want to speak to my opposite number, if you like. Having the right people on a stand at the right times is a – definitely makes a good first impression.

K: So what can you do? You can arrive early, get to know your stand, find out who else is on at the same time as you to support you – it’s like a sport, tag-teaming and making sure the right people are talking to the right visitors. Do you have partners or distributors around on other stands that could be complimentary about you. I think it’s criminal if you don’t know where your speaker slot is, and who’s speaking. You know, to bring in senior management to some of the visitors, as well. Likewise if we’re going along being friendly and helping – I had a lead at that show the other week – just from having the map handy and helping somebody find a speaker slot. They came back to say thank you, and we carried on a conversation. So I think it’s about anyone that you could meet – it doesn’t have to be at the show at the stand, it could be networking in a professional networking space, on the tube on the way home, or people having a cigarette outside. There’s lots of ways to meet potentially prospects.

S: OK, so first impressions-wise, we’ll kind of recap what we’ve spoken about there. Be engaging, be approachable,

K: Be prepared – have your cards, know what’s around you.

S: Yep. Consider putting your best people for the show – not necessarily your best sales people – like, have people who are energetic, who want to be there, who are kind of fired up and want to talk to people.

K: And likewise, don’t send people that are maybe distracted with a deal that’s about to close – leave them in the office if it’s the wrong day for them. And there’s nothing worse than a sales manager phoning half way through, you know – ‘How’s it going?’ You can’t answer that call, so have a way of explaining to people back at the office how it’s going and what kind of leads you’re capturing.

S: Live stats, perhaps.

K: Maybe!

S: Yeah. OK, and respect people’s time. They’ve travelled all that way to the trade show, spend the time, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a lot of time. But spend the time to find out what they’re about, how their day’s been, and if they’re the right person, qualify them and move on. Or if they’re not, try and close and move on to the next person.

K: My personal bugbear is don’t give me a stress ball. Why would I need a stress ball? And also if you’re going to give me one, you’re going to need to think about giving two or three, because you know it’s going to go to the children. So I would say don’t go for gizmos, you know, super duper headsets. You don’t want everybody remembering your stand for a gizmo. You know – make it about a quality conversation.

S: Yeah, I definitely saw a lady at a trade show with many bags of stuff… anyway…

K: But I do like socks – socks is a good giveaway.

S: Socks. So if you see Karen at a trade show – socks. OK, so that’s first impressions. So we’ve left the trade show now – what next, after the event?

K: So, a good, tailored, personal follow-up. So bearing in mind that we’ve caught some information about what they’re interested in and why they came to our stand, you would have a specific call to action for that industry, that person, that business. So, speed, and being personal.

S: Yeah, all of which can only be achieved with the right first impressions – the right people collecting the right information. Following up in a timely fashion with real context, because we were analysing the other week after leaving this trade show. I’d spoken to a couple of exhibitors and I’d requested information, and it took two weeks to get a follow-up. And it was generic, it was… to explain a bit more about that, it was from someone I didn’t know. So I had the person’s business card who I spoke to, who I was expecting was going to come back to me. He was from the UK office, but it was from the Atlanta office in the USA. Yeah, didn’t know this person, there was no context about what we talked about, it was just ‘these are all the things we do’ – I was only interested in one specific thing. And then the best bit – or the worst bit – was at the bottom it said ‘someone will be in touch with you soon’. I just thought… it’s expensive to exhibit, and they’ve just added two weeks on to a potential deal, and some more time. And the person did eventually reach out, I’ve talked to them, but it just… it’s not a good start, is it.

K: No, why would it need to go back to then come back to the UK again? It doesn’t make any sense.

S: Yeah, I suppose multinational, global companies have the way they work their data, but as the buyer, I’m not really bothered about that. It should just be seamless for me, shouldn’t it?

K: Well didn’t do a study that said if you wait more than five days it’s 50% less likely to happen? Your conversion rate. So sales people care about having less leads but having really good quality, rich data, and again, I think maybe one of the things we should have said earlier in first impressions is I will capture that information. If they’ve talked about their dog, or kids go to the same school, or we’ve worked at a similar company before – remember that, write that down, because that is going to be your follow-up. That’s the way to be remembered, and if you’re too busy doing a spray and pray approach, you’re not going to have that rapport, you’re not going to have that memory. And likewise, if you’re not going to the networking part of the event, you’re not going to get your brand personally and the business brand across to help that buyer and put you in the best position for following up and maybe making a sale.

S: Yeah, just all these little bits of context that just help. You know, they’re not things you’re going to potentially drop into an email but they’re things you can bring up on the phone and that’s a very good point.

K: People remember how you made them feel, so if you have something in common and you have listened, that’s going to be much more important than how quickly you can get a generic email to show them your website.

S: OK, and one last point on follow-up, because we’re going through this quite quickly. Just on that follow-up, it’s who follows up. So what are your thoughts on that? Should it be the sales person that follows up, or should it be… how would you see it working?

K: So where possible, when you’ve got your sales team plan, you would want to send people who are good at events, good talking to new business leads, but also that would do that follow-up. So if it was an event in Manchester and I had a Manchester team, naturally they’re going to have client references, geography, they’re going to be more available to talk to those businesses. Absolutely. It is slightly difficult from a sales management point of view though, if you haven’t got too many events, to distribute your leads. But that just shows that you should be getting richness and quality of the information from the conversation you had. And explain to the prospect, ‘ah, we have somebody in France, I will introduce you’, to make sure that connection is made and the information is not lost along the way.

S: So personalise, and if you’re going to bring someone else into it, explain it.

K: Yeah, and if you know who’s at the event that day you could bring in maybe a pre-sales person that could then do that introduction. Likewise a lot of channel partners and resellers – you’ve got to know who they are and what they’re doing in order to feel comfortable to bring them in. And that shows. There was a terrible example, ‘I don’t know who this person is but he’s from such and such a company, I’ll bring him in.’ It just looks so fragmented and like you don’t do business together much. So you’ve got to think how that looks, tying up different businesses into your offering.

S: OK, I think there’s some really good points we talked about, it’d be good to wrap it up. So first impressions then: be engaging, be approachable, consider putting your best team on the stand, have them on rotation. Respect people’s time at the event. And then for after the event, follow-up in a timely fashion, personalised, with context. Never be generic. And who follows up – consider who that is, and if you are going to introduce other people, explain.

K: Absolutely.

S: I think that’s everything, yeah. We’re going to leave it there, hope you enjoyed that. The podcast – you might be watching this on iTunes or Soundcloud or Youtube. You can subscribe on iTunes and it would be great if you could give us a rating on there if you’ve enjoyed it. So we’ll leave it there, we’ll be back again soon for another episode of The Big Event. And thank you Karen.

K: Thank you!

S: See you next time.

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