Five bad habits to break at Trade Shows

I just got back from a large trade show and I notice five bad habits that I think all vendors should break.

don't be late for a trade show1). Tardiness – if the trade show starts at 9:00 a.m., then make sure you get your ass there on time. The last thing you want to do is come to a booth late, and find a note from a potentially good prospect who writes that he may stop by later. We all know from experience that most prospects are not going to “stop by later” because they get busy visiting other booths, attending workshops…or meeting with your competitors!

2). Arrive early to set up your booth or tabletop display. I know. As much as we try to plan ahead, things happen. Your flight is delayed. Your hotel claims they don’t have your reservation. The taxi cab driver doesn’t know where the convention center is located. I get that. But try to get to the exhibit hall area ASAP. You never know what problems you are going to face, e.g., there are no chairs because your department didn’t know they had to rent them before the trade show, or there is no electricity because you didn’t know you had to purchase it for the booth, or the scanner you are renting isn’t working properly, etc. You get the drift.

I actually once worked for a company that required all salespeople to arrive one day in advance to set up the booth. However, I realize that some companies have tight budgets and depending on the location and flight availability, you may have to fly in the same day the trade show begins and quickly set things up a couple of hours before the doors open. I understand. Just do the best you can.

3). Don’t leave your leads out all night – I will sometimes arrive early to an exhibit hall to check out other exhibits and get ideas. This is especially true if I’m the only one managing the booth and I don’t have time during the day to walk around. I’m constantly surprised by the number of vendors who leave their leads out on the table all night long. Sure, we’re professionals. We don’t steal. But how can you be sure that some unscrupulous competitor isn’t going to come along and pinch your leads? This is especially true at large trade shows where there isn’t enough security. Either hide your leads in your booth (some trade shows rent locked cabinets) or take them to your hotel room.

BTW, the same goes for candy. I once left a candy bowl out on the display table and when I returned in the morning, most of my sweets were gone. So hide your candy too!

4). Don’t stand or sit like a statue – engage. It amazes me that companies will spend thousands of dollars sending salespeople to attend trade shows and they don’t engage with attendees. Instead, they sit on their butts working on their laptops (which only signals to prospects that are you too busy to be bothered) or read their own marketing literature that they should be handing out.

You need to engage.

That means if someone gives you eye contact or looks at your booth, you may ask them “does anything catch your eye?” or “have you heard of our company or product?” Hopefully, by asking those or other questions, attendees may approach your booth and you can engage them in a conversation to determine if they are good prospects or not.

engage with attendees at trade showsAlso, don’t trust that your booth display or table top will be enough to draw prospects to you. While your marketing department may do a good job developing interesting visuals, at the end of the day it’s up to you to bring home good leads. That means if someone walks by and starts avoiding eye contact with you, call them out by asking them a direct question. By doing so, they may come over and speak with you. This tactic is especially helpful at large trade shows of 100 plus vendors where attendees are overwhelmed, busy and tired. You have to think of attendees as cattle – you have to drive them home through the open range.

Attendees, like cattle, need direction.

5). Turn your frown upside down. I understand. Trade shows can be long and sometimes boring when walk-thru traffic is slow. You get tired. Your feet ache.

But put yourself in the place of the attendees – they are sometimes spending hours walking from booth to booth, listening to sales pitches, and having sales literature thrust among them.

The last thing an attendee wants to see is a sad or disappointed salesperson at a booth. So smile. Be enthusiastic. Show real interest. Be curious. Who knows, you may land a sale or two that could put you over the top when meeting quota.

There, you have it. Break those five bad habits and you should do well.

Now go sell!

Note: If you like my post, please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

10 Trade Show Etiquette Tips

Having attended several trade shows recently, I’ve noticed some bad manners on part of salespeople that I would like to address.

The following is a list of 10 etiquette tips –

1). Don’t sit or stand behind your tabletop display. Instead, stand next to it. This will ensure more openness and hopefully more attendees coming to your display area. Sitting or standing behind your tabletop creates an artificial defensive barrier between you and the attendees you are trying to attract. By standing next to your table, you are signaling that you are interested in speaking with them.

bad manners at trade shows2). Don’t sit when the trade show is busy. Stand. Smile. Make good eye contact. Show that you are ready to talk, answer questions or do a short presentation.

3). Don’t use your cell phone or laptop when the trade show is busy. Most people are polite. If they see you busy texting or working on your laptop, they are less likely to visit you. You could end up losing a sale.

4).Don’t eat when the trade show is busy – even if other attendees are eating breakfast, lunch or other food in the trade show. If attendees see that you are eating, again, being polite, they may not stop by and speak with you. Wait until the crowd dies down before grabbing something to eat. (It’s always a good idea to keep snacks and bottled water in your exhibit area in case you have low blood sugar).

5). If you are speaking with another vendor and see an attendee walking towards his booth, immediately step away. The vendor isn’t paying good money to speak to other vendors. Like you, he’s there to make contacts, find prospects, and hopefully get some good sales down the road.

6). Arrive early to set up your booth. Nothing screams amateur more than arriving late to set up your booth area. Also, don’t break down until closing time. You will be surprised how many attendees will wait until the last-minute to visit a booth or place an order. This is especially true at large trade shows where there is a lot to see and so little time to see it all.

don't scan and spam7). Don’t scan and spam. One of the biggest mistakes vendors make is scanning everyone who walks by their booth. This is a major waste of time. Sure, you may think you have a lot of “sales leads” when you return to the office. But in reality, most of those leads are probably duds because they were never really qualified. So now you’re going to spend weeks or months making phone calls to people who either aren’t interested in your services or products, or don’t even remember meeting you at the trade show. And spamming? Please! Unless you have taken the time to speak with the prospect at the show, your chances of him responding to your emails are almost nil.

8). Index cards. OK, some trade shows don’t give you the ability to scan badges. And let’s face it, not all attendees carry their business cards or don’t have any left because they handed them all out. Now what? Have index cards available for attendees to write down their contact information. There, wasn’t that easy?

9). Have enough business cards. Don’t always depend on your trade show/conference department to pack your business cards for you. Bring your own cards. Because my trade show/conference department didn’t pack enough cards, I almost ran out before the end of a conference that I attended a couple of years ago. Don’t make the same mistake I did.

10). Smile. Smiling won’t crack your face. So smile, or you could lose some sales. Sure, we’ve all been to lousy trade shows. You know the ones where there is little traffic or the attendees are only interested in stealing your swag. Like a good trooper, just smile through it and do the best you can. Who knows – you might still get a couple of good orders from it.

Remember, the purpose of working at a trade show is to make sales. Don’t let bad manners prevent you from achieving your goal.

Note: Like my post? Please read my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

Are you inheriting an orphan sales position?

You just started your new sales job. Your sales manager has introduced you to the rest of the sales team and maybe some key employees.

If you are lucky, your manager may even take you out to lunch on your first day. He may also have created an agenda outlining your training for the next week or two before you hit the phones.

orphan sales positionFinally, after your training, your day has come. It’s time to make sales calls and start generating some money. Like most new salespeople, you probably begin by reviewing your existing accounts or leads. You want to get the lay of the land, prioritize your top accounts, begin making introductory calls, and start building up your pipeline.

But as you review your accounts in your CRM (Customer Relationship Management), a sickening feeling begins to develop. At first, you don’t see it, but as you start examining your accounts and leads more carefully, you begin to see a disturbing pattern. You discover that a lot of salespeople over the years have been contacting or managing the same accounts and leads. But where did they go?

Some are now working in more lucrative sales positions in your company. But most are no longer working with your employer at all. In fact, you notice that some salespeople only worked your accounts or leads for a few months before moving on. Others a little longer, but not much. You go on LinkedIn, and track those former salespeople down. You discover they are now working in other companies, and that their tenure in your position was short.

Then it dawns on you. You have inherited an orphan sales position.

What is an orphan sales position? It’s a position that has been abandoned by several salespeople over the years. In short, there has been a lot of turnovers. It is also a position that is not well supported by the company for a variety of reasons. Maybe the company feels its sales and marketing budget should be allocated to more profitable positions. Maybe the company feels that sales will only pick up when they hire the “right” salesperson. Maybe the company feels it’s a “starter position,” i.e., one where they know little revenue will be generated, so there is no risk for the company to hire a new salesperson to season him up for greater challenges in the future. (We all have to crawl before we can walk). Or maybe the company is waiting for the sales fairy to come along, and wave her magic wand and the orders will magically appear.

abandoned sales positionSometimes an orphan sales position was created by accident. For example, a company may have bought another company, and then allocated most of the best accounts to senior salespeople, while giving less experienced salespeople smaller accounts. The thought may have been that the smaller accounts would eventually grow. But to date, that has not been the case, thus the cycle of high turnover and abandonment begins.

Frustrated, a company keeps hiring new salespeople to turn things around, but to no avail. Promises are made, but not kept. Prices are adjusted but don’t work. Salespeople keep abandoning the position, and soon it becomes an orphan.

However, from your point of view, your greatest concern right now is should you even consider staying in an orphan sales position or start seeking a better job.

After all, you would like to make a long-term commitment to your job. You don’t want to be seen as job hopper. But on the other hand, you don’t want to be seen as a loser either. There is nothing worse than starting a new sales job, only to have your colleagues taking pity on you, or avoiding eye contact because they feel you got a raw deal. Sure, your colleagues may be professional, and even downright friendly, but you can’t shake that “you’re a loser vibe” every time they glance your way. Hell, for all you know, some of your co-workers may be taking bets on the side on how long you still stay around. (This actually happened on a regular basis at one of my previous jobs).

Soon, you become a running joke in office, and you have to endure the daily facades of plastic smiles and chirpy “Good mornings” as you head towards your desk. When you arrive at your desk, all you want to do is hide underneath it.

You see, with an orphan sales position, your biggest challenge is convincing existing accounts and prospects to order from you. But from their point-of-view, why should they even bother? If you are the fourth or fifth salesperson to hold your position in two years, how confident are your accounts and prospects that you’re even going to be around long enough to care about them? How motivated do you think they are going to be in offering you referrals if they feel you’re going to leave the company soon? Why should they accept your phone calls or respond to your emails if they think you’re going to run when the first good opportunity comes along?

On the other hand, an orphan sales position may put you in the catbird seat. Unless you are working for an extremely conservative or stuck-up company, your employer may be more willing to listen to your suggestions. They may be more willing to go out on the limb and experiment with new sales or marketing methods. While your colleagues are sitting at their desks making sales calls, your employer (or sales manager) may invite you in the conference room, where you can sit with some of your company’s major players, and hash out a game plan to increase sales. In short, your employer may appreciate you more because they realize the challenges that you are facing.

So what should you do?

Do your homework before accepting a sales job1). Do your homework before accepting a job offer. The best way to avoid landing in an orphan sales position, is to do your homework and ask the right questions during your interview. First, go on LinkedIn and find out how many past salespeople worked at the same position you are applying for. If you notice a large number, that should give you pause. Second, contact some of those previous salespeople through LinkedIn and ask them why they left. You will be surprised – sometimes they will give you an honest answer. Third, go to  Glassdoor – do you see a pattern of negative reviews from anonymous current or former salespeople about the company? While not completely scientific, seeing a lot of negative reviews should also give you pause. And finally, ask the interviewer why the position is open. Sure, he may lie, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

2). You did your homework, but you still got screwed. OK, you did the above, you thought everything was alright, but to your astonishment, you still ended up in an orphan sales job. Now what? Don’t panic. If there is high turnover in your sales department, chances are you will land a better sales position within 6 months to one year in the company. If you can hang on that long, hunker down, be patient, go through the motions, and wait for your turn to move up the ladder.

3). Maybe things will turn around. The company may realize that they have created an orphan sales position, and not wanting to see more turnover, will invest more in your position. They could provide better leads, improve the marketing efforts, or if you are lucky, enhance the product or services that you are selling. And if you are extremely fortunate, the company may decide to increase your compensation plan in an effort to lure you to stay and stick it out.

4). The position was orphaned too soon or too much. The position may not be as bad as you think. It could be that due to a strange set of coincidences, the position was orphaned before anyone really had a chance to profitably work the accounts and leads. It’s not unusual for leads to remain dormant for a long time, and then suddenly, without warning, you start seeing a flood of orders. The trick is to ensure you continue to see a steady flow of orders.

talking to your sales manager5). Talk to your sales manager. Look, your sales manager may already know you are in an orphan sales position, and he is tired of seeing high turnover. Unless your sales manager is a wimp or idiot, if he’s a smart, he will bend over backwards to help you. Talk to him. Pick his brains. Get some ideas on how both of you can be successful. Notice I said “both of you” – that’s because your sales manager is also earning commission or bonus based on your success. Come up with a short list of ideas or reasonable requests. Brainstorm with him. Maybe together both of you can turn things around, and create a win-win situation for everyone.

An orphan sales position may not be as bad as you think. With a little nurture and care, your position may blossom. Be patient. Be persistent. Work smart. Work hard. But don’t be taken for a fool either. Give an orphan sales position your best shot, but after you have done all you can if you still feel you are fighting a losing battle, quit and move on.

Life is too short to be a loser.

Note: If you like this post, please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

Are you selling vitamins or medicine?

One of the most common questions that salespeople ask their clients is “What are your pain points?”

Now, maybe you don’t actually ask the question in that matter. Maybe you phrase it differently. But the underlining goal of all salespeople is to determine what type of pain points your clients are suffering to see if what you are selling will solve his problems.

Let’s say you discover those pain points. What next?

Are you selling vitamins or medicine?

By vitamins, I mean are you selling a solution that is holistic and a “nice to have.”

By medicine, I mean are you selling a solution that is really necessary and a “must have.”

Let me give you some examples –

Are you selling vitamins or medicine?A good vitamin sales example is someone selling books, subscription courses or videos about enhancing professional development in your field. Of course, we all want to improve ourselves and do better in our careers. But is it an immediate need? Unless your boss or manager is demanding that you improve your skills or craft, chances are you don’t need to order any professional development tools right away. It’s something that you will put on your checklist and consider when you have the time or money.

So a vitamin sale, based on the client’s view, may be a way of preventing a future problem, but it’s a minor pain point that he can deal with for now. There is no sense of urgency.

Are you selling vitamins or medicine?A good medicine sales example is someone selling password security software to prevent hackers from breaking into your network. With all the news lately of hackers stealing credit card and Social Security numbers from major retailers, banks, government agencies, and colleges, your software will probably be on the top of an IT director’s list. Sure, the IT director may negotiate the price with you, but in the end, he clearly understands the threat of security breaches and he will make a purchase. The only question is will he be buying your software or someone else’s.

So a medicine sale, based on the client’s view, will prevent an immediate problem, that’s becoming a major pain that he must deal with now. There is a sense of urgency.

There is nothing wrong with selling vitamins or medicine. But if you want to jumpstart your sales, reexamine what you are offering, and see if you can make your solution more of a medicine rather than a vitamin sale.

While Mary Poppins is right when she sang “that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,” finding the right pain points and offering medicine instead of vitamins could be your best solution.

Note: If you like my post, please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

The Holiday Season is not a slow sales time

Unless you are working in retail, most salespeople consider the holiday season to be a slow sales time. And for good reason. Many key decision makers are taking a long holiday break. Some companies will close down from Christmas Day through New Year’s Day. And even if you are making a lot of sales calls, you are being told to “call back next year.”

But don’t be fooled.

lazy salesman during the holiday seasonHere are five reasons why you shouldn’t slow down during the holiday season –

1). Key Decision Makers may be working – Not all decision-makers are taking a long holiday break. For some, the last couple weeks of December may be a quiet time for them to work. They assume that most salespeople are not going to call them, so they give their receptionist time off. Without the gatekeeper present, this is your chance to catch the decision maker off guard. Lonely and perhaps eager to speak with someone, the decision maker may actually take your call and engage in a good constructive conversation that could yield an order.

2). Holiday Cheer – perhaps happy for having a good solid year, the decision maker may be more receptive to taking your call and speaking with you.

3). Your competitors are not calling – Your competitors are under the age-old assumption that the holidays are a “bad time” to make sales calls, so they are taking a long holiday vacation. With your competitors out-of-the-way, you will have a better shot at reaching the decision maker.

4). Build up your prospect list– OK, maybe you are in one of those industries where historically many of your clients are not going to be available during the holidays. So what are you going to do? Drink all the eggnog, pig out on all the Christmas cookies, and feel sorry for yourself? Hell no. Start building up your prospect list. Do some research and start uncovering some hidden gems that you didn’t see before. While you may be riding the gravy train receiving inbound leads, not all prospects are going to call you. Track them down, enter them in your CRM (Customer relationship management), do some research on them, and make plans to call them early next year.

5). Brush up – Now is the time to brush up on your product knowledge. Maybe read some industry newsletters or learn more about what your competitors are doing that could impact your sales. Sure, kick back and watch some classic Christmas movies, but don’t forget to read some classic sales books too.

The holiday season is a time to relax. A time to connect with your family and friends. I get that. But don’t be completely off your guard or do a brain slide. Because while you’re spending time ringing in the New Year, your competitors may be ringing the cash register with all the new sales that you should have received.

Note: If you like my post, please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

10 Tips for Working at a Trade Show Booth

I recently came back from a trade show in Charleston, S.C. It was my first trade show in nearly a year. Based on my observations, here are 10 tips on how to work at a trade show booth.

How to work at a trade show booth1). Stand, don’t sit. Yes, I know it’s tough to stand all day. But by standing, you are inviting attendees to approach you and engage in a conversation about your company. By sitting, you are signaling to attendees that you are not interested in speaking with them, or that you are tired. Look, if an attendee is spending most of their day walking, you should at least have the courtesy to stand. If you are tired, take a short break and sit down somewhere else.

If you only have a tabletop display, try to stand next to the table – not behind it. Why? When you stand behind a table, you are putting a defensive barrier between you and the attendee. By standing next to the table, you are signaling to the attendee that you are accessible and friendly, and are interested in engaging in a conversation.

Don’t stand in front of the table, because you want to give attendees a chance to look at your display to determine if your company is a good fit for them. Also, you don’t want to be a stalker and pounce on attendees while they are walking by. Remain calm, compose and inviting.

2). Don’t read your laptop or smartphone. Yes, I know it’s tough to be away from the office. And there may be times during the day when you have to respond to an emergency e-mail, or make an important phone call. But try to do it away from your booth. Again, your focus should be on the attendees, not your work or personal life. And if you are still reading print newspapers (remember those), now is not the time to catch up on sports or the latest news. Put all print material that is not related to your company away.

don't eat at a trade show booth3). Don’t eat at the booth. If you are working with a group, take breaks to eat. It’s discourteous to eat at a booth while others are walking by. However, if you are working at a booth myself, wait until traffic is slow to take a break or eat. By reviewing the conference agenda, you should know when to time traffic flow during a trade show. (And don’t raid the candy bowl at your booth – it’s for the attendees to attract them to you).

4). Limit your conversations with your colleagues. I know. Working at a trade show can be boring at times, especially when traffic is slow. So you want to strike up a conversation with your co-workers. I understand. Just keep your eyes open for an approaching attendee. Most people are polite. If they see you talking to one of your co-workers, they may be less reluctant to approach you at the booth.

5). Be friendly. Nothing discourages an attendee from coming to your booth more than not seeing a friendly or inviting face. Sure, you don’t want to be a stalker or stare at attendees as they walk by your booth. But on the other hand, you don’t want to be looking down at the floor, or staring in space. Be casual and cool.

6). Speak to the right attendees. Don’t waste time speaking with attendees who obviously are not interested in your company, or are not good prospects. Be firm, polite and diplomatic, but steer an attendee away if he’s not a good fit for your company’s products or services. Remember – you only have a limited period of time to speak with people. Try to keep the booth open for the right prospects that you need to speak to. Attendees don’t want to hear about your vacation plans or your recent travels. While it’s nice to chit-chat, stay focus on the business at hand.

7). Keep plenty of marketing literature at your booth. Not everyone will want to speak with you. It’s nothing personal. Attendees are busy. So keep plenty of marketing literature, swag and business cards at your booth for quick retrieval by attendees.

8). Don’t scan and spam. Don’t waste time scanning every attendee who approaches your booth. Most of them probably are not going to be good prospects anyway. Take your time and engage in a conversation with attendees to determine if they are worth pursuing after the conference. I would rather return from a trade show with 50 good leads than 100 bad ones.

9). The last hour can be the most critical.  When the closing bell goes up, don’t be like everyone else and visit other booths for free (and better) drinks and food. Stay at your post. Some of the best orders I’ve received were from attendees who raced from booth to booth at the last-minute seeking information, and scheduling appointments after the show.

10). Collaborate with neighboring vendors. Right before the trade show begins, talk to neighboring vendors and see what they are offering. If they are not a competitor, form a quick alliance – if an attendees arrives at either of your booths that are not a good fit for you, but could be a good fit for the other vendor, encourage the attendee to visit the other booth. This could increase more traffic and sales for you. Plus it’s just good business.

Note: Like my post? Then please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

pcruciatti / Shutterstock.com (top photo credit).