I have been in sales and sales leadership for more than sixteen years. Most of that time has been spent running inside sales teams in call centers with anywhere from ten reps in one office to one hundred reps spanning four offices in three countries. One day, my company decided to develop an employee benefit program, which resulted in me temporarily leaving the world of headphones and reports to stand in a trade show booth.
Despite what they say in the movies, the ABCs of sales means Always Be Curious.
Growing up, my main experience with expos had been our town’s annual RV or Home & Garden shows. As a kid, I thought the point was to walk around and fill a bag full of weird free gifts, samples, candies, and every flier possible. When I got home, I would pour out the bag like I had just gone trick-or-treating, eat the candy, and play with all the free samples. My dad would take the fliers he wanted, and the rest would get thrown away.
Fast forward to being an adult and walking around industry trade shows with the purpose of looking at each booth for the potential solutions it held, and then ultimately standing in the booth with the goal of talking to each person who walked by. I discovered that the same fundamental sales principles I had used in telesales and taught to hundreds of salespeople over the years were even more applicable when working a trade show booth.
Fundamental #1: Know whom you can help…and whom you can’t.
We all feel our product or service is amazing and could help solve every prospect’s problems. We all believe in what we sell, which is why we sell it. But if we sell anything of value and are being honest about the solution it provides, then we know not every prospect we talk to will benefit. Of course, the percentage of qualified prospects increases when running a booth at an industry-specific trade show where most participants are your target demographic.
The key to any successful professional sales career that involves some level of consultation is qualifying prospects to determine fit. I feel every sales professional knows this, yet when I walk trade show floors, I am always amazed by how many people go into their rehearsed pitch right away, as if they just assume every person will want what they are selling and will be an ideal customer. It is important to know whom you can help and whom you can’t, whether it’s over the phone or in person at your booth.
Fundamental #2: Seek first to understand.
Nothing drives me crazier than a sales rep who instantly starts their self-aggrandizing, long-winded, elevator monologue instantly upon speaking to a new prospect. When a salesperson does that to me as a potential customer, I feel like one (or all) of the following are true: they don’t care about me, they are running on autopilot in their sales process, and/or they are trying to convince me in hopes I don’t notice the undesirable parts of their product or service.
I have been to many trade shows, but the largest was Salesforce.com’s Dreamforce conference in San Francisco. With more than 150,000 attendees and 500 exhibitors, it is massive, and sometimes overwhelming. It’s meant for Salesforce.com users, developers, and administrators. I am a sales and marketing guy with a small amount of technical ability and understanding. So when I would walk down the expo aisles and hear most people working their booths instantly go into jargon-filled speeches they were used to saying a thousand times a day, I often had no idea what they were talking about. I would need one of my tech coworkers to translate for me, and often after the salesperson finished their three-minute spiel about how amazing they were and the problems they solved, I realized it wasn’t applicable to me in any way. They had just wasted their time and mine.
Where do a lot of salespeople go wrong, whether in the booth or over the phone? They don’t first seek to understand the prospect. The most important sales fundamental to start with is asking questions, both to prequalify the prospect and to get to know them and their issues, struggles, pains, goals, and hopes. You might be in a sales role, but you are really like a doctor helping to cure what ails your prospect. They have a pain they want resolved or a goal they haven’t accomplished, and they are looking for help. Ask questions of your “patient” to determine where it hurts and how you can help. Always remember: “Prescription before diagnosis is malpractice.” If you throw your own solutions at people without knowing what they need help with, you are committing sales malpractice.
Fundamental #3: Monologues are okay, when applicable.
People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. This is true of helping people get out of debt as well as when pitching your B2B-based solution to executives. This is why asking questions is such an important initial step with your prospect. When you ask someone questions, it signals to them that you truly care about them, especially when you listen to the answers and tailor your conversation around it. (And not just in sales, but in life!)
Once you understand enough about your prospect, what their goals or issues are, and if your solution would help them, then and only then should you roll into your monologue about your company’s product or service. The best salespeople will fight the instinct to recite the same pitch over and over again and instead customize it.
While this might seem simple, you would be amazed how many salespeople do not operate this way. Whether in telesales or in the booth, I have heard so many reps just throw out the same pitch to each prospect. I have gone up and down the expo aisles and walked up to a booth, made eye contact with the person staffing the booth, received the obligatory handshake, and then instantly experienced them going into pitch mode. When the interaction starts off this way, you and your company instantly become a commodity—a verbal brochure that also happens to be handing out pens or stress balls.
Fundamental #4: No one is there for the free stuff.
People don’t go to trade shows and conferences for the free pens, lip balm, shirts, or phone chargers. Yes, those are fun to get and take home. But after going to a few shows, you realize you don’t want all that stuff. I now find myself not picking up a single item of swag at a trade show. I am not there for the free stuff. I am there for solutions and inspirations. I am there to find ways to improve my business and myself. I know it might seem required to hand out customized, company-branded notebooks, but depending on the show’s size, four other booths will be doing the same thing, so it won’t be as memorable.
Always remember that your ideal prospects are not at the conference for the free swag; they are there to find solutions to improve their business. If they are there just to party and fill a bag full of free stuff, then I would bet they aren’t a decision-making lead for you. Flyers don’t sell your product or service. Pens and stress balls don’t tip the sales scales in your favor, especially given the price point of what you are selling. When you do the first three fundamentals correctly, then the only part needed is the follow-up. I’m not saying you shouldn’t hand out anything. I’m just saying to remember why people are there.
The ABCs of Sales
Despite what they say in the movies, the ABCs of sales means Always Be Curious. When you are in a sales role and are always curious, then you want to ask questions and understand the other person—their hopes, goals, struggles, dreams. You want to understand them, and respond by finding a way to improve their life with your product or service.
The best trade show booth workers I have come upon take the same approach I do—they start off asking lots of questions, digging deeply into me and my situation. They take those first few minutes to uncover enough information about the other person, and then they determine if they can help. If so, the value of what they offer is customized to me.
If you find yourself in your company’s trade show booth, use these four fundamental strategies to make the most out of each interaction you have. If you want to stand out in the sea of trade show booths, then do things differently. Try being a human who cares about other humans and hopes first to understand who they are, and second, how to improve their life, not just hand them a pen and pitch your company’s wares.
About the Author
Jason Cutter and the Cutter Consulting Group focuses on marketing conversion performance improvement with current inside sales teams and assisting companies to develop new call center teams as their direct-to-consumer sales strategy. Through his consulting projects, training workshops, webinars, and his podcast, The Sales Experience Podcast, his goal is to help salespeople maximize their strengths, move away from traditional sales tactics, and view sales as a service. His goal is to create positive change in how prospects view and experience salespeople.