An Ode to Business Developers: Selling Tips for Trade Shows5 min read

So how many leads did you get? It’s the day after the trade show and a bead of sweat trickles down my face, I glance around for someone I could use as a distraction, a hungover colleague, a dodgy haircut, no such luck…I clear my throat as I mentally prepare a response. What should I say? How many leads are acceptable? How do I kindly explain that I spent most of the time scratching myself and staring into space as visitors at the event made a point of keeping their distance from my stand as they walked by, refusing to make eye contact.


Be forceful: Don’t let someone walk away without agreeing next steps


Let’s be honest – trade shows are getting more difficult. There, I said it.

There are a greater number of events on offer than ever before and attendees are becoming more and more demanding. The best speakers, the most interesting conferences…Eh I don’t care, I’m the guy stuck to the stand whose company paid 20k to get leads, find opportunities and convert them into ROI. I don’t have time to sit through a speaking session listening to the latest guru explaining how Amazon transformed itself into an internet retailing giant, or how my job will be automated by a robot before 2025, or before they speak asking the audience to stand up, shake themselves down and dance to James Brown (Yes, I saw this recently and it was painful to watch). In my experience, visitors are using trade fairs to gather knowledge and ideas from conferences and as an opportunity to catch up with their industry peers, rather than to speak to the overly enthusiastic, awkward looking sales guy who’s manning the stand.


Tailor your pitch

When they do stop, visitors don’t have much time, unless one, you’re lucky, or two, you’re offering free samples of some highly addictive powder instead of free pens, so half the trade show is currently hanging around your stand. This is show time – stay calm, smile, ask questions and tailor your pitch around the feedback you’re getting. Avoid a monologue, conversation only flowing one way and then the prospect walks off into the sunset, what company did he say he worked for again? Mike something, was it? I’ll find him on Linkedin, can’t be that many Mike Somethings.


Strike up a conversation and see where it takes you. Always have the next step in mind and verbally agree the next course of action, when to call, when to send an email. Remember, these guys are not sales people and aren’t normally out of the office, there’ll be a mountain of emails and things to follow up on once they get back, so calling them the next day unannounced may not go down too well – even if you knocked it out of the ball park during the event.


5 tips for trade shows

  1.      Attend conferences: At the very least you may pick up some interesting industry anecdote that you can use during a sales pitch, casually dropping it into conversation and giving the impression that you regularly go for beers with ‘thought leaders’. At best you may strike up a conversation with your neighbour who just so happens to be the CFO of Bigbudgetspender ltd.
  2.     Try your best: This may sound cliché but it’s all you can do. If people aren’t stopping by the booth, be proactive, stand close by and try to hand out some marketing material to strike up a conversation.
  3. Be forceful: Don’t let someone walk away without agreeing next steps and don’t let ‘Oh sorry I seem to have run out of business cards’ stop you. If you’ve had a meaningful chat with somebody, you’re fully within your rights to ask them for their email or phone number to continue the dialogue.
  4. Be honest: If the trade show wasn’t any good, let your company know. It’s not your fault. Events are evolving and there’s a lot of competition. The success of events, even established ones, can vary year on year. Giving feedback is essential to creating a more efficient process in choosing the right events.
  5. Talk to other Exhibitors:  are a microcosm of your industry. In attendance, there will usually be partners, former employers, colleagues and friends. If the event didn’t work for you, speak to them and gather their thoughts. Perhaps you’ll find out about a new event, strike up a conversation that could bring you some new business, or simply commiserate with each other that the leads were few and far between.

Let’s stay positive

I don’t want to give the wrong impression here and tar the entire events industry with the same brush. For me trade shows are still the best way to meet potential new clients. You cannot beat having a face to face discussion in an informal surrounding.


The sales cycle is sped up, you’re 70% there already. Having had the opportunity to meet you in person (and concluded that you’re not a psychopath) the prospect invites you to a meeting at the company. Soon you’ll be in the divine presence of the ‘decision maker’ – or, even better, perhaps you’re speaking to them now.


In an era where cold calling is dead, automated marketing campaigns, conference calls, remote presentations and web demos are the norm, there’s a lot to be said for shaking hands and having a chat. Automation and web demos may allow you to reach more people than ever before but meeting someone face to face will create the required level of trust needed to sign a sales proposal much faster than the most sophisticated technology on the market today. Events and trade shows are the only medium that allow you to do this as a business developer. This is why there are more events than ever before and why their format is changing.


Feedback and sharing industry insights are the way forward to improving the event strategy of any brand and ensuring that all important ROI. At the same time, if an event wasn’t up to scratch in terms of lead generation, you need to let the organizer know. This will only help them to improve and is win win for everyone.