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Show provides valuable EXPOsure to existing, potential clients

The Mississippi Business & Technology EXPO 2007, presented by Comcast Business Class, will provide an opportunity for many different types of companies to present themselves to several thousand potential clients in a consolidated effort.

“Exhibitors acquire leads and prospects in a face-to-face setting, and that is hard to beat,” said Robbie L. Bell, vice president of business development for the Mississippi Business Journal. “It could take a sales force many months, or even years, to meet personally with that many prospects. Exhibitors also find one of the most valuable assets of EXPO is networking with the other exhibitors. Many alliances are formed across the aisles each year as exhibitors network with each other. EXPO visitors also network with each other, and this builds a tremendous amount of rapport among all the participants.”

Catchy displays, audiovisual presentations and the ever popular freebies are great for attracting a crowd at your booth. And don’t forget the basics. Both attendees and exhibitors should have a large supply of business cards.

Bell says 200 cards should be enough to enable attendees to drop one in each exhibitor’s receptacle to register for the door prize drawings, and then have enough to exchange with other attendees they may meet during the show.

Bell recommends that any company that is going to the effort to appear at the EXPO consider how to maximize the benefits.

It is a good idea for exhibitors to bring specialty items with their names imprinted, so attendees have objects in their offices to keep those companies’ names on their minds.
Another tip is that exhibitors who stand and greet attendees as they approach are going to get more conversations going than those who sit and wait for attendees to come into their booths.

“I know that I feel compelled to walk into a booth and introduce myself if that exhibitor has made eye contact with me,” Bell said. “When a booth worker is sitting down, looking away or otherwise occupied, it’s much easier to walk on by.”

While it may go without saying, dress professionally.

“I’ve been impressed by the way most people dress to man their booths,” Bell said. “The first goal should be to present a professional image. The second should be to stand and attempt to make eye contact with as many people as possible when they pass by the booth.”

Giving door prizes is another way exhibitors get more mileage. Each time a drawing is held, the exhibitor’s name is announced, so all attendees in the building are aware of that company’s presence.

The work isn’t over when the EXPO ends and the booth is taken down. Following up on the leads from the EXPO is the single most important element of converting the experience to a measurable success.

“Turning names of leads into qualified prospects, then developing relationships with the prospects to meet their needs can convert them to new clients and add new profitability to the exhibitors’ bottom lines,” Bell said.

The EXPO is also extremely valuable as an image builder and public relations tool. Some exhibitors find that business networking helps put a personal face on their companies and gives the business community more confidence in them.
Dr. Bill Smith, who is a marketing professor in the College of Business at Southern Miss, said even if business is good, it is important to participate in expos or tradeshows. For example, at a publishing tradeshow you would expect to see all printers in the area represented. If one printer isn’t represented, some might question why.

Smith has more than an academic take on tradeshows. He worked at tradeshows for years before becoming a professor.

“I have a lot of bruises on my body working tradeshows when I was an industrial sales rep,” Smith said. “I learned a lot of this from experience. If no one is entering the booth and you just have a stream of people going by, your job is straddle your booth and the aisle. Try to make eye contact with people. Some won’t establish eye contact. Those who do you can ask, ‘What brought you to the tradeshow?’
“If you are relaxed and have a smile on your face, you will attract more people. If you are lucky, they will have name badges, and you can ask them questions about their work. If you see they work in human resources at a local hospital and you are selling software to human resource professionals, you can ask, ‘How are y’all handling the nursing shortage?’ You are always trying to engage people. You can’t engage others if you aren’t engaged.”

If you are already talking to one prospect and other prospects stop by, it is important to acknowledge them. Say “excuse me,” to the person you are talking to, and tell the newcomers that you will be with them in a moment or two.

“If you don’t acknowledge them, they will be gone in less than a minute,” Smith said. “They might be thinking about coming back later, but you don’t want to take that chance.”

If it happens too often that you are talking to one prospect when others come by, that is an indication you don’t have enough people working the booth.

Smith said it is vital for employees to be alert. If a prospect walks by a booth and sees the occupants all talking to each other, talking on phone or doing e-mail, that creates a bad impression.

“That is not engaged,” Smith said. “Engaged is treating each booth guest like they matter. Introduce yourself. Ask what we call in sales open-ended questions. Instead of asking a question with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, talk to them about the problems they are facing. Ask what attracted them into the booth or display.”

Lastly, make sure to follow up when the tradeshow is over. Smith said a lot of times people fail to do that. To make follow up easier, he suggests not just relying on having every visitor fill out forms.

“You want to identify good leads to know these people have a good chance of using your product, service or idea,” Smith said. “The biggest draw of a tradeshow is that it allows customers to come to you. So it cuts your cost for business travel. The whole idea of a tradeshow is you can cut the numbers of personal sales calls you have to make to close a sale. Sales calls initiated on the customer’s premises may require five calls to close a sale. If I do a tradeshow correctly, I may be able to do that in 2.5 or three calls on the customer’s premises. If it cuts my average cost to close, the show is really effective.

“Trade shows work, especially when you work, too. If you plan what you want to accomplish and really approach the event as an opportunity to connect with potential customers and grow your business, you will be happy with the results.”

Another tip is to make sure that staff is trained on the techniques of tradeshow selling and marketing.
Attendees and exhibitors are all encouraged to attend the special events that take place during the two-day EXPO. To obtain more information, visit the Web site of the Mississippi Business Journal at www.msbusiness.com or call (601) 364-1000.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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