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We’ll come to you.

I recently returned from the bi-annual Professional Materials (ProMat) trade show at Chicago’s McCormick Center, and it was quickly evident that many companies have lost sight of the 5 rules of B2B trade show process.

They are fairly simple rules to follow, but the real difficulty seems to be implementation, which is itself the resultant combination of creativity, forethought and an understanding of attendee motivations.

1) Show Up With A Plan – this is surely the most important of all rules, and it sounds astoundingly obvious enough, but too many exhibitors just show up and man the floor, waiting for folks to stop by to see their wares, believing "if I have a booth, they will come." Not true. What are you presenting / promoting / introducing and why? Is it important to anyone but you? What messages do you want to get across? What are your benchmarks for trade show success? How will you acquire interest? How will you separate the wheat from the chaff? What are your post-show strategies? The list goes on but you can see my point: if you are spending money to exhibit, you’d better not waste it.

2) Show Your "Uniqueness" – every company thinks it’s different in some way, and mostly, they are. But if your booth look, feel and messaging is essentially the same as other companies in your industry, or worse, segment, then you become a so-what afterthought unless you’re introducing lightning in a bottle, and folks will walk right on by. At so many trade shows, there is a homogeneity that numbs the soul after a few hours of walking the aisles, and it’s your job to differentiate yourself, and make people stop. And hopefully, ask questions.

3) Engage, Maverick, Engage – but don’t be too aggressive. There seem to be polarized approaches to handling potential customers: if anyone steps within 5 feet of the booth, or even looks at poster messaging, some companies send teams – literally – to swarm the unsuspecting prey. Other companies simply don’t step up to the plate and think that if someone is interested, they’ll ask a question. The place to be is in the middle. Think of what you would like to happen when you enter an electronics or telecomm store: have someone available to you but not follow you around. The simplest of all questions is the most effective: "Is there anything I can help you with?" To be followed up with "Would you be interested in… / have you heard about…?"

4) Look Like You Enjoy Being There – excitement and enthusiasm are infectious and appealing, so if you don’t look like you are proud of what you are selling, then don’t expect a prospective customer to make up for your lack of effort. How many times have you walked by booths where the folks manning it are just milling around? Or are not paying attention? Or, even worse, see you, but don’t even acknowledge you? If being at a trade show is boring, get another job.

5) Provide Real Solutions – don’t just feature big posters that say you are a solutions provider. Have a show and tell, and / or be prepared to tell visitors exactly what challenges of theirs you are overcoming. And how it will affect their business, bottom line or process. Make it tangible, and make it specific.

There are plenty more rules – driving traffic, follow through, attire, visual aides, booth layout, demonstration techniques – but these are the 5 rules you need to address for every show.