One-on-One Engagement Techniques
to Qualify More Leads at Trade Shows
This transcript is from Episode 13 of The Savvy Event Planner Podcast
To listen to this podcast, please visit: http://SavvyEventPodcast.com/13
Interview only transcript
Tom: And ladies and gentlemen, I'm on the line here with David Spark. David, thank you so much for joining me today.
David: Thank you for having me on, Tom.
Tom: Now I was talking with Robert Strong in episode 11 of the podcast, and he gave us…
David: Very good magician.
Tom: I thought he was excellent. In fact, we've got some video and stuff of him working. I've known Robert since he was a little kid, but he got into some things on trade shows. We started talking about staffing the booth. And after the podcast was over, we were talking and he mentioned that you're the guy that literally wrote the book on the subject.
David: Well, wrote the book, not on trade shows, but on engaging with people or attendees at trade shows. Yeah, so I have a book entitled, “Three Feet from Seven Figures: One-on-One Engagement Techniques to Qualify More Leads at Trade Shows.” And what that title refers to is how close you are to how much money. Now almost all of our clients are in the B2B tech space, and the lifetime value of a customer in the B2B tech space usually goes into the seven figures. And so those potential customers literally could be walking right by you, and people just don't know how to stop and engage and qualify them.
Tom: Okay. Well, before we go into some of those techniques and talk more about your book, can you give us a little bit of your background? Your background in corporate entertainment, your background in events.
David: So I have a background and used to work in advertising. Used to work in television. Used to be a stand-up comic for a dozen years. And then also worked in corporate entertainment, worked for a company called Live Marketing out of Chicago. And then also Second City, the Comedy Institution has a corporate entertainment division, and I was a comedy writer for them, not a performer. I used to have a bit in my acts when I did stand-up about how bad I was at improv, and I said, “To be good at improv, you have to do characters.” My range of characters goes all the way from Dave to David. And that's about it.
So, and then I worked, after I worked in television, I went back to advertising, start a custom publishing New Media division for an ad agency, and then left that to start my own business, Spark Media Solutions, which is what we call a brand journalism firm. A lot of people know it by the term of content marketing. Essentially companies, mostly big B2B tech companies, hire us to produce media for them, videos, articles, photos, like that.
And because of all my work at trade shows, because a good two-thirds of our work is going to trade shows, and conferences, and shooting interviews, I have noticed a trend in behavior at booths. And so I started interviewing a lot of experts, Robert Strong, one included. Robert works with me on the trade show training stuff that we do. And just got a lot of great expert advice on what to do and not do at a trade show.
Tom: Okay. Let's go back just a hair.
Tom: And we're going to talk about trade shows, but I'm curious about how you create content at events. Let's talk a little bit about that, if you would.
David: So the great thing about trade shows and events is because they're so industry-specific, every one related to the industry is there. So the low cost to produce content is phenomenal because usually a lot of the cost to producing content is getting the subject that you need, and I'm assuming we're doing on camera here.
And the best example I give, one of our old clients is a company called the CMO Club, and CMO stands for chief marketing officer. If a client came up to me and said, “I need you to interview 20 CMOs of mid-sized to enterprise-sized companies on camera.” If I did not have an event like the CMO Club to go to and where they were physically within arm's reach of me, I would have to contact all these companies, tons and tons of companies, get a lot of rejections, go through their media relations department, get clearance, hire crews, go to…it means we're going to go into the very high six figures pretty darn quickly if I'm going to have to book all those crews, fly all those places, yada yada yada.
Conversely, at trade show, everyone's physically there and so like at the event, the CMO Club, I interviewed about 25 CMOs within a day and a half, which just is impossible any other means. That's why there's such fertile ground for content creation.
Tom: Okay. And you also helped these events trend socially. Is that correct? In social media?
David: We have very specific techniques we do, but we don't have a monstrous staff that's managing all our social media. We lean on our client to do that being that they've already built their relationships doing that. But we have certain techniques through the way we write articles and the way we produce videos and also what I called, something called mean photos. So we have this interesting technique. You know what a ‘man on the street' style video is, where you ask everybody the same question, and then you splice it together to make like a fun two-minute piece?
David: You've seen this kind of format before. So we make a lot of those videos. But what's interesting about those videos, we'll make one of them two minutes long. We have maybe like 20 different responses in that video. Well, each response is a soundbite. That's the whole idea. It's a soundbite to the question that was asked. And I was like, “Well, that soundbite could be turned into what we call a mean image.” You've seen these images being traded on Facebook, if you will, where you see just a quote that people posted on their Facebook page. Have you seen what I'm talking about?
Tom: Most certainly.
David: So that the exact same content, so we'll pull a quote from a person in a video, take their still image, put the quote next to it, and then put graphic design around it, put the branding of the company, the web address to go find the video, and the hash tag of the event. Now this becomes a tradeable item in social media. And that's the thing we do. We create these units that by their sheer nature have a viral nature to them or have a desire to trade them if you will.
Tom: Very cool stuff. Very cool stuff. So you were going out and creating all this content at these events, and you noticed things that were going on in the trade show, which led you into your current line, what you're doing. You're training the staff of these trade show booths, correct?
David: Right. Well, I'm still doing all my trade show work. This is a new thing, the training. Here's the bottom line. There is no question there is a need for people to behave better in trade show booths. There's no question in my mind about this because I see this behavior rampant. In fact, just prior to this podcast, I was going through a lot of video that we had shot at the VMWorld Conference, where we just caught all this rampant bad behavior on camera, and I videotaped it all. I'm going to make something out of it.
But what I also know is while I'm clear that there's a need for it, there's no demand. Nobody says, “I'm behaving badly in a trade show booth. Please help me.” It's just people just don't do that because they think they're behaving normally. And here's the part that's odd is that on a normal day, we talk to our co-workers. We look at our phone. We check our phone. We work on our computer. We eat at our desk sometimes.
That behavior, everything I just described to you is horribly bad at a trade show. Like Godawful bad, because the booth itself is like a stage. I mean you've performed at trade shows. You're a corporate entertainer. So you are literally on stage the entire time that that booth is open. So when people walking by see something they don't like in the booth, there's a subtext to it. There's something they're thinking as they see it, as they walk by. And, look, they're not looking at your booth design first. They're looking at your behavior first. And that's the thing that we wanted to bring to light and hopefully create a demand for the need to be trained at a trade show.
Tom: Okay. So many people are focused on the booth. It's got to look just right.
Tom: We've got to have the display. We've got to have the presentation videos. Why do they focus on that instead of the training?
David: Well, first of all, I go back to the thing is there's no demand for it. People don't think they have a problem. And the other thing is that's something very mechanical that you think…once you start saying to a VP of sales, “We need to train you how to behave in a booth,” the guy's going to look at you so incredibly insulted because, “What I do is I talk to people all day. That's what I do. What do you do? What can you tell me that I don't already know?”
So you're dealing with something that's a very sensitive topic that could insult people. So instead of going down their road, we deal with the things that are a little bit more mechanical than we can control, that won't go get us into political hot water. And then once we get to the event, instead of fixing things, we just got to go, “Well, we spent the money we didn't…” Whatever happens, happens kind of a thing.
People don't realize that once you hit the event, you got to work your tail off. You have to keep fine-tuning things. There's so much involved in working an event. And people just, they don't realize it. And it's exhausting. Let me ask you, Tom, you've worked trade shows before like working in a physical booth?
Tom: Actually, I do not work trade shows because…
David: You don't?
Tom: I am an introvert. I perform on stage. I can make an audience laugh, but I cannot be on during the hours of a trade show. So…
David: So you've never done it before. Oh, okay.
Tom: Well, I should say it like this. I used to, years ago, do fair conventions, where I was in my own booth, but I was lousy at it. Just it was not my…
David: So why do you think you were lousy at it?
Tom: Because I am an introvert. I could not reach out and create these conversations. And one thing I really like about your book was you equated this to speed dating with complete strangers in an unreal environment.
Tom: And that really hit home with me. That describes the event perfectly.
David: Trade shows are surreal. What it is is you…one guy actually, and I added it to my book, one guy who I was interviewing, he said, because the VMWorld Conference was just before Burning Man, which is this temporary city that's created for just a week. Everyone comes at one time, and then they leave and the whole city disappears.
And that's essentially what a trade show is. It's this miniature city, very much compressed in time and space. It's only open for sometimes 8, 16, 20 hours total. And the streets are very narrow, and there's no cars, and all your potential customers are there. And everything you do on a normal day is just magnified. It's such an intense, intense level, and it's physically exhausting and mentally exhausting.
And so that's why it's really, really hard for some people. Just because you can't work a trade show booth well does not make you a bad person. That's something…certain people have the constitution for it, and certain people don't. And that's one of the things we also recommend is you got to audition your people. Just the higher level up person may not be the best. You may have low-level people who are so gregarious and have the energy to make it through an entire day on a trade show floor.
Tom: Okay. One of the things that I really…as we're talking about that, I'm going to jump ahead here. You talked about layering the crowds in your booth. So let's talk about the layers, if we can, quickly.
David: Yes, so like what I just said, you're going to have people who are very affable, who can connect with people, but if you're in a very technical business, and there are certain people who only know the technical information, and they're not necessarily affable people, you can train them to a degree, but people are who they are. You can't really change behavior too much.
So those people physically have to be at the trade show because those people are the ones who are sought after for the conversations and can help when people have those concerns and questions, can answer them for you.
So the layering concept in any, in traditional booth traffic management, you would hire like booth gatherers, and booth ambassadors, not booth babes. Actually, we're against booth babes and [I'll] go into that later, but booth ambassadors who are trained at the techniques of engaging and qualifying people very quickly. Once they spotlight somebody who's having concerns that they obviously they can't answer, they would then move them into the booth towards the people that can answer.
Now there's even more management stuff you can do with that where if you are someone who knows the thing yet you're like, “I got a hot potato here. This person is really knows, really is interested. They ask me a lot of questions. Let me hand it off to this person, who knows even more questions and can move them down the sales cycle, if you will.”
So understanding what role everybody plays in a booth is very, very key. You just got to work and you got to perform when you're in the booth. It's just something that people don't understand. They think they can behave like they do in the office and you simply can't. You just can't.
Tom: So when somebody's putting together a booth for a trade show, you recommended setting goals. What type of goals should an event planner or a booth coordinator have when they're going to a trade show?
David: Well, understand who your audience is first. Once you know, well, this audience is going to come to this and these are our potential buyers that come to the show, the typical thing is just to generate leads so we can pump them into an email marketing system and do it like that. But honestly, everyone in the industry knows, especially if you're in a B2B industry, people sell to people. And if you can get a qualified person who's responsible for purchasing or helping with the purchase decision, you really, really want to work that.
So we've seen techniques where, and I mentioned this in the book where president of the company said, “Anyone who brings me a CEO of a company to me, I'll hand you 50 bucks. If they're in your hand right there on the spot. If that guy is a customer of one of our competitors, I'll hand you $100.”
Well, given that the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars that is blown at a trade show, 50 to 100 bucks to have those kinds of meetings, is enormous. So we always recommend throwing in some incentives to really get people to work frickin' hard and it really…one of the comments I always say, “Who works harder in your booth?” Your own employees or the people you hired to work your booth?” It's always the people you hire to work your booth because they want to get hired again. Your employees technically could stand by their station and just answer questions anybody comes up to them and will be seen as doing their job.
Your goals really should be, who are we trying to reach? How many deep conversations we want to have? How many extremely warm leads [we're going] to make? Like I had a deep conversation with Tom. I have very specific follow-up notes. That's a very, very warm lead, we want to land a lot of those. And then we want to land a ton of those scanned leads where we dump a thousand people into the hopper. It all depends on your ultimate goal and how you do it, but I'm always a big fan of having deep conversations with extremely warm leads.
Tom: Okay. So how do we approach the prospect walking by because I'll go back to my experience in the Fair Trade show. People don't want to make eye contact. They're out, so what are the methods that a professional greeter would possibly use to stop that lead and convince them to talk a little bit more?
David: Well, let me qualify something you just said. Stop that lead. Not everybody you stop is going to be a lead. Everybody that you can to stop is going to be an attendee. It's your job to figure out if they're a lead, if they're qualified or not qualified. So you got to have, in terms of your preparation, you got to have some type of qualifying questions, questions to determine whether they're appropriate for your industry or not.
So, but before that, you got to actually stop them. And so there's an engagement point and then there's a qualifying point. So the engagement point, it could be a lot of different things, but one technique that works pretty universally, and I'll give this one piece of advice and this one piece of advice will dramatically help everybody when they're working a booth. And if you just tell your attendees, or your booth staff to say this, you'll have a lot of success. And that is, “What have you seen cool at the show today?”
Now this has a lot of valuable things to say. Pretty much everybody can answer that question. Even if they just dropped on the floor. He goes, “Well, I just walked on the floor. I haven't seen anything cool.” Then you can follow up. “What do you want to see?”
And by asking, “What do you want to see?” then you can get to your qualifying question very quickly or qualify the person quickly. If the person says, “I'm interested in XYZ,” and then you can start doing follow-ups. Are you interested in this, this, and this? If it's relevant to your business, then what do you know? That person's qualified. But if they actually have been on the floor awhile and they say, “Well, I saw this at this company. I thought that was really cool.” Again you're getting some potentially qualifying information.
If not, because you've been stuck in the booth all day, you're actually learning more about the industry from the people on the show floor. So we just find that works really well, and it gets you to a qualifying point very quickly. So you can do that.
The other thing is read people's name badges. You'd be surprised how many don't look at somebody's name badge at all. And people sometimes get surprised when I go, “Hey, Tom!” And they go, “How the hell do you know me?” Robert Strong actually has this great joke. He goes, “Well, I read minds and name badges.”
Tom: Speaking of names and name badges, you talked briefly about scanning name badges in your book and how that can sometimes be a distraction. For example, if somebody walks in and the booth babe decides she wants to scan your badge because that's something that she was asked to do by the company, that can be a deterrent. So is there a good way to scan those badges? Because I know that's important.
David: The scan of a badge is an exchange. So I'm going to give you something, Tom. And in return, you're going to let me scan your badge. So it could be, “Hey, Tom, would you like to be entered to win an iPad?” And you say, “Yes.” “Well, then let me scan your badge.” To say, “let me scan your badge,” that can be a turnoff, and often you hear this happen a lot. The reason that booth babes get away with is because they're booth babes. Really, the exchange rate there is I get to be close to a pretty girl as she scans my badge. And that's pretty much what that exchange is. That doesn't really reflect well on your business and your brand, unless your brand is in some form of sex or pornography. That's a completely different thing.
We think that you have to qualify the person quickly, and that's the other thing. While it's important to have qualified people, it's important also not to be engaged in conversation with them too long because you're going to want to do that. Because, “Oh my God, I found somebody I'm having a great conversation with,” but that's not your job at a trade show. Your job at a trade show is meet as many people as possible and qualify as many people as possible. That's usually your job at trade show, the people working the booth. There's other variations of that as well.
So when you get someone who's qualified, obviously move them into the booth. But one of the other thing that's really important is to give a positive experience to someone who is disqualified. You're going to run into a lot of people who are not appropriate for your business at all. And what you have to do is you have end that conversation quickly and politely, but also make it very clear to that person what you do because that person's going to be at the trade show for the rest of the time, and they're going to run into other people who are qualified. And if they bring something up, the person go, “Oh, I meet this company XYZ and they do just that.”
So you could say, “Hey, Tom. Great to meet you. We're company XYZ. We do ABC. If you'd like to be entered to win an iPad, please drop your business card in the bowl over there. Otherwise, have a great show.” Shake your hand and say goodbye. That's it. Because you don't want to waste his time and you don't want to waste your own time.
Tom: So that's a great example of how to get out of the conversation and qualify that lead or actually give them that good experience. Let's talk a little bit about demeanor in the booth and attitude if we can. What are some of the things you see people doing wrong when they're in a trade show?
David: Well, I'll just list off. Here's the other thing. Here are the two big tips. If you do one thing, get it [out of the] way. First, just end all the bad behavior. The bad behavior is don't be staring at your phone in the booth, don't be working on your computer in the booth. If you have to take a call, if you have to look at your phone, literally just step out of the booth. Don't be in your booth when you're doing it. Be out of your booth.
Secondly, I know it feels more comfortable to talk to your colleagues, but when you get into a booth huddle, you're all wearing the same colored shirt, you're talking to each other and your back is to the floor, that's the other thing, don't put your back to the floor or to the aisle, it sends the wrong message. The people come by and go, “Oh, well, they don't want to talk to me because they're obviously having a conversation.”
And then similarly don't drink or eat in the booth. If you have to drink or eat, step out of the booth. There's a lot of things. If you have to do something that's personal, just don't be physically in the booth. So that's my number one tip because you have to understand that you are literally on a stage as people walk by, and when they see you eating, staring at the phone, looking at your computer, in a huddle, talking to your co-workers, the subtext, the little caption under that is, “Well, they're not interested. They're bored. They don't care about me. They're not reaching out to me.”
And they see that first before any booth design, before any video at all. And that's really important. So just flat out stop doing that. And this is, we see this behavior rampant at every trade show. And mostly it comes down to people just…they're not evil and mean. It's just they don't know how to behave, and also this is what they do on a normal day, so why should this be any different? The problem is, it is very different and it is not a normal day, and you have to behave differently.
Tom: One of the things that I found very interesting was you were talking about the amount of money that a company is investing in a trade show. And often, they don't realize how much is actually involved.
David: Yeah, it's enormous. So I've got some people on camera telling me, and I know this is very little because we declined, spend over a million dollars of one trade show. But, yeah, a 20 by 20 booth, the whole cost of that, and I think they're underestimating their cost because there's a lot other costs, they estimated between 200 and 280,000 dollars. That includes everything from just buying the sponsorship of the booth, it can run 100K sometimes. That's the price of a small house in some areas.
And that's a medium-sized booth at 20 by 20. There's the flying the people out, the designing the booth, the producing the booth, the hiring the union labor to build the booth, and flying people out, and putting them up in a hotel, and feeding them, and the drink bill, and the PR. It goes on and on. And also the months of preparation for it, and the time of the people at the booth when they could be doing other work. Their time and their price.
So it's probably a lot higher than that, but if you take that money, take all of that money, and just divide it by the number of hours you're on the show floor, you're looking at your hourly price, how much you're paying per hour. And at the lowest, lowest level, you're paying five grand per hour. That's lowest. But usually it's 35 grand and up per hour. So if you knew that you are paying 5,000, 20, 35,000 dollars an hour, and you saw your co-workers talking on the phone, staring at their phone, talking to each other, you'd go a little ballistic. So we're trying to point out that there's a lot riding on this and you've got to be on.
Tom: Now that's some great stuff right there because you're right. If we're paying out that much money for an event, then you need your people on. So when we're talking about training, one of the things your book was talking about was practicing. Talk to us a little bit about how people would practice a booth.
David: Well, this is exactly what we do for our training. We get into a conference room with the employees who may or may not be going to the show because we suggest that because then afterwards, we'll say, “Hey, these people performed the best. These people didn't.” And we just go through a bunch of exercises many mentioned in the book, and it's really how do you stop people? How do you present yourself to them?
One simple technique of somebody walking by the aisle, you don't jump in front of them and be squared off with them. You be at a diagonal to them because to be squared off at them, is confrontational. But to be at a slight diagonal is not confrontational and is more friendly and inviting.
You do it for them and you do it to them. You do both techniques and you say like, “Doesn't this feel uncomfortable when I'm square on you versus when I'm like this?” And like, “Oh.” They see it. So once they see it and may experience it, they know what they should do and what's appropriate. And honestly, just practicing and rehearsing over and over again is the only way. We recommend a combination of practicing in the office beforehand to determine who the people are going to go, so do this months beforehand.
And then actually, get more practice and training at the show because at the end of the day, you want everyone to share notes like, “Well, what opening lines worked best for you?” And he goes, “I did this opening line. I had this really great conversation. And this worked really well for me.” And you want to trade those kinds of notes with people. So you want the practice to happen months beforehand to determine who's going to go. Maybe just beforehand to get people ready on the trade show floor, and then have show notes. If any of you have been in theater, at the end of the day, just trade information. What worked for you guys, and what didn't?
Tom: David, you shared a lot of information with us today, and literally, I know you're a very busy man. I don't want to take up much more of your time, but your book, “Three Feet from Seven Figures.” Very visual just in that context. Where is that available?
David: It's going to be available everywhere. And the website, which by the time the show airs, should be up. It's threefeetbook.com, and you can do it by the number 3 or the word ‘three' feet book dot com. And you can get in, and then you can buy it on your Amazon. And you can get all the digital versions as well, so you can get the hardback or not the hardback, it will be a paperback. Or the digital version as well. So whichever you like. And it's got a lot of pictures in it, too. We hired a great illustrator and she did a really awesome with all the pictures.
Tom: She did. I'll tell you, that was phenomenal, too. And how did you find her?
David: That's some more advice we can give that's not related is that we've used these services sometimes, like Fiverr and Odesk, which is…Odesk and Elance, they merged and they have a new company name, and I'm forgetting what their name is.
But what we did is we had to have a lot images done. There's close to I think 45, 50 drawings in that book. And so we knew we wanted to work with someone whose work we liked, and we knew could follow directions and was affordable and also could work with us.
So we actually did a short test. We spent a few hundred dollars where we just had about six different artists. We looked at their stuff, and we said, “Here, we'll pay you to just do this one drawing. Here's the direction for it.” And we got six different drawings back, and this one woman, Christina Brown, who is fantastic, did an excellent job for us. And she probably felt, followed the directions the best. And then we had a conversation with her via Skype, and she was a sweetheart and really nice to work with. And we realized, that has a lot to do with it. She had the design and the look we wanted, and she was easy to work with.
So those services are great, but you have to be wary of them because you have to see what you want to get. So we always recommend trying a paid test thing. Don't ask people to do things for free. Spend a few hundred bucks upfront to do a paid test to figure out who would be the best person to work with, if it's going to be a big project. If you have a small project like a one-off thing, just go do anything, but for a big project, we highly recommend a test.
Tom: Well, I'll tell you. The book is phenomenal. I read it this morning before we got on the air. It was an easy read and so much incredible information. So folks, you'll find the links to all these sites that we've talked about with David, on the show notes. Just head on over to savvyeventpodcast/ and the episode number, which I'll give you later because I just forgot which episode you're going to be.
David: No worries.
Tom: Oh, I am having one of those days. David, is there any last thoughts you'd like to share with our audience?
David: No, Tom. Hey, it's been great. I'll be on the show with you, and I'd like to see you perform sometime.
Tom: That'd be great. I travel around nationally doing after dinner entertainment. That's my major focus, and they have dinners at trade shows and conventions, so who knows? Maybe we'll get to meet each other in person and be able to hang out a little bit afterwards.
Hey, David, thank you again so much for coming on the podcast today.
David: Well, thank you very much, Tom.
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