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The first buds of spring also herald the beginning of the conference and exhibition season, with many companies wasting a small fortune trying to promote themselves to uninterested visitors.
It is not cheap to exhibit at a trade show. The stand space itself is expensive, and then there is the cost of building the stand, developing new marketing materials, plus the considerable staff time involved in just being there.
I often find myself speaking at exhibitions when the organiser’s business model is to sell stand space on the premise that thousands of visitors will be attracted to the event by the top quality keynotes and free workshops on offer.
When I visit the stands, I receive many complaints about the aggressive sales techniques of people selling exhibition space. They complain that these commission-only salespeople provide inflated estimates of the likely visitor numbers and can be very persistent and unpleasant.
My advice to any potential exhibitor is to leave any decision to the last minute, and always to offer a small percentage of what is quoted on their rate card.
But if you do decide to exhibit, it is always good practice to make the sales messages on your stand as obvious as possible. An interesting exercise is to walk down an aisle at a trade show, trying to guess what the exhibitor does just by looking at their stand.
It is clear that many of the stands have been designed by amateurs trying to do their own marketing. Alternatively, they have engaged a marketing agency whose brilliant idea is to deliberately make the messages of the company as opaque as possible. They argue that this will generate curiosity in the causal observer, encouraging them into visiting your stand to find out more. Sadly, this rarely happens in the real world.
People who attend trade shows are looking for someone to solve their problems or meet their needs. If you clearly state those problems and needs and then explain how you can address them, you stand a good chance of attracting a potential customer.
There is also one last hurdle before your company achieves an acceptable return on its investment in stand space, and that is the hapless people on the stand itself. Working at trade shows is an extremely dismal and tiring process. The people you do want to attract will studiously avoid eye contact, while those who deliberately engage your attention are often time-wasters, competitors or students, often with poor social skills.
In my experience, very little business is gained from people causally wandering onto your stand; the key to success at a trade show is in the pre-event preparation. Experienced trade show exhibitors train their staff in good stand technique and do most of their work in advance of the event, contacting potential customers to make specific appointments.
Any spare time at the show is used in scanning the other stands, eyeing up the competition and looking for new leads.
If you do spot a potential customer working on another trade show stand, it is poor etiquette to try and engage them in a sales conversation there and then. They want to sell to other people, not listen to your sales pitch. You should just ask for the name of the key decision maker for contact after the event, and take as much of their sales literature as possible for your pre-meeting research.
You can also drop into the keynotes, seminars and workshops and learn something new. If they have one on how to exhibit successfully at a trade show, then that would definitely be worth a visit.
Originally published in The Financial Times. Copyright ©Mike Southon 2011. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker.
For more information on what not to do at exhibitions, read Fiona Humberstone’s guide to the 12 reasons why companies fail to make a success of exhibitions — which is full of positive suggestions too!
Finding a good design agency to work with on your logo design, rebrand or website isn’t easy. Even if we start with the premise that no one sets out to do a bad job (I really believe that’s true), there’s more to finding a good design agency than randomly picking the company that tops the search results.
Finding a great design agency – one that you can build a relationship with over time, one that becomes a partner to your business, one that revolutionises how your current and prospective clients view your business – isn’t an easy task.
It’s also not a decision that should be driven by budget. Sure, budget counts, but if you try and save too much money in the short term, then it’ll definitely cost you more in the long term. False starts cost time, money and heartache so it pays to find the right design agency in the first place.
I suspect that this could be an incredibly long post, so let me just give you a few bullet points to get thinking about.
Qualifying a prospect is probably one of the most important elements of selling if you are a small business. The time you can save by not trying to sell to prospects who ultimately never would have bought anyhow is invaluable, as well as the mental advantage that can be gained by being able to focus only on the right prospects.
The eight key stages that should be followed can be remembered easily using the term SCOTSMAN.
(S) Solution — Have you clarified if your prospect understands what it is that you wish to sell them. What is your solution and why will it work for them?
(C) Competition — Have you an awareness of whether there is anyone competing with you to sell to your prospect or for the money they may use to buy from you? Your competition could be internal as well as external.
(O) Objective — Have you a clear understanding on what your client is looking for, what are they in the market for? What is important to them now and in the future? Do you improve their services or processes, or do you save them money?
(T) Timescales — Have you clarified what timescale the prospect is working to? Can you deliver within that timescale? Does the timescale work for you? Is there a timing factor that could be used in your favour, for example a financial year end?
(S) Size — Is the potential size of the deal worth the effort going to be needed to win the business? Have you a clear picture on what size the deal will be? Is it smaller than ideal but could open doors? Is it too big and may have a detrimental impact on your business?
(M) Money — Does the prospect have the money in their budget to pay for your solution? If they don’t have a budget, can they find the money or do you need to consider walking away?
(A) Authority — Are you speaking to the decision maker? The person who ultimately will sign the cheque? Are they even aware that you are speaking to their company? It is no longer imperative to deal with just the decision maker, there is a value in dealing with another contact within the business but very few pieces of business are completed without the main authority signing off on it.
(N) Need — Does the prospect actually need your solution? Very few deals happen in the current climate without a clear need. There are many reasons why they may need your solution and it is key that you find out which one is relevant and focus on it.
If you can answer all of the questions in a positive manner, then your chances of closing the deal are significantly higher than if you can’t. Very few deals will actually happen if one or more of these eight key stages are missing, and the time you may waste on chasing shadows is valuable.
It can be easy to get sucked into thinking that every deal will happen, and there is also a sort of comfort that some small businesses value in having a large pipeline that “could” close but I would encourage you to qualify properly and allow yourself to focus only the deals that have a chance. You are better off closing three out of five good prospects than two out of ten prospects as your focus was stretched thin.
Craig McKenna is a managing partner at The Growth Academy.
Branding, is like an iceberg — it exists mostly below the surface. The visible brand messaging accounts for what we see above sea level. The invisible brand – the company culture, the customer experience — is the mass below the surface
When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin came back from the moon, the first thing they were greeted by was a huge neon sign that said "Welcome to Earth — home of Coca-Cola". That is how powerful a brand can be.
But your company doesn’t have to be the size of Coca-Cola or Mercedes to have a brand. In fact, every business has one. And by building yours into a strong one it can become one of your most valuable assets. Branding is a simple representation of who you, your company or your product are. One of the key fundamental steps to begin this process is to implement some honest self-analysis to discover your brand truth. The results of this establishes your unique brand identity if you are true to yourself.
Branding ultimately creates that all important first impression in your customers mind. A dynamic branding and product positioning formula is one that will invite new customers, and propel them into a desired action.
Remember, a brand is not a name or a logo or a colour scheme or a design layout or a tag line or an advertising theme. A brand lives in the customer’s perception. A brand is not what the marketer says it is; it’s what the customer thinks it is. A brand begins and ends with the customer, and most important to the customer’s perception is the customer experience. Customers will believe their own experience before they believe the advertising.
Advertising works only when it is supported by the customer experience, and strong brands are built one customer experience at a time. Effective branding is what causes people to walk past all the no-name, on-sale colas at the grocery store and pick up the six-pack of Coca-Cola that costs twice as much — just ask Neil Armstrong.
Chances are, if you’re an entrepreneur or marketing director of a small to medium-sized business, you’ll have been dipping into social media platforms and hopefully getting engaged by now.
One of the biggest issues I regularly come across for those involved with, or looking to get involved, with social media for business usage is that of not having enough time to do it thoroughly, or not having enough expertise to get engaged effectively.
Agencies, in particular, are having trouble providing powerful social media services for their clients – as they are so busy doing the daily stuff, many have been left well behind the curve on blogging, social media, and micro-blogging developments.
Solution? Hire a social media consultant.
Here’s a few tips from me on how to hire well – or, to put it another way, my 6 P’s of things to look for when hiring your social media consultant.
Remember, it’s their job to make you look absolutely brilliant online, and draw attention to your door:
Is the social media consultant passionate about social media? Are they passionate about getting you results on social media platforms? Can they demonstrate their passion for social media?
Is the social media consultant professional in their outlook to social media platforms? Have they delivered professionally for other businesses and agencies on a variety of relevant social media platforms? Is their own social media presence professional?
Is the social media consultant prompt in the social media presence? Are they blogging, tweeting and adding powerful content promptly, consistently and with a proven track record? Is their social media promptness provable for other existing clients?
Is the social media consultant personable? Is it apparent that they have a social and professional personality which will translate well for your business if you put them in front of them? Is their personality appropriate for social media engagement on your behalf?
Is the social media consultant a practical deliverer? Can you see a track record of ‘sleeves rolled up’ by them? Are you confident that they will work hard, consistently and diligently on your behalf on social media platforms?
Now, although we’re all looking for a bargain, is your social media consultant too cheap? After all, if they charge peanuts, what do you think the results will be? Are you looking for a cheap, non-effective social media presence, or have you allocated a workable budget for your social media consultant to deliver on your behalf?
Ask anyone in the business of selling a product and they’ll evangelise about the benefits of having their wares featured in a magazine. Not only does a feature in a magazine — be it in the “What’s new” section, part of an article or a specific feature to drive traffic to your site — it’ll give your business much-welcomed kudos to be endorsed by a magazine title your customers look up to. It’s also a sneaky ego-boost.
But gaining PR in printed titles isn’t easy. Nor is it as cheap as it first seems. You either need to be on very good terms with the magazine editors, which takes time to foster, or you need to have an incredibly hard-working and focused PR company working on your behalf, which, let’s face it, ain’t cheap.
What many e-tailers seem to be overlooking is that the rise in the uber-bloggers provides just as precious PR as traditional printed literature channels. These blogs can provide just as much influence as the glossies and better still, these blogs often link direct to your website! I’m not just talking about you using your own blog to build relationships and generate awareness, I’m talking about you getting your products featured on top blogging sites just as you would an aspirational magazine.
So how do you get your products featured on an uber-blog?
Start by doing your homework. Read the bloggers in your niche and suss out which ones resonate with your brand and your clients. Draw up a hit list of five or so that you’d like to be featured on and start to build relationships with the writers. Network with them on social media sites such as Twitter and comment on their blogs. Ideally you want to maintain a buzz of regular exposure, so build long-term relationships if you can, rather than one-hit wonders.
Bloggers love good content! Great photos, news their clients will love, scoops, sneak peeks and so on are great for the bloggers. It adds richness to their site as well as making their lives easier. I love the ethics of bloggers such as Design*Sponge who only feature on merit rather than due to backhanders! It definitely makes the reading experience more authentic.
I’ve seen too many blogs recently that have clearly just cut and pasted badly written press releases on blogs. It doesn’t work for the blogger or the product and it looks transparent. Blogging is different to the printed media. Just as you wouldn’t want a journalist to print your press release in full (including contact information for your PR), so you don’t want bloggers to publish that info either. And whereas traditional PR may follow a very fixed format, blogging is more free and easy. When we’re reading a blog we want the inside scoop – and that means the blogger giving their opinions and hopefully endorsing your product in some way – so don’t write your usual style press release.
Make sure you send in great images and ask the blog owner what they’re looking for. Oh, and just as with printed media don’t forget to be grateful – a little thank you (I mean literally just thank you – no need to bribe…) goes a long way!
Find out more on how to write blogs: