Build a better marketing tradeshow booth


Walking around the floors of Dreamforce, I’m constantly astonished at how bad sales and marketing demos still are by many companies. This is supposed to be the era of 1:1 marketing. This is supposed to be the era of customization. Yet far too many marketers are demonstrating products and services with the same kind of mass demonstration.

Walk by the majority of the booths on the conference floor and you’ll experience religious marketing: spray and pray, in which booth staffers shout about the benefits or the features loud enough and hope that it catches the interest of a passerby.

By contrast, the best booths and the best demos all start with a simple question. The sooner you ask this question, the better the experience is for the average trade show attendee.

“What questions can I answer?”

Or, for the particularly bold, “What questions can I answer, or are you just here to grab a piece of tradeshow swag? It’s totally fine if you are, we’re rather proud of ours.” I heard that once or twice and acknowledged the booth staff for their selling skills. By the way, “what questions can I answer” is a better sales question than “do you have any questions”. If you are trying to elicit feedback from someone, you want to make sure to ask questions that do not have a binary yes or no answer.

Finally, the very best trade show pitchers know when to stop. They know when to stop when the prospect is not interested, but more importantly, they know when to stop when you are ready to talk to a salesperson. I had that positive experience yesterday at the Domo dashboarding service booth. I said quite clearly, “I am interested in your solution and want to talk to a salesperson”. The booth employee, whose name I did not catch, didn’t try to force me through a script or a prerecorded demo, she just sent me along to the sales consultants immediately – and that was exactly what I wanted. No fuss, no muss, no hassle.

Building a better tradeshow booth isn’t about the carpet, or the swag, or the flashy demo. Building a better tradeshow booth is about training your staff to do better, to ask better questions, and to recognize different selling situations almost immediately.

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10 Packing Tips for Dreamforce, 2013 Edition

It’s almost that time of year again, when the marketing and sales worlds converge on San Francisco and tens of thousands of people all try to get the same Uber car at once, leading to things like surge pricing. With that in mind, let’s look at what you should be preparing if you’re going to attend what’s likely to be the largest Dreamforce ever.

Sunrise over Logan Airport

First, bring good walking shoes. San Francisco is a walking city, with the except of places like Nob Hill, where it becomes a mountain climbing city. For the most part around the Moscone Center, you’ll want to walk, if only because the chances of you getting a taxi, Uber, Lyft, or other ride at peak times are close to zero, and if you get one, the surge pricing rates will be ONE HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS A MINUTE. /DrEvil From the Embarcadero or Nob Hill to the Moscone Center is only about a mile, and as long as you don’t go up Nob Hill, it’s a relatively easy mile. Plus, you’ll be on your feet a good chunk of the event, so comfortable walking shoes are essential.

Second, bring your own Wi-Fi point. There will likely be in excess of 100,000 people on site, so bring your own Internet. Ideally, bring devices with different providers so that if one is swamped, you can switch to a difference device. If you’re staying at a hotel in the vicinity, try to get cabled Internet access in the room if possible. At the very least, you won’t have Wi-Fi latency to deal with when every person in the hotel is swarming the one Wi-Fi access point on your floor.

Third, bring power in as many forms as you can, from small, personal power strips (I use the Monster power strip that’s a nice little four-plug splitter, via Amazon) to power banks and external batteries. You’ll be sitting in session rooms of hundreds or thousands of people, and the chances of you sitting next to a power outlet are slim. If you’re lucky enough to sit near one, don’t be that guy who occupies all the outlets – bring the personal strip and make some friends.

Fourth, bring business cards. Duh.

Fifth, bring space. As in extra space in your luggage if possible, because if Dreamforce is known for something besides its content, it’s known for its gigantic expo floor where vendors do everything possible to attract your attention. That includes crazy giveaways, like Skull Candy headphones if you sit through a 10 minute demo.

Sixth, bring your own self-care. Normally, San Francisco is a well-stocked, well-provisioned city with relatively reasonable prices on ordinary goods. When 100,000 people (almost all of whom come from companies with nice expense accounts) descend on the city, prices go up and stock runs out on lots of conveniences. Bring your own OTC pain medication, unless you relish the idea of paying $8 for 2 Advil. Bring whatever else you need to be comfortable and healthy, from vitamin boosters to alcohol hand gel to feminine products.

Seventh, bring spare cables. Got an extra micro-USB cable? iPhone 30 pin cable? Lightning connector? Toss them in your bag (zip tie them together if you want to avoid massive tangles), along with an extra USB wall charger and the gear in tip 3. Chances are someone else will have a phone that’s at 2% and you can be a day-saver. Who knows, that person might just be your next CEO.

Eighth, bring a smaller bag. You will likely get a nice, awesome, wonderful laptop bag with your conference registration (at least for full conference attendees). This bag will always be slightly too large to be convenient, and it will look like the same bag that 100,000 other people have, which means you can lose your bag and its contents fairly easily. Bring a smaller bag that can hold a tablet computer, some extra business cards, a notebook and pen, and some power/cabling. This bag will make you deliriously happy at the end of a 10 hour day walking around.

Ninth, bring or buy a water bottle and make liberal use of it. You’ll need it.

Tenth, bring ballistic earplugs. These are my bliss-creators, the most wonderful $4 you’ll ever spend. Ballistic earplugs are foam plugs that fit in your ears and provide up to -33db noise reduction. They can turn a screaming infant in the airplane seat next to you into an amusing animated distraction, turn a hearing-damage inducing concert into a pleasant musical performance, and turn a noisy hotel into a quiet one (with the chance that you’ll miss your alarm, since you won’t hear it). If you’re the kind of person who needs a bit of quiet in a crowd, these are the solution you’ve been looking for.

With these tips, go forth and enjoy Dreamforce! If you’ll be there, say hi – I’m doing a session on Monday called From Likes to Leads: How to Find, Build, and Convert New Audiences to Grow Your Business.

Disclosure: Dreamforce is a client of my employer. While Salesforce has not compensated me in any way to write this post, there is indirect benefit to me through my employer, SHIFT Communications.

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Social media didn’t kill the conference

The folks at Blogworld pointed out that I wrote this piece 4 years ago about whether social media would kill conferences. Clearly, that hasn’t happened, but I thought it’d be interesting to see what’s happened in the marketing and social media conference space in that time period:

Google Trends - Web Search interest: social fresh, new media expo, blogwell, inbound marketing summit, online marketing summit - Worldwide, 2004 - present

For most of the conferences named in this admittedly hasty Google Trends search, the trend has been in the wrong direction since writing that article. The only conference that’s had its share of search increase is Jason Keath’s Social Fresh conference. Once you step out of the social/digital bubble a bit, you see that some conferences are clearly growing in terms of share of search:

Google Trends - Web Search interest: adtech, himss, oracle openworld, dreamforce, smx - Worldwide, 2004 - present
(disclosure: HIMSS, Adtech, and Dreamforce are clients of my employer)

Social media didn’t kill the conference – in fact, I’d argue that for the more successful conferences that have integrated it into the experience, social media has helped them grow and expand their reach significantly, but that’s in concert with the ubiquity of mobile devices and mobile Internet connections. Conferences as a rule still are hideously awful at providing reliable Internet access, but with 3G and LTE connections, staying in touch with people isn’t as much of a big deal.

Dreamforce Chatter App - Salesforce Labs - AppExchange

The gold standard I refer to for conference experiences (again, disclosure, it’s a client, though the last time I attended I was working at a different company) is Dreamforce. Their conference app was incredible, allowing you to register for sessions on your mobile, get reminders when one of your sessions was coming up, schedule meet-ups and meetings, and as a speaker see who was scheduled to attend your session so you could follow up with them. It integrated with other social networks as well, and it’ll be exciting to see what does with it this year.

The reason that many social media conferences have lost share of search has less to do with social media as a platform and more that social media isn’t new. It’s baked into many businesses now (though not necessarily executed well) and as a result, conferences either must evolve their offerings or face reduced interest. I’m happy to say that I was wrong 4 years ago about the conference business and social’s impact on it (our clients are doubly happy I was wrong) – the need for people to meet up and share face time is greater than ever.

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