22 April 2013

11 ideas for better technical trade-show booths, from the POV of a prospect

Intrepid reader,

Are you looking for ideas on designing trade show booths or signage for trade show tables? I just returned from MD&M (a Boston-area manufacturing services trade show) and – yikes! - the booths were awful from a functionality perspective.

Ideas for good trade show table design:

  1. Make eye contact with any prospect who’s waiting for you to finish gossiping with a booth visitor, even if it’s just to say, “Hi! I’ll be with you as soon as we wrap up.”
  2. Signage copy (the headlines) should be as concise and honest as possible. Stop saying SOLUTIONS, or words like “solutions,” if you actually mean “we design little plastic parts and don’t manufacture the products that use those parts.” Believe me, you’re not losing any customers by being specific.
  3. Spend real time role-playing during the design process to judge: will a tired but motivated newcomer prospect actually know what we do in TWO SECONDS?
  4. Our eyes evolved to save us from fast-moving tigers – exploit this fact about your customers by adding simple lenticular (2-D, not 3-D) signage, or even small blinking lights – so that, as they walk by, they are helpfully distracted by changes in their visual field.
  5. Stop yelling to prospects from your booth. I empathize – I’ve worked quite a few booths in years past – but (particularly technical) prospects like to stand and mull things over before saying “hi.”
  6. If you have a cavernous booth, don’t stand like a guard in front of it, prospects might not walk in.
  7. I’m not sure how else to say this: For goodness sake, WOMEN are PEOPLE and should not be USED as eye-catching OBJECTS to get booth traffic. ‘nuff said.
  8. Sales 101: ask a prospect two questions BEFORE TALKING to understand what they’re looking for. Prospects do not want to hear about your uncle’s 3-D printer or your proprietary flexible PCBs if it’s not the reason they’re visiting.
  9. Put away your iPod and your laptop: check your email and Facebook during breaks, or at least behind the booth. A good 10% of salespeople were more focused on their iPods and laptops than prospects. That sets bad expectations about customer service.
  10. (Re: #5) At techie shows, at least, try to stand quietly to the side while the attendees take their time to read your signage before you make eye-contact and potentially scare them away.
  11. Reciprocity is powerful: offer favors even to non qualified prospects. E.g., if a prospect is looking for robotic rangefinders and you only sell medical catheters, you should do two things: (1) Say, “Frankly, we specialize in medical catheters.” (2) Say, “Actually, I know someone who might be able to help with rangefinders, let me get their name for you…”  And read Influence.


Here is an actual marketing expert’s advice about trade show booths: Seth Godin, “On Trade Shows.”

Happy prospecting,


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