The Importance Of Knowledgeable Booth Reps At Virtual Tradeshows

May 24, 2009

Source: Flickr (NatalieMaynor)

Source: Flickr (NatalieMaynor)

I’ll admit it, I’m a bit crazy.  Over the Memorial Day Weekend, I went to the local farmers market.  When I walk down the aisles of a farmers market, I draw comparisons to Virtual Tradeshows.  Crazy, right?  Well, here’s how I make the analogy.  At a farmers market, I’m in the “market” for fruits, vegetables, drink, snacks, etc.  At a Virtual Tradeshow (VTS), I’m in the market for the products and services provided and sold by the exhibitors.  The assorted VTS booths are similar to the many stands at a farmers market.

And here’s a key point of farmers markets – the stands tend to sell the same varieties of fruits and vegetables.  In a VTS, the exhibitors sell the same types of products and services.  At the farmers market, I saw tomatoes, asparagus and corn at many stands.  At a VTS on “backup”, I’m bound to see many booths that highlight a vendor’s backup solution.  The challenge to the farmer is the same as the VTS exhibitor – how to stand out from the crowd?

At a VTS, content is obviously very important – your booth description, logos, Flash movies, White Papers on your products, Case Studies, Podcasts, on-demand webinars, etc.  Content will go a long way in differentiating your booth from your competitors’ booths.  But content can only go so far.  VTS attendees may have a hard time choosing between two baskets of strawberries that look quite the same.  This is where knowledgeable booth reps make a difference.

At the farmers market, a young farmer (selling strawberries) went into great detail on the difference in flavor between the Chandler and Camarosa variety of strawberries.  He was quite an engaging speaker and invited us all to sample each variety and make our own judgments on which was sweeter.  And I’ll tell you, if I came across two stands selling Chandler and Camarosa strawberries, I’m buying from the one with the more knowledgeable seller.

Source: Flickr (Annieta - travelling!)

Source: Flickr ('Annieta' - travelling!)

I next ventured to a stand selling cherimoyas, an oval-shaped fruit that’s indigenous to the Andes mountains in Ecuador and Peru.  I had never heard of this fruit, so it was helpful to hear a farmer provide a quick overview – nutritional value, taste, flavor, how to peel, etc.  This knowledgeable “booth rep” increased the likelihood that I’d buy or try some – if I had strolled past this stand and did not receive any information, I’d sneak a glance at them and continue walking.

The same holds true for a virtual tradeshow.  Spend the time making your booth look great and provide excellent content.  But, make sure you bring knowledgeable representatives to the event (e.g. Sales, Sales Engineers, Product Marketers, Product Managers, even Directors and VPs).  They’ll make a big difference in differentiating your crop of  products and services from the booth next door.

Virtual Tradeshow Best Practices: Top 10 Exhibitor Tactics

May 20, 2009

At b-to-b virtual tradeshows (VTS), exhibitors compete for the attention and interest of the attendees.  And many times, the competition for attention occurs “against” the competitors of your business.  Thus, it’s even more important to make your mark, which places an onus on exhibitors to leverage new and creative ways to generate interest.  Here are Top 10 Exhibitor Tactics that I’ve observed while working with virtual tradeshow exhibitors.

  1. Set up a (physical) war room – it seems a bit contradictory, given that you’re exhibiting virtually, but if it’s practical to gather in a single location (physically), you’ll be more effective and coordinated.  As visitors pour into your booth and engage with you, it will be easy to shout aloud, “I’ll take this one” and have everyone immediately know what you’re referring to.  In addition, being together physically creates a buzz as the event goes on – you’ll hear cheers, shouts, jeers, etc. as activities unfold throughout the day.  I’ve participated in one and it does help with coordination and build camraderie.  Short of a physical gathering, another option is to keep a telephone conference bridge active throughout the day to coordinate activities.
  2. Send product experts into the Networking Lounge – you need to solicit your subject matter experts to participate in the virtual tradeshow in the first place.  And believe me, their presence will be worth it.  Send them into the lounge to soak in all the discussion – and encourage them to chime in.  The idea here is to demonstrate thought leadership and generate “organic interest” in your company and your company’s booth.  During one event I attended, an expert’s presence in the Lounge generated interest from an industry analyst, who set up a follow-up meeting (with the expert’s company) to further discuss their products and services.
  3. Leverage a compelling booth welcome – always make a good first impression for that first-time visitor.  Create a Flash video for your booth’s “front screen” that’s unique to the VTS – or, have your CTO or CEO (via greenscreen video) greet visitors with a short video welcome.
  4. Ad-hoc prize giveaways – drop a surprise on attendees and let them know that you’re giving away prizes in your booth.  Got leftover giveaways from a physical event?  Distribute that excess inventory to your virtual event visitors.  Draw them into the Group Chat in your booth and ask them to answer questions posted there (about your products and services)  in order to win.  You’ll end up not just with some happy booth visitors – but you’ll also have educated others who observed the group chat.
  5. Be practical with booth displays – if you have scheduled chats occuring in your booth – or, if you have distinguished experts staffing your booth, let visitors know!  How about an animated image that displays in the front screen of your booth, which rotates through the miscellaneous activites scheduled there that day.  Sometimes, the simplest and most practical approach is the most effective.
  6. Staff your booth with your product experts – for those experts that you send into the Networking Lounge – be sure they’re available to interact with your booth visitors as well.  When your expert has won over the respect of an attendee, then that attendee becomes more comfortable with your company’s products and services.  I’ve witnessed a few experts field requests for pricing information or a follow-up sales call.  While that’s best handled by a salesperson, it clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of having your products experts in your booth.  Another observation: if your experts are having engaging interactions with booth visitors, their presence will encourage repeat visits.
  7. Invite your company executives to participate – a virtual tradeshow affords your company executives with an easy and convenient way to connect directly with customers and prospects.  The attendees find the interactions engaging, as it’s not often they have direct access to your executives.  Additionally, your executives gain further appreciation of the virtual event via their first hand participation, which makes budget approvals quicker for subsequent events.
  8. Got extra books?  Give them away as prizes – first, you need to find the right book for the particular audience – one that will generate strong demand.  Then, by giving away a large number of them (50, 100, etc.), you generate interest because of the likelihood of winning one.  One event I attended awarded a free book to the first 100 booth visitors.  The particular book was authored by an industry expert whom all attendees were familiar with.  The first 100 visits occurred within minutes of the opening of the event!  Later in the day, visitors will still coming into the booth, asking if the book was still available.
  9. Functional avatar images – some exhibitors select their avatar image from the event platform’s image library.  Others upload a picture of themselves.  One exhibitor went a different route and created custom images that denoted the functional expertise of each exhibitor. The image had the company logo as a background, with text overlaid on top (e.g. “Product Expert”, “Integration Expert”, etc.).  Since attendees can determine your functional domain (by your avatar), they can immediately determine whether to interact with you.
  10. Use a “call to action” image in the final slide of a Live Webcast – want viewers to visit your booth at the conclusion of your Live Webcast?  Make your closing slide an image of the virtual environment, with a big arrow pointing to your booth’s location on the Exhibit Hall.  Title the slide, “Got more questions?  Visit our booth”.

So there you have it.  Try some of these tactics at your next virtual tradeshow and let me know how it goes!

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