Don’t Do This: Tips For Finding New Customers At An Expo

October 18, 2011

The expo floor is notorious for putting on the hard-sell

Recently engaged, I thought it would be fun to head to the recent Wedding Fairwith a few of my friends. We had a hearty breakfast, put on some sturdy flats and prepared for a lot of pink. Before heading out the door, my fiancé stopped us and made me promise him that I wouldn’t give away my contact information.

“Remember what happened at the Home & Garden Expo,” he warned.

A few years ago, we attended the Home & Garden Expo at the Minneapolis Convention Center. My fiancé was in the middle of doing a complete remodel on a large home, so it was a mix of business and pleasure. Trying to be the helpful girlfriend, I entered giveaways while he spoke with vendors. Free granite countertops? Yes! Custom cabinets? Of course! Heated floors in the bathroom? Where do I sign!

He laughed at me and said he didn’t know why I was wasting my time. I told him to have faith, and that he would be sorry he teased me when I won a front load washer and dryer.

Fast forward 24 hours later, and I’d already learned my lesson.

Giving away my information at the expo, I knew I would inevitably make it on to a few email lists. What I didn’t expect were six phone calls a day. I’m not kidding, several of the home improvement vendors called me and left voicemails several times a day. Being the busy professional that I am, I didn’t answer and I figured they would get the hint. Get the hint they did not. I had to call each of them back and let them know I was not interested. Even then, the calls continued for a few days.

As a marketer, I was absolutely revolted by this hard-sell tactic. I fully understand how difficult it is to drum up new business, especially as a small business owner on a limited marketing budget, but I find it very hard to believe this ever works.

Having experienced a similarly aggressive atmosphere at the Wedding Fair, I took the time to think of a few consumer-friendly ways to increase conversions from an expo.

1. Skip the giveaways altogether. Most people that enter giveaways at expos are just hungry for freebies, versus consumers who are genuinely interested in your product. You will be better suited by hiring another person to work your booth and interact with customers, or you could put your money towards idea #2.

2. Give discounts. Instead of attracting the wrong type of consumer by giving away an entire package/service, offer a discount coupon to visitors to your booth. Keep them in your back pocket, and distribute them to consumers who engage with your team.

3. Provide a compelling reason for a follow-up conversation. Having a great conversation with a potential customer at an expo? Provide a reason to continue the conversation away from the expo (stop by our space and I’ll personally walk you around the showroom, free menu tastings on Tuesdays with an appointment) and then ask them how they would like to be contacted. Either give them your card and put the ball in their court, or take their contact information.

4. Don’t abuse the email list. If you’re given an email list as part of exhibiting at an event, think carefully about how you want to use the list. Sure, that list contains a very targeted group of potential customers, but they’re currently being bombarded with emails by every other vendor at the expo. Stand out with a clean design, compelling call to action and ONLY send one email. No more.  A great example: Coppersmith Photography. The day after the bridal fair, they sent out ONE email that said something to the extent of “I’m sure you’re overwhelmed… When you are ready to look at photographers, give us a call.”  They sweetened the deal by adding that if you mentioned that you saw them at the expo in the next few weeks, they would still honor their show discount.

5. Send personal emails whenever possible. Even though I didn’t enter any vendor specific giveaways, I did enter the main giveaway for a honeymoon (don’t tell my fiancé), which is how I received the Coppersmith email and many others. I can’t tell you how many mass emails I received from vendors I didn’t visit –  “It was great speaking with you, we’ll be calling you very soon.” “Thanks for telling us all about your special day, we look forward to working with you.” This is a red flag for customers and says something about the way you view their business.

These are just a few simple ways to not have customers cursing the day they met you, and I’m sure there are many more. What has worked for you as an exhibitor? As a consumer, what has attracted you? Please share and stop the madness!