In between showings of our beautiful cot covers to attendees, I had time to chat with Ryan and Spencer from Hilltop.net about the nature of trade shows and how to grab the attention of passing funeral directors.

Ryan’s early pitch to passersby was “Do you have a website?” which occasionally yielded a “No,” providing an opening for him to talk about his easy-to-use and inexpensive web service.

Unfornately, everyone who answered “Yes” kept walking, as it was clear, at least to them, that he wasn’t offering anything they needed.

After discussing the “art of the pitch” with Ryan and Spencer, I suggested they look more closely at what their company really does.

Does Hilltop.net make great websites?  Sure.  But if I’ve already got a website, I don’t have a “I need a website” problem.

“But,” Ryan countered, “We make websites a lot easier.  With our software, you can upload obituaries to your site in seconds, without having to know any programming.”

“And you don’t have to resize photos,” Added Spencer.

So the problem that visitors might have isn’t “I need a website.”  It’s “My website is too hard to update and maintain.”

Ryan and Spencer decided to start asking variations of the questions “Do you have an easy-to-update website?” and “How fast can you add an obituary to your current website?” to more accurately focus their visitors on what their company really does.

As for our cot cover business, I learned from several of my new customers and those who chose not to buy that certain features of my covers are more desirable than others.

In fact, I got a lot of upturned noses and dismissive waves when I mentioned that the ULTRA model of our covers features a second pocket.  Turns out no one cares about another pocket.

I also tested my new “don’t contaminate your suit pocket” line on folks and found that it worked better than I had anticipated.  Here’s how the “contaminate” pitch goes:

And the DELUXE cover features this VersaPocket.  It’s got a compartment for paperwork, so you don’t have to shove the paperwork under the deceased’s feet anymore.  And this outside compartment is for gloves.  Now, you don’t want to leave those gloves at a family’s home, but you also don’t want to shove them in your pocket because they’re used gloves.  This pocket is made entirely from our FluidBlocker lining, which is impervious to fluids.  Why contaminate your pocket – I don’t know about you, but I only have this coat drycleaned once a month – when there’s such an easy, sanitary place right here on the cover.

And it worked!  Better than imagined.  And now it’s part of my aresenal.

Why is it so effective?

Because, like my pitch about our CleanEdge binding protecting the lower edge from dirt and my pitch about the soft yet protective features of the FluidBlocker lining, the VersaPocket’s compartments for gloves and paperwork solve a specific problem that many funeral professionals didn’t even realize they had.

To put this into a wider consumer perspective, imagine music before the iPod or other MP3 devices.  No one had a portability problem (the Walkman debuted in 1979) back then.  The iPod solved a problem few knew they had:  storage.  It seems like a huge issue now, but few people could carry all their music with their Walkman.  In fact, people often created mixtapes or carried a box of cassettes to expand their music selection.  Later, CD wallets boosted the number of albums that could be easily transported.

If you had been visiting a consumer electronics show in the late 90’s early 2000’s and been asked “do you have a portable music system” you’d have pointed to your Walkman or transistor radio and kept walking.

Why talk to a guy selling portable music systems when you don’t have a “portable music” problem?

Luckily for their bottom line, Apple and others didn’t sell early iPods or MP3 players as “portable music.”  They asked the question, “can you carry and access all your music instantly?”

Asking the right question translates into real money.

What else worked?  Well, we also got a lot of people into the booth by asking if they’d ever seen one of our new-style covers.  If they had, we asked if they’d seen them in person and then asked permission to show them the two reasons why our covers are so much better.

The most important point for us was getting guests into our booth to look at our covers.  Once we got them to agree to take a look at our product, we generated sales almost 1/3rd of the time.

Knowing the right question, related to a real problem your market experiences, can be the difference between profit and debt.  Choose your questions wisely.

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