November 2008

I’ve got a whole pile of fascinating articles to post here (or maybe they’re just ideas for fascinating articles) but I know that most of us are pre-occupied this week.

So I’m closing up the blog until next week. 

For those of you in the U.S., happy turkey day.  As for the rest of our readers, I’ll talk to you again next week!


Since this post is about the various states of convention exhibitors, I probably should add “the newbie”, “the worried” and “the over-it” to the title.

Still unsure what I’m talking about?  Let’s go over how each of these six conditions can negatively impact the interaction between vendor and attendee and how to overcome them.

THE TIRED.  Yes, it’s physically tiring to rush to the convention floor, set up a complicated booth, shower, get dressed and get back to the show before it opens, which may explain why so many exhibitors look tired even on the first day.

That’s why I always get to a convention site at least a day before the show starts.  Is this expensive?  Between time away from home, hotel rates and meals on the road, it certainly is.  But how many sales might I lose by looking tired or letting fatigue keep me from giving the precious few exhibiting hours my best attention?

And I don’t suggest doing a lot of partying or sightseeing in the hours away from the expo floor.  Standing for five or six hours is hard on your body.  Don’t complicate it or overdo it by going out to a tourist nightclub to drink the night away, just hours before the next full day of exhibiting.  Save the partying for after the show, when you’re celebrating success.

THE HUNGRY.  A few conventions have started to offer food on the floor, but I would caution against partaking in the food while the doors are open to guests.  Invariably, the minute you step away to get a piece of roast beef, some interested attendee will be ready to place an order at your booth.  Even worse, you may offend paying attendees by being in line ahead of them.

My solution?  Eat ahead of time.  Before the last few shows we’ve done, I get our booth finished a few hours before the show starts and hit a local restaurant (usually at an off hour, so less traffic) before heading to the hotel to get changed.  That way, I don’t spill anything on my good clothes and the meal has time to digest before we start talking to potential clients.

THE BORED.  Yes, shows can sometimes be slow.  But you need to find booth-related things to do to pass the time.  No, you cannot read a book, unless it’s an exciting book about your industry.  I suggest you fluff merchandise or, if you make a product, bring some to work on during the show.  One of the blogs I read is by Luann Udell, who does a lot of art shows and talks about making her art in the booth during slow sessions.

THE NEWBIE.  These folks have been pushed into a booth without any experience and no idea what to expect.  To combat this, I always pair a new person with a pro.  I’ve trained the last four of my product experts that way and it works. 

In Vegas, Robin accompanied me and learned, by watching, how to interact with our customers and bring people over to our booth.  At the 2007 IFDF, Lynn found out how I like to show off our product and which features he should highlight.  During the 2008 Kentucky show, Linda watched as I lured people into our booth and found out how to “ask for the sale.”

Most recently, at the 2008 NFDA show in Orlando, Kim learned how all the great features of our covers and marketing messages we craft (she helps me out in the workshop and the office) come together to entice funeral professionals to buy a cot cover from us.

Now I feel comfortable sending any of them out to sell covers on their own, because I know that they won’t be newbies, but seasoned veterans with the skills and knowledge necessary to anticipate what a convention will bring their way.

THE WORRIED.  There’s a transformation that happens on the second or third day of a show, when those who haven’t met their goals or are unsure of how the show will pan out begin to wonder if it’s all over for their product/service.  Unfortunately, their panic and concern usually telegraphs to the attendees and they seldom recover and turn the show around.

There’s not much you can do about becoming one of “the worried,” except understand what is happening at the show (no one wants your information, no one will enter your booth, attendance is down) and attempt to figure out what contribution you are making to the problem.  Are you aggressively inviting visitors into your booth?  Is it the product?  Are you explaining the beneficial features accurately?  Do you have body odor?  Is your nervous smile creepy to people?

Or you can do what a lot of exhibitors do when they get a case of “the worrieds.”  You can complain about the bad turnout and commiserate with the guy in the next booth.

THE OVER-IT.  These folks have clearly had enough and they’re just waiting for the signal to break down their booth and hit the road.

This can be exhibitors who have had a terrible show and even those who have sold more than their goal.  In fact, I felt this the last day of the 2008 NDA show and had to convince myself that we could still make more sales in the afternoon, even though I was ready to pack it in and rejoice over our great success.

Unfortunately, the over-its often miss great opportunities that appear on the last day.  In their rush to get their booth packed before everyone else and be out of the convention hall just as the final buzzer sounds, many ignore the thoughtful, interested clients who walk the expo floor on the last day.  As I’ve shared before, our booth neighbors at the 2007 NFDA show packed up a full 3 hours before the show ended, missing at least 5 interested visitors who wanted to know more about the diamonds they make from cremated remains (not LifeGem).

In conclusion, companies spend a lot of time and money to attend trade shows.  It’s sad to see all the hard work wasted because the human element (the part with all the cool ability to interact and impress clients and make the sale) is pre-occupied or too nervous to be “on” that day.

During my presentation to funeral directors at the 2008 OGR conference, I discussed how to merchandise products and services within the open, public areas of funeral homes.

I specifically shared the practices that Brian Hanner and the staff at Geib Funeral Home use to show off their products and services.  I had a few pictures to share, but here are more that Brian sent me.

Here’s a nice flag case display:

geib 3 by you.

Even more impressive is where that flag case display is located.  This is the reception area of the funeral home:

geib 2 by you.

Isn’t it awesome how much is visible for anyone who walks in the door?  Instead of hiding the products and services they offer, the staff proudly displays their wares.  Incidentally, the office manager at this location (that’s her desk!) sells a BUNCH of Thumbies from the display on the left.

The Relections Gallery is accessible from the other public areas at the funeral home.  In fact, you have to go through this gallery to access the Coffee Lounge:

geib 9 by you.

Talk about merchandising your product and encouraging browsing!

geib 7 by you.

At a recent Order of the Golden Rule conference in Key West, I reminded the 55+ attendees that merchandise pricing is as much about creating expectations as it is about the actual prices listed.

By grouping prices (in a Good, Better, Best arrangement or other type) you can create specific expectations for clients.

Imagine, for a moment, that I’ve told you that a specific model of flat screen TV costs $3000.  Without some reference point, you might be shocked.

But now imagine that you see an entire display of televisions ranging from $1500 to $6000.  What happens when you see this array of product?  Do you give up and complain that all of them are overpriced?  Or do you settle down and figure out which one you want to buy / can afford?

Consumers (even funeral consumers) want benchmarks and will tailor their choices to meet those expectations.  For more about how families react when your quoted price doesn’t match your final price, see the post, Reducing Sticker Shock.

Ask any person on the street how much they’d pay for printed funeral service items and you might get answers ranging from $25 to $100.

But present the same person with a range of register book packages, priced from $100 to $300 and the answer gets closer to $200.

And consumer expectations can also shift over time.

Consider the standard or base features people expected on a car from 1988:

Manual windows and locks
Manual transmission
AM/FM radio

That car sold for $5000 or less.  Today, people expect far more as standard, including:

AM/FM radio with CD player
Power locks and windows
Automatic transmission

Even more interesting, that entry-level car now costs between $12,000 and $15,000.  Using the inflation calculator, I figure that a $5000 car in 1988 would cost $8650 today. 

How did the concept and price expectation of a “basic” or “entry-level” car change in just 20 years?  I’d venture that much of it was powered by consumers and helped along by car companies.

This is a fascinating topic and it’s even better in person.  Don’t forget, I’ll be presenting “Good, Better, Best Marketing” at the IFDF Convention in June 2009, along with a discussion titled “Stop Fearing Cremation.”

In a recent post, 2008 NFDA Convention: What NFDA Did Right, I detailed the good decisions I saw from NFDA.  Now comes the criticism!

First, I should tell you how much I appreciate the folks at NFDA and all the hard work they do to make this show successful.  In tough economic times and an era when many groups struggle to keep their membership and mission fresh, I know how hard it is to come up with new ideas or break out of old habits.

So here are the things I believe that NFDA should address to make the show even better in the future:

1.  Where was the food?  I got so excited seeing the floorplan with a section labeled “Cafe” at the back of the expo area.  When I arrived, I found out it was a few dozen tables and some high-priced vendors selling $10 burritos and $8 bowls of ginger chicken.  For exhibitors, this was at least an easier way to grab a quick bite to eat, but it felt more like a band-aid than an answer to food on the exhibit floor.

2.  Lotsa empty booths.  Adding the general session area (a good idea) to the expo space meant renting a whole extra hall at the Orange County Convention Center, which gave the impression that the space wasn’t filled and there were less exhibitors (not the case).  Many empty spaces on the grid were simply left open.  By not filling in back sections, NFDA left some exhibitors out to dry, especially those who spent extra and thought they’d be at the front of a deeper section of booths along the large back aisle.  I saw at least two exhibitors who picked up their booths and moved to another location (I’d guess they got permission first) to be nearer the crowds. 

3.  Not enough resting areas.  The only resting place I saw was directly behind our booth and featured a few sofas, some of those ufo-looking retro chairs and some gaming “slings” that sit way too low for adults.  NFDA could have used all those empty booths (mentioned in #2) to spread out the chairs or added some small bistro tables at strategic locations around the hall.  This would have allowed vendors a place to step away to without being too far away and funeral directors a place to stop and regroup while walking the big show floor.  (Note:  there was also a section of tables and chairs in the new exhibitor section.  I don’t know if this was planned or a solution hit upon when they didn’t sell all the space in that section.)

4.  Pre-Registration or Registration?  Maybe this is just me, but I when I tried to help several of my expo-only guests get their registration badges, they were bounced between pre-registration and (normal?) registration several times before getting the issue resolved.  I think the names are too close to each other and don’t give accurate direction.  Once again, that might just be me and the two folks who I was helping.

5.  9 am – 3 pm everyday?  While the evening preview session gave area funeral directors a chance to use their expo-only passes, the monotony of the following three days’ expo sessions did little to encourage different types of visitors.  I’d suggest having at least one more late afternoon or evening session, to give area funeral directors and visitors a chance to check out the expo at a later time.

6.  Too-long expo hours.  Turns out that very few people want to check out new trocar designs at 9:00 am.  Who knew?

7.  New exhibitors need nurturing.  Companies that have attended the expo even once before will look like old hands next to a new exhibitor.  From choosing a location to setting up a booth at a national show for the first time, new exhibitors need extra special attention.  I know that NFDA is working on this right now, so don’t take this as a huge criticism.  But the reality is that quite a number of last year’s new companies didn’t return this year.  Whether that’s because they had crappy product, bad salesmanship or no support from NFDA is unknown. 

8.  Sell space on the jumbo-tron.  The general session area had a huge jumbo-tron that could have been used to advertise for exhibitors.  Why not sell some ads cheap?  It would allow exhibitors to reach a few people who might not have ventured over to the east wall of booths but who might be the perfect customer.  And who knows, an obscure or brand-new product might do well with some big exposure.  Better yet, don’t charge anything for it and allow each exhibitor to submit a slide for the jumbo-tron and run each one for 5 seconds.  You could exhibit 400 of them in 35 minutes loops.

9.  $10 for parking.  Really?  This one’s a tiny pet peeve, but if I identified myself as a patron to the Southern Women’s Show, I only had to pay $6.  If I said I was with NFDA, they charged me $10.  UGH!

Could I complain more?  Sure, I’m good at it.  But the truth is, most of the issues I heard about at the show were confined to the expo floor.  I didn’t get out to a lot of the sessions, so I can’t comment, but I know that many of the attendees enjoyed the education portion of the show.

In my mind, NFDA needs to strive to make the expo floor more “attractive” to both exhibitors and funeral directors.  That doesn’t mean aesthetically, but attractive in the sense that it needs to be something people want to see.  Exhibitors invest a lot of money to attend a show and they need resources to do a better job of presenting as well as more people to talk with.  Better-equipped exhibitors will interact more with visitors, which will increase the interaction and information exchanged.  That makes the expo more inviting to funeral directors.

By continuing or expanding the expo-only program, NFDA and their exhibitors can invite a different set of attendees (usually first-timers who haven’t ever considered going to a national show) and expand the audience for their exhibitors.

Traveling the convention near the end of each day, I heard the same thing from numerous exhibitors:

Today was slow.  No one wanted to stop at our booth.

Made me want to say “boo-hoo, crybaby.” 

Now, before you think me a complete jerk, know that I didn’t actually say it and I don’t mean the phrase as an insult.

Of course, if everyone had experienced the same kind of day, where no one was stopping at booths or buying anything, I’d have been lamenting right along with them.  But our booth averaged 36 sales a day.

Meanwhile, folks I talked to on Day 3 had still not made a single sale.  Others hadn’t even made any promising contacts with industry buyers.

But being the kind-hearted giver that I am – and the needy book writer who has to get some pages ready anyway 🙂 – I’m going to reveal our strategies for bringing visitors to our booth and generating sales.  Here are the steps:

1.  We chose a beneficial location.  Because we didn’t have to travel far (only 40 miles from our workshop to the Orange Co. Convention Center), I was able to spend a little more on booth rental this year and get a better spot on the floor.  But I still spent hours looking at the proposed layout and trying to decide where to place our exhibit. 

2.  We booked early.  We couldn’t have gotten that great location if I hadn’t made the decision early and secured it right away.  Early planning also helped me save for other expenses (we put a little away each month) and keep a look out for deals on our hotel and other purchases.

3.  We considered the competition.  This doesn’t just apply to others who sell similar products, although they’re important.  We actually considered how other booths would look and how those competing with us for a visitor’s attention might try to attract it.  That’s why we went with a wood floor in a contrasting color to the blue carpet the show organizers selected for the group flooring.

4.  I booked enough staff.  Even before we expanded our booth size (see #5) I made sure we had enough people scheduled to work the booth to talk to all the visitors who passed by. 

5.  We saw an opportunity to expand our booth and took it.  When it became available, we upped our booth space from 10×10′ to 10×20′ and made ourselves more visible. 

6.  We talked to everyone who walked by.  This can’t be stressed enough:  we made an effort to engage everyone who walked by our booth.  And we didn’t just say hello and let them walk away.  When they responded to our greeting we engaged them, either by asking “have you seen our beautiful quilted cot covers?” or “can I show your our covers?” or “do you use our quilted cot covers?”  And it worked!

7.  We qualified attendees.  The first qualification was getting them in the booth.  If they chose not to look at the product, they obviously weren’t a potential sale.  But even those who enter the booth might not be “our customer.”  We asked questions like “do you make removals?” or “what kind of cover do you use now?”  Answers to these questions helped us decide whether to give the full-on sales pitch or quickly finish up with the visitor to move on to the next prospect.

8.  We asked for the sale.  After walking people through our product’s features, we asked our visitors if they were ready to buy one.  If they resisted, we reminded them of our 10% convention discount.  If they were still reluctant, we gave them a brochure and reminded them that they’d have to order during the convention to get that big discount.

9.  After the sale, we thanked them.  Funeral directors are also businesspeople, so they understand how important it is to make sales and they enjoy getting a good product and helping out other people.  By thanking them, we reminded them how much we appreciated their business and how integral and important they are to us.

10.  We set a goal and kept track of our progress.  At our busiest times, all five of our booth workers were talking to people and selling covers.  When anyone made a sale, we added it to the total and spread the word to the others, so that everyone knew how far we were from our goal.  Even better, I promised our staff that we’d celebrate with a nice dinner if we reached that goal and that helped motivate my sellers even more.

Every time I hear someone complain that they’re not getting visitors to their booth or they’re not making any sales, I remember the odd little truth about trade shows:  As much as you work to qualify expo visitors, they’re also qualifying you and they’ll walk right by booths where the exhitor fails to invite them to take a closer look.

Before the next NFDA convention (in Boston next year), I’ll be holding a “booth camp” for exhibitors.  I don’t know, yet, how we’ll work it, so stay tuned for more details.

While you can read a lot more about her experience on her blog, Deidre shares her thoughts on the New Exhibitors Area in a blog post:

Knowing that the guys in the next booth were newbies like me.  We both had spent time developing our products and had invested our money in something we believe in!  We were not hired to babysit our booth, rather work hard at making new contacts and beginning new relationships. We learned the ropes together!

I thought it was great to be able to extend invitations to Funeral Directors to attend the convention expo floor free of charge.  I had a few Funeral Directors attend and I know they enjoyed their time!

She also shares some things she didn’t like and hopes the NFDA will work on.

Read the full story on her blog, Final Reflections.

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