I’ve attended multiple trade shows in the past, but true to the advertisement, Dreamforce was bigger and better than anything I’d seen. Having spent the full four days on the trade show floor, I wanted to share some of the lessons learned from the week.
1. Know your overall strategy and how you are going to approach Dreamforce and design everything around that.
Like every campaign an inside sales team designs, I learned you need an overall strategy for how you’re going to approach a trade show. Most people think trade shows are only about lead generation, but there are many other strategies a company must consider. These include building brand awareness, advancing current sales, building customer engagement and creating partnerships. (I’m actually a fan of all of the above).
At Dreamforce, there was a lot of brand building going on. As soon as I hit the airport, I found targeted ads. That didn’t change once I was on the plane. Arriving in San Francisco, I received shirts, mugs and free coffee on my way to the Moscone Convention Center. On top of this, every night there was a ton of parties hosted by a variety of companies.
I was surprised by how many companies had two booths. It seemed like most of the money was spent on the North Building at the Moscone Center rather than the West, but a few companies told me they felt Moscone West had more action than the North, which, by appearances, seemed to be true.
Executive Meeting Rooms
In addition to the booths, there were the usual executive meeting rooms where partnerships were agreed upon and customers were hosted. The best companies found a way to utilize the executive meeting rooms the entire time. Whether it was a special deep dive presentation for a small group or an individualized deep dive, the rooms were full throughout the day. The most successful companies told me they put in a lot of work before the show.
2. Target the right people before the show and have a solid strategy on the floor.
Most vendors seemed to think targeting the right people started at Dreamforce, but the best companies realized it started way before that. Previous Dreamforce attendee lists are a great place to begin. Once companies had those lists, they could narrow it down to the right decision-makers and start inviting them to their booth before the show even started.
Next I learned the best companies make the most out of their time on the trade show floor. At Dreamforce, there was a big focus on scanning badges, but there were a few times when it got out of hand. One time, I was talking to someone at a booth. Without asking, another person grabbed my badge to scan it and also grabbed my stomach, and I must admit I felt a little violated.
Following that experience, I asked several vendors to tell me about their badge-scanning policies. Boy, was it interesting to hear all of the different opinions. One company I talked to was very selective about who they scanned, while others scanned everybody in sight.
One company told me they had scanned 1,700 names after the first day! Although I’m a proponent of scanning everybody, I learned if you don’t have any other way to filter through the masses besides scans, you’re going to be in trouble. Some companies I visited tried to use the scanner to “grade” me while talking with me, but I felt like that took too long and could, in some cases, actually offend people.
The best teams scanned everybody and collected their cards as well. As soon as the conversation finished, they took a few notes and stapled the card to the notes page.
These notes included:
- A grade indicating how “hot” the prospect is
- The company size
- One unique thing to remember from the conversation (this is important as part of the follow-up).
In addition, the best companies didn’t assume everybody was going to stop by their booth, so they mapped out each vendor on the trade floor and went and visited those potential prospects during the show to ensure they had complete coverage.
3. Use swag, cool technology and education to wow the crowds.
Swag mainly generates excitement before Dreamforce. Cool technology generates excitement at Dreamforce. Education at the booth keeps people coming back for more.
I loved going around and seeing the swag vendors offered to entice people to their booths. At Dreamforce, the “Swag Collectors” could pick up a variety of neat things — from water and candy, to shirts, speakers and TVs. What vendors didn’t realize is that swag is best used to create excitement before Dreamforce to entice attendees to visit your booth, and its secondary focus is to encourage visits during Dreamforce.
I had a conversation with one booth director who was disappointed that their drawing for a 50-inch flat panel TV was not pulling in customers like he thought it would. I had a similar conversation with another vendor about a drawing for a scooter that wasn’t getting the job done. Neither company reached out to attendees before the show. Even if they had, that type of swag might not have worked.
I believe the reason the drawing concept doesn’t pull as well is because attendees want immediate gratification. They don’t really believe they will win drawings, so they don’t even put their names in the hat.
The most successful vendors understood this principle and had two types of swag. The first was for brand awareness, and anybody could get it. The second was for targeted prospects they contacted before or during Dreamforce to entice them to come to the booth.
So, what was the cool swag at Dreamforce?
Cool brand awareness swag was anything people used to get their name out there. Key chains, coffee mugs and memory sticks all fit that list.
I also saw some cool swag that attracted a lot of people to the booths, like Bluetooth speakers, sports shirts and portable phone chargers.
Cool technology pulls real prospects to your booth better than any swag at Dreamforce. The majority of Dreamforce attendees don’t visit the show to get free swag. They are there to find new technologies to give them competitive advantages in their businesses.
This is where I felt most companies dropped the ball. Don’t get me wrong, I think there were a lot of neat technologies out there, but only a handful of companies displayed them in a way that made people stop and engage.
I’m surprised I have to mention this point as it has been hammered home in such books as “The Challenger Sale,” “The Ultimate Sales Machine” and “The Must-React System.”
I was disappointed that most conversations I had at booths went straight to rambling about features, and I was never educated on the “why.”
In “The Ultimate Sales Machine,” Chet Holmes talks about a “stadium pitch.” It’s a meeting where people come, and they are educated about the industry or why a product that you offer is needed at a very high level. Almost nobody nailed this principle, and it often made me walk away feeling as if they were trying to sell me rather than educate me.
4. Professional athletes practice their moves and shots thousands of times before taking the floor. Trade show sales representatives have to do the same.
Elevator pitches must be practiced a thousand times and reviewed with executives before Dreamforce starts. I was startled by how many sales reps didn’t have a precise elevator pitch. I heard a lot about predictive analytics and gamification, but often walked away not knowing what the company really did.
In addition to elevator pitches, any technical demonstrations that are given on the floor must be practiced and reviewed with executives. Reps were just not executing the demonstration plays perfectly. It was like a script had not been created and sales managers were just letting reps do their thing. Can you imagine if LeBron James just showed up to the games without practicing?
I’m surprised we allow junior and senior sales reps to get away with such things.
5. Stake your claim and own as much territory as you can.
Seeing reps on their phones, sitting behind counters or standing passively in booths makes my blood boil. Companies typically have hundreds of people to choose from, so why pick the ones who are naturally shy and not outgoing?
The best companies brought their most aggressive sales reps and had competitions for which rep could close a deal on the floor, gather the most names or do the most product demonstrations. The best companies had the hungriest reps, making booths that were only 8×10 look like they were 10×20, as they owned the walking aisle.
You have not worked hard enough to get people to your booth unless the booth next to yours complains about you stealing customers in their “territory.”
Don’t violate another vendor’s actual booth space. But remember that the aisle space is fair game.
6. Systems have to be put in place around everything.
There is so much that goes on at a trade show of this size. A detailed schedule for each person who goes to the show is a must. There were too many times when reps had free time that they could have used in a more productive way.
Many companies had a hard time figuring out the optimal number of employees to send to Dreamforce. I don’t think there is a magic number, as it always depends on the strategy. I saw companies with as many as 40 and as few as two.
The most effective companies used a specialist model, where some reps were assigned specifically to scan, others to attract people to the booth, and others to give product demonstrations.
Because changes must be made on the fly, huddle meetings to start and end the day should be mandatory.
These meetings are also extremely important for proper follow-up. The best companies began following up with prospects during the show. Huddle meetings allow troops on the ground at the show to coordinate with home base back at the office.
All in all, it was a great show and definitely worth everybody’s time.
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