Monday November 21, 2011
by Jacqui Hinds, Learning and Development Support
A few weeks ago; along with 46,000 other business professionals, I attended the World Travel Market at London’s Excel centre. As the travel industry's leading event, it gave the 5,000 exhibiting companies the opportunity to meet, network, negotiate and conduct business.
There were splendid stand designs, promotional gifts and even a sprinkling of stars to ensure attendees felt their journey to that stand was worthwhile. Within a few hours of being there I had pressed palms with business leaders, Hilary Devey and Lord Digby Jones, footballers Dwight York and Jerzy Dudek and cricketers Chris Woods, Michael Bates and Sir Garfield Sobers. I even got to smile with Dannii Minogue! Interestingly enough though, the lasting image of my experience was neither the celebrity endorsements nor the skill of the stand-builders; it was of the people manning the stands. What lingered in my mind were the warm smiles, the knowledgeable dialogue and the proactive approach that some companies delivered. Rather than simply handing out brochures, these were the people who actively engaged with visitors, ensuring that each felt they were special.
There is an old saying – you never get a second chance to make a first impression and when I looked back through the literature I’d been taken away with me, it became absolutely clear that the old adage is true. I had returned to the Purple Palace with only information from those where the people made the best first impression – many of these being the smaller, less high-profile stands.
So what happened to make those businesses capture my attention?
In an exhibition, much like in any customer interface, an individual has made an effort to come to your business. At the very least, this potential customer should be met with a warm welcome combined with good eye contact and a smile. For those stands that didn’t offer this it was much easier to pass them by, in the search of an organisation that would greet and seem interested in me.
For exhibitors, getting the all-important approach right is vital to the success of the show. Jumping out from the stand and talking ten to the dozen, with closed questions and a hard sales approach is not the right way to warm up a prospect. For me, the people who asked open questions about my needs, objectives and reasons for attending the show were the ones who impressed me. They listened and as a result could tailor their responses to what I was looking for.
When faced with 7,600 visitors per day for four consecutive days it can be all too easy to sound like a robot and not communicate enthusiasm for your products and services. However it was those who sounded like they were enjoying themselves that had the biggest draw. Some tailored their responses to the individuals, so visitors were made to feel special. I even observed one lady cleverly using visitor name badges to inform her approach; finding something conversational and different to ask each time ensuring the visitor felt she was not scripted and the conversation was organic and relevant.
Understanding your company’s products and services and what the benefits of them are sounds basic yet it was surprising how many people were not very clear about what their company could do – or as importantly couldn’t. One gentleman who impressed initially lacked the knowledge required. However, instead of allowing the visitor to leave the stand, he sat them down, took them refreshments and came back with a colleague who did know. I doubt very much if that visitor’s lasting memory will be of the initial lack of information as he was subsequently made to feel so special and important.
At an exhibition, just as in everyday business life – the key to success lies not in how much budget is available to spend on promotion; instead it’s all about how well people interact with each other - it’s all about how people make you feel.
What does your company do to make customers feel special? How do you stand out from the pack?