Conference Booth Networking For Vendors: How To Standout From The Sea Of Other Booths

trade show tips for exhibitors and vendor booths at conferences

You’ve seen it time and time again at conference after conference. The glorious expo hall aka sea of SaaS vendor booths. Some are crushing, while others are sitting around wishing they had more people stopping by for demos and chatter. In this guide, we’ll break down how to stand out from the noise and get some real achievable ROI for your company’s booth investment.

If you’re curious, check out how Rainmakers did this at Sales Hacker’s Revenue Summit. (We kicked ass!)

Conferences growing in importance within the business landscape both in helping companies grow their brand awareness and in engaging with prospects. As such a growing number of leaders in marketing are investing in booths and sponsorships for the various conferences relevant to their particular business and industry.

Once such an investment has been made, it’s imperative that the booth be properly staffed at all times and the team has a cohesive strategy on how to engage with attendees such that the company will be able to achieve the greatest possible ROI for that conference. To do so however is not so straight forward and can actually be quite challenging since there are often so many other vendors prying for the attention of the same prospective buyers.

Therefore if you’ve been tapped on as one of the trusted agents of your enterprise to go to such a conference as the ambassador of your company, what are some ways you can stand out from the crowd and make the most of your time there? That’s exactly what we’re here to discuss.

Here are some best practices you can follow to maximize your chances of developing a positive relationship with a conference attendee and ultimately growing your company’s pipeline, which is what your executive team will expect from such an investment.

1) Smile

Think about it. Who would ever want to approach someone at a booth with an unpleasant frown on their face? If it’s abhorrently obvious to others that the staffer doesn’t want to be there, they can safely assume their conversation with that individual will be lackluster at best.

The power of the smile, especially at conferences, cannot be understated. Smiles are contagious and have the power to attract others. Smiling is also a signal to others that they are welcome to come and speak to you. It may seem like body language basics, but it really works!

Best of all, it allows for the interaction to get a kick start on the right note given that a smile will often be reciprocated leaving your conversational counterpart to think subconsciously the interaction is going well. Of course, the rest of your conversation must continue to engage and excite the prospect but this is definitely a great way to get the ball rolling.

2) Act as a guide

This might be the best networking tip of them all.

Though you are not an employee of the conference it may behoove you to try and match the knowledge of their staff. Reason being, if you’re able to have a solid understanding of locations and schedules you can act as a guide for those attending the conference. At the very least we would advise you try and obtain a map or schedule of the conference that you can reference for this purpose.

This can be a fantastic ice breaker to start a conversation and will create an opportunity for an immediately positive interaction since you’re offering assistance. If you see someone with a lost look on their face while you’re staffing your booth you can immediately walk forward with confidence and ask if there’s anything you can do to assist them.

Once you’ve been able to help that individual you can parlay the conversation in such a way that you relate things back to your company’s product or services. It’s highly possible that individual could be a prospective buyer or know someone who might be.

Another possibility though is that the individual may be late to a session and speed off quickly after your little interaction but don’t worry as your show of good will won’t be for naught. There’s still the possibility that you may run into that individual again later in the conference and now that an acquaintanceship has been established it should be much easier to approach the individual later. Just don’t let them leave without taking your business card which is actually a perfect segue for our next point.

3) Bring business cards and company swag

It’s safe to say that a booth without swag is at a great disadvantage at these conferences. Though it may seem a bit materialistic, many conference attendees will feel inclined to engage with staffers at booths just to get some free swag.

Though the seemingly frivolous distribution of items will often not lead to a lot closed business it can do a great deal for a company in terms of brand awareness. This is even truer the more unique that particular giveaway item is.

For example, during one particular conference I had attended previously in the security space we gave away branded fidget spinners as swag. In following up with one of our target prospects, he informed me that the timing for our services wasn’t quite right but that we’d be the first vendor he would call should circumstances change because he found our swag particularly unique. He had always wanted to get a fidget spinner as an office toy but didn’t want to go out of his way to buy one himself.

I’ve also seen this in action first hand. Sumologic must have at one point distributed stress ball designed to look like a cartoon sumo character because we had quite a few lying around our offices. During one of our happy hours a colleague happened to cap his beer glass with this sumo character which sparked a conversation about the hilarity of the item. What followed suit was a further discussion about the company and their on-going business.

The need for business cards should go without saying as it’s such standard practice people will almost expect to be handed a business card at a conference. They won’t even bat an eye as to why it’s being given to them and it only benefits you as a vendor to hand them out. The more items prospects have to remember you by, the more likely you’ll be first to come to mind as a solution for a relevant problem in the future.

4) Add people on LinkedIn

Whenever you interact with someone at a conference, it would be wise to add them on LinkedIn.  As mentioned earlier, the more items someone has to remember you by the more likely you’ll be one to come to mind. This carries true in the digital realm as well.

If they are a prospective buyer it will allow you to more easily keep in touch. Even if they’re not there’s a chance that someone in their network may be and so the next time you publish content, it only increases the chances it reaches the right people in your space.

You can of course also try and connect with these individuals on other forms of social media as well such as Twitter and the like, but more often than not people view other platforms as a hub for their personal connections not professional. Unless you were able to really connect with that individual on a personal level, it may seem out of place to try and connect with them on any other platform. As such we recommend for the most part you stick with LinkedIn.

5) Ask about others first

Creating a memorable interaction can be very difficult at conferences given the sheer volume of interactions attendees will have throughout. One way you can give yourself an edge in trying to stand out though is to first ask about others. It also works great as an ice-breaker since people often enjoy talking about themselves.

A lot of the other staffers, especially the more inexperienced ones, will often start a conversation with prospects jumping straight into who they are and what their company can offer knowing very little about the person their talking to. Just like on a cold call, it’s hard to find value propositions around your product or services that a prospect can relate to unless you have an understanding of their role and responsibilities.

Therefore you should use this as an opportunity to do a little bit of discovery. It will help make transitioning the conversation to your company much easier and much more relatable. Even more, since humans are naturally bound by the law of reciprocity chances are you won’t even have to segue the conversation yourself. Since you have gone out of your way to ask about the person you’re speaking to, that individual will likely in turn ask you the same which would be your cue to take the knowledge you just gathered and pitch your product or services in a manner that would be most relevant.

Conferences can be a hectic time for many with so many things going on at any given time, but ultimately the goal for any organization in making the investment to attend or sponsor these events is to get in front of the right people and grow their business.

Hopefully these tips can help you stand out from the crowd and do just that. Now go out there and as always, make it rain!


Also published on Medium.