How to engage buyers at trade shows

Melanie Wood’s seminar at Pool’s Swim Lessons was very interesting with respect to exhibit selling encounters. She says that buyers use an entirely different scanning system than they do elsewhere or otherwise. Like you, they may be tired, hungry or thirsty. They’re talking to you and your competitors so they may be overdosed on stimuli. Since visitors can only give you a few minutes to capture their attention, she suggests analyzing the engagement according to these phases:

  1. On-floor engagement
  2. Prospect profile matching
  3. Qualifying the prospect’s needs
  4. Communicating your message and determining the next step

The first stage is on-floor engagement. she says that studies show you have three seconds to make an impact with a prospect who’s stopped in front of your booth. How do you make it count? She says to use a product or situation specific question to engage them. Based on what caught their eye, show them a similar product, color or print. Use this time to ask where they’re from and where their store is located.

The next stage, assuming they haven’t run off, is prospect profile matching. You have thirty to forty-five seconds. In this stage, you’ll pre-qualify the buyer to see if they’re a match to do business with. Melanie says to ask questions such as:

  • Who do you carry?
  • What price points are you looking for?
  • What’s your store about?
  • How are you involved in the buying process for your store?

Some of these we’ve talked about, who does your line hang with? If it’s not comparable to anyone else’s line, it’s not sell-able. You want to make sure the buyer is a match. Some people have been burnt by online stores. If they’re not already buying product lines similar to yours, pass. The middle questions are obvious (I think, let me know if not). The last one, you should be aware that not all buyers are qualified to make purchasing decisions singly, they may have to confer with others.

Melanie says the next step is qualifying the prospects needs. This takes three to five minutes. Again, if they haven’t run off and you think they’re a match, use interviewing techniques to qualify their needs. Ask open ended questions such as:

  • Tell me more about your customers.
  • Who shops at your store?
  • What’s your delivery time frame, immediate or next season?

Again, the goal is to see if your profile customers match although you should be open minded. Are you going to nay say a buyer if their profile customer isn’t one you’d imagined? Burberry is a good example. Supposedly, Burberry was surprised and then none too pleased when urban fashionistas decided theirs was the must-have product line. About immediates, be aware this doesn’t mean delivery as soon as the show is over but it does mean relatively soon, within four to six weeks. This is becoming increasingly common as market and delivery dates converge.

The last phase of engagement is communicating your message and determining the next step. How do you move forward once you’ve determined this buyer is a good prospect for you? Melanie suggests asking:

  • Do you want to take notes on the items you like?
  • Do you want to write an order?
  • Can I pull the items aside for a photo?
  • Do you want me to write the items you like?

You should have a line sheet at the ready at this stage, hopefully they’ll use this for note taking. Be sure to tell them your order deadline (which should also be on the line sheet). Your policy on photo taking is up to you. You don’t have to suggest it or allow it. If you refuse photos, a good buyer will respect your policy. Only someone up to no good will make a big deal about it. As ever, the best way to get an order is to ask for it, it’s amazing how many people don’t.

If they don’t buy this time around, all is not lost. Many buyers won’t place an order until they’ve seen you at market several times. Get their business card and direct future marketing efforts their way. Speaking of, Melanie mentioned that research shows that the number one influence to get buyers to visit a booth was a personal invitation. Second was being an existing customer. The third influence was a mention in a trade journal. Fourth was a recommendation from someone else. Fifth was random, traffic flow or accidental. The least influential marketing effort was advertising. Does that surprise you? It surprised me. It could be that a trade journal mention (perhaps owing to the efforts of a PR firm) could be a better investment than advertising. Who knew? Accordingly, I meant to ask Melanie about PR firms but didn’t get the chance.

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  1. candy says:

    Great timing for this article!!! I am an accessories designer and will be exhibiting my line at my first trade show in July, 07. As you can imagine I am nervous about it and up to this point I had so many questions. How to approach a buyer, terms and policies, etc. This article answered so many of the issues. Thanks!

  2. Yahzi Rose says:

    great article, I love getting insight on how to allocate my budget wisely. Its hard knowing what to give priority. I always wondered if buyers really do pay attention to invites or if they only concentrate on their existing lines.

    What I’d like to ask is what factors do you use in determining who you would hang with? Other than price points, do you look for something with a simlilar style, color story, fabric or a line that compliments? I know which lines I personally like but its hard to choose not coming from a retailer’s perspective.

  3. Cheryl K says:

    Excellent article – each of the point is spot-on – don’t miss any of them. I’d like to add one bit of info – Allow pauses in your questions for the buyer to think, and perhaps ask you questions. In the excitement sometimes a Seller is too rapid fire, making the buyer feel pressured. (this from a former automotive Buyer.

    Also be sure to have the line sheet, extra pens, and REMEMBER to ask for the sale.
    Cheryl K

  4. candy says:

    I have three questions about pricing my products for a trade show. If anyone can give me some advise, I’ll apprecite it very much.1) Should each of the products in the booth have the wholesale price on the hangtag? 2) Is a price list the same as the line sheet? and 3) Is it okay to put my MSRP next to the wholesale price?

  5. Candy,
    I’ve been told that buyers DO like to see prices as they walk around your booth. I used removeable little sticky dots with the price written on them that I put on the hang tags.

    I put prices on my line sheet and the back side was similar to the order form so they could take ONE page back to the hotel at night and look at the line sheet, flip to the back and pencil in what they’d like to order. Both sides had prices.

    I would also like the answer to the MSRP.


  6. Lesley says:

    As far as I’m concerned, Kathleen walks on water. I bought the the book last year and it has prevented me from making many mistakes I was on the verge of making as well as confirmed good decisions I have made. It is a tremendous tool and she is a mentor to all who will listen. I love her direct responses. Your real friends tell you what you need to hear, not always what you want to hear.

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