The Rules of Engagement

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There has been much talk lately about exhibitions as a place to engage customers rather than attempting to sell them something. So, if we are to be successful in our exhibiting ventures, it is important to understand the rules of engagement.

The word engage comes from the roots; en – “to cause a person to be in the place, condition or state; and gage – a challenge. Engagement can be defined as a discussion or dialogue between buyers and sellers where both have an opportunity to share challenges and solutions for the purpose of a mutually satisfactory resolution.

With the definition firmly in hand we now are in a stronger position to invoke the tools we need to ensure that the goal of engagement is given its best chance to succeed.

Before the show:

There is much chatter available on social media channels that lead to real clues about the concerns and challenges your business community is facing. Being part of the social network not only gives you access to these clues it provides an opportunity to be part of the dialogue.

Engaging face to face with your customers during sales calls or other opportunities when you meet personally is also important for you and your sales force prior to a trade show.

If the dialogue is open and invigorating either on-line or face to face, it can be continued on the show floor. This provides one more incentive for the people you want to visit your booth to actually attend. This also gives you a strong clue as to who are the best people to staff your booth.

Sales people are the obvious choice but when you consider the power of engagement you will also include technical experts, senior management and customer service people who your customers want to dialogue with and who can help move your customers concerns into doable actions.

At the show:

Be open to the dialogue. Ensure there is an inviting and comfortable space in your booth for a conversation. It doesn’t have to be a large portion of your exhibit space but dedicate 10-20% of your space to a semi private area where open and honest dialogue can take place out of the ear-shot of other visitors.

You may include hospitality to create a warm and relaxed environment. Hospitality is the one tool that is used universally used to break the ice. You provide coffee or tea to customers visiting your office. If you want to spend time one-on-one with a client you might take them to dinner. Hospitality gives both parties a chance to relax and dialogue. Hospitality goes beyond a bowl of mini chocolate bars and jelly beans. There is no upper end to what can be provided, specialty coffees, sandwiches, desserts, fresh fruit and juices etc. What you choose depends on budget and the amount of space you can allocate.
Remember, while the show floor is a place for engagement, it is not the place to solve all your customers’ problems. Through the process of engagement you can initiate a dialogue that will lead to future sales.

After the show:

When you return to the office, report your show insights to your management.
After the show you are likely to be busy with the work you missed when you were away, but it’s important not to forget your visitors by keeping them in the loop so they understand that the conversation they had with you at the show has been meaningful.

The face of exhibiting is changing. No longer are visitors happy with simply walking the aisles of a trade show and being inundated with product pitches.

They have real concerns and they want to be part of the solution. Your job is to use your next trade show as an opportunity to solidify your relationship with these people and to begin a mutual voyage of discovery that can lead to a profitable relationship that will last for years.

© 2010 by Barry Siskind. Barry Siskind is author of Powerful Exhibit marketing. He is also President of International Training and Management Company who offers a number of services to exhibitors including the creation and implementation of a mystery-shopping program. Contact Barry at for more information.

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