A Conversation with Bill Lauf

We took some time to sit down with Bill Lauf, of William J. Lauf Consulting, to ask him some questions about his experiences. With face to face marketing experience that spans four decades, he has lots to share on trade show marketing, live and virtual workshops, sales training, communication, and much more. Read on to hear the advice and wisdom Bill has generously shared with us.

In your many years of training sales professionals as well as booth staffers, what have you learned about how they are similar and how they differ?

Here are a few of my observations on field and inside sales vs, trade show selling:

Similarities:

  • Conduct effective discovery
  • Follow a sales process
  • Possess excellent listening skills
  • Capture both objective and subjective information

Differences:

Field/Inside Salespeople

  • Trained professionals
  • Used to longer meetings
  • Sit down in meetings
  • Sell daily (established routines)
  • Meet in office/phone/online
  • More time flexibility
  • Several prospects per day

Both Staffers

  • Many not trained in sales
  • Have only minutes to qualify and educate
  • Stand -entire body language is in play
  • Shows are sporadic so need to practice
  • Meet in loud, busy space amid top competitors
  • Must conform to show hours
  • A dozen or more prospects per day

An exhibit staff is really an exercise in team selling. Socially adept engagers work the aisles, SME’s provide critical information, presenters and demonstrators inform and entertain audiences, date capture is forwarded to someone managing the follow-through.

We work with exhibitors to develop a strategy that is aligned with their organization’s marketing goals. What areas do you feel are important for engagement at the face-to-face level that enhances an organizations marketing strategy?

Before I answer this question, let’s look at the strengths and challenges of trade shows. On the upside, they provide a medium for deeper human connection and communication. Live interaction with concentrated audience using a variety of interactive, immersive, and tactile experiences can create strong brand impressions. On the downside, however, shows are complicated and can seem daunting. A company is essentially setting up a remote office of their company. They need to design a moveable structure ands ship it, rent the space, brand it, decorate it, bring in technology, send and house people to staff it, and then tear it down ad move it somewhere else. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Trade shows, when done well, can support a company’s overall marketing goals by providing broad opportunity for brand management, sales leads, new product launches, traditional and digital media “ink”, co-marketing opportunities competitive analysis, industry trends, and so much more. I use a model called “The Eight Domains of Trade Show Marketing” to help companies uncover and capitalize on a trade show’s often underutilized value.

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What, specifically, are The Eight Domains of Successful Trade Show marketing?

It’s a construct that takes a comprehensive, 360 degree view of eight critical areas of trade show marketing that, when implemented, can increase value without proportionately increasing the costs. In fact, many of the tactics my clients add to their efforts cost very little. For example, sampling brand impressions can take place with existing staff levels while providing an important metric that is often ignored. The information and materials that I provide can help any exhibiting company to squeeze more value from every show they attend.

How do we get all the stakeholders in an event marketing program working together based on this “domains” model?

First off, we meet with marketing and sales to assess which domain(s) need to be implemented or strengthened. Next, we train their stakeholders in the basics of the plan and then workshop those areas (domains) that need to be addressed. Once everyone knows the scope of their involvement and has provided input, we create a customized plan to assist with the rollout. Staff training, expanded pre-, at-, and post- show promotional strategies, experiential content, data capture and measurement…these and many more become actionable parts of the plan. By its 360 degree approach, it draws in everyone involved from ideation and creation through implementation and measurement.

Can you share some examples of this strategy being deployed and how it worked?

Sure. One simple task in the “planning” domain is an exercise to put the exhibiting company in the shoes of the attendee. Rather than starting to think about their exhibit from their own perspective. “We have to display products” or “we need monitors to provide a demonstration of our new software, etc.” are important considerations, of course, but need to be served up in a way to meet audience expectations. We start by looking at what the market wants, expects, and/or would be attracted to see. Too many exhibits are heavy on what the company feels it needs to show and how to show it. One instance was where an exhibitor had a great idea for an immersive, competitive game with remote controlled racing on a road course printed on the exhibit flooring. Their audience, previously more male, had begun to shift to majority female. Our simple exercise would have avoided the problem they encountered when much of the audience wasn’t motivated by miniature truck racing.

Another client noticed their show lead weren’t providing the results they expected. As we looked into it, they were long on demographics (objective data) and short on psychographics (subjective data). By training the staffers to ask about and capture the interests, attitudes, and opinions of the attendees they met provided the sales force much stronger information to use when following through.

Effective pre-, at-, and post- show promotions are effectively used by successful organizations, yet very few employ a pre-event strategy. Do you have any guidance for organizations considering adding this component to their trade show program?

Sure. This is my blunt advice: you have strategize before selecting your tactics and if you don’t, it’s a squander. You will spend and invest the same amount of money in your trade show if you strategize well or not well. A metaphor I have used over and over again is that a trade show is like an orange. It contains a finite amount of “juice” and you’ll pay the same amount for the orange whether you squeeze it a little, a lot, or extract every bit of value.. extract all the juice, zest the peel, grow the seeds, and compost the rest. So why toss part of your show budget in the trash?

What do you think is the biggest change we’ve seen in face-to-face live event marketing since the advent of the Covid pandemic?

Well, the biggest thing post COVID is that many things have changed. There are lots of new people managing their company’s trade show programs. competitors are often changing that size of their floor spaces (many downsizing but others taking advantage of that regression by upsizing theirs). Fewer people attending (though that number is moving upward) but a more concentrated buying audience. Changing health protocols depending on the infections. Perhaps what is most amazing is that with all of the virtual options of marketing and communications available right now, brands want to go where they can interact live with other humans. It’s what we are; social beings, right?

While there is no doubt that remote work is here to stay to a greater degree, working vs. marketing and selling is not the same. If all your competitors are at an event and they are making human connections with suppliers, competitors, buyers, influencers, media ,co-marketers, etc. and you aren’t there, maybe that’s ok. IF maybe is a strategy, then no harm, no foul. I think that live events fulfill aa human and, therefore, a business need. I train live and virtually. There is no contest when it comes to the impact. Live wins every time.

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