Thursday, 23 October 2008 at Future of Web Apps (FOWA) – Expo, Stand and Demo recently took part in the Future of Web Apps (FOWA) Expo at London's Excel. This event has a superb reputation for showcasing innovative, cutting edge web apps, Internet technology and startup companies. Last year's event was heralded a runaway success by attendees and tech industry officianados alike.

This was my first FOWA and I will admit I was a little disappointed, I found the mix of startups and multi-national corporations a little strange, the stands of early stage businesses were somewhat dwarfed by the flashy installations and lighting rigs of the Microsoft and Salesforce big boys. Unfortunately for us the position of stand within the expo hall was a bit off the beaten track and although we met some very interesting people and enjoyed ourselves immensely, a large proportion of the attendees were students and junior developers looking for the latest buzz, but with no buying power, I suspect they were predominantly drawn to the event by the live Diggnation broadcast.'s main activity at FOWA focused around the exhibition stand, located in the main hall. Here we met people, pitched the service offering, demoed the application live and collected interested parties contact details to follow up at a later date.

If any of you have ever worked an expo or trade-show before you will know just how hard work this can be, just physically standing on your feet for around 10hrs a day is tough going for an office worker like me. But the really hard part is encouraging total strangers to talk to you (or at least listen), when there are plenty of other exciting and attractive things going on, all off which compete for their attention. Add to this is the fact that most people will shy away if they suspect you are going to 'sell' them something, when of course that is the sole objective from you perspective...

By all accounts it appears that the odds of generating any genuine interest, significant enough that it might ultimately turn into a sale are all heavily stacked against you. So I thought it would be interesting to outline my approach to working an exhibition stand and maybe get some feedback from you, hear of your experiences and gather some top tips on how to make the most of this type of sales and marketing opportunity. – Come on, chip in, I would love to hear your thoughts...

My Approach

Since people naturally tend to give the 'selling space' as wide a birth as possible (unless they think they will get something for nothing, i.e. why people give stuff away at events like this!) I decided to move a little bit away from the stand, and armed with a few stickers to embellish a select few ;-) I approached people directly, smiled and asked if it would be OK to tell them a bit about I found that if I was direct enough (without being to manic or to threatening) most people agreed to talk to me.

I started by giving a quick elevator pitch of the service, focusing on the big picture whilst walking them back to the stand, in order to move seamlessly into the live demo. Check out the video clip to see me do a quick practice run for the camera! My aim was to tell people, What is, why they might want it and then show them how it works. The demo is important as it brings the whole story to life, it must be quick to do, look slick and simply/effectively show what can be achieved with the service.

After the demo, I found that there were normally a couple of questions, at which point I felt reassured that my audience had found something of interest in what I told them. I attempted to answer these questions in a way which was specific/relevant to that individual and their business, this sometimes meant asking some questions about the business and their role. Armed with this information I then tried to discover if they saw a use for the service within their own business, I found that most people could see a use for the service and talked openly about where it might fit with their current business model, infrastructure and customer base.

Finally, I ensured each person who visited the stand took with them a business card, some literature, or at the very least a sticker. Wherever possible I also tried to take a business card or a contact email address from each person (although I was not always successful). To the information collected I added some brief note about our conversation, enough to act as an aid memoir, ready for me to follow up when I returned to the office.

Since we returned from the show we have emailed the contacts we made and we are following these up with a phone calls over the next few days. It appears that we have succeeded in raising some awareness of the service as we have seen a significant upturn in incoming enquiries, we have started some interesting discussions with some of the contacts made at the event and look forward to turning these leads into sales in the very near future.


Birgit (work) said...

Great blog, as usual. Loved the video. It gave me a good inside as to what happened the two days I was manning the office on my own. :-)

Also, some of the aspects of running a stand I hadn't considered before. Well done!

Charlotte said...

Great blog! You requested comments from Marketers, and I guess that includes me?

Like you say, people at trade fairs love to get freebies and I would always take some kind of give away - the more permanent and useful the better. Maybe not so relevant to your target market, but always popular with mine (tourism consumer and trade) are pens. Initially sounds boring, but we all need pens, and they tend to have a fairly long 'desk life', so to speak.

In terms of approaching visitors I have 2 tips to share.
1) Always start with a question - the British public are polite by nature and rarely ignore a direct question. This gives you the 'in'. Might sound pushy, but if your selling a great product then this doesn't really matter - you've just broken the barrier of silence, which is often the hardest thing to do.
2) If you find yourself in a 'dead' location – and your stand is over-staffed (often a problem if you are sharing a stand) then always work shifts. Too many people manning a stand, devoid of customers is very intimidating and by nature (or eagerness) you may well ‘pounce’ on visitors which can be off putting and come across as being aggressive. As you suggest, you can always head of for a promotional walk around.

My only other top tip is related to creating a long term relationship with anyone you meet. Like you say, collecting contact details is definitely the way forward and an easy way of doing this is by making it a service for potential customers’ benefit. So many stands give out excessive promotional material and as a result visitors end up carrying around bags and bags of leaflets, flyers and postcards. As such, simply suggest that instead of them carrying around even more bumf, you could always email them the information if they’d prefer. In my experience most people are grateful for this suggestion, especially towards the end of the day. It’s a win, win situation – you get the card and they save themselves from yet ANOTHER bag of promotional material to carry around.

Hope this helps someone!


Georgia Brown said...

hey guys,

Thanks for your comments, much appreciated!

Charli, loving your top tip for getting contact details from people, will defo try this in the future!