Why didn’t I think of that?

At the NRA Show (National Restaurant Association) a couple weeks ago, I was struck by several really smart, really simple ideas I saw on display.

Each one did just one thing, each one was simple in its construction and each one solved a problem that restaurant operators have accepted as normal for decades.

That last part, “accepted as normal,” is really important.

Too often, we let the customer, the market, the situation, etc., define the problem, then we go about solving the problem they’ve defined. We learn to ignore things that at first seem illogical, incomplete or inconvenient.

To be truly effective, sometimes we need to step back and forget a little bit – or a lot – of what we accept as normal and take an unbiased look to idenfity the problem.

Without knowing then how well it would serve me in business, I learned the best way to do this in my college newswriting class. The professor drilled into us the basic reporting questions also know as the “5 Ws”: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

By systematically answering each of these questions, I’m forced to first acknowledge, then either accept or reject existing assumptions, either mine or someone else’s. For example, let’s say a client or prospect says, “I need a new Web site.”

In this scenario, The 5 Ws must be applied at several levels. First, they must explore whether a Web site is even the right approach. Then, what kind of Web site: informational? Transactional? Social? Then, how will the Web site differentiate itself? And so on.

The entire nature of this approach is on first identifying the problem. The solution and the steps needed to implement the solution are secondary and reveal themselves along the way. Together with the client, we begin better equipped to truly solve a problem and produce value.

That is what impressed me so much about the smart, simple ideas I saw at the NRA Show. Each one is an elegant solution, but more importantly, each one solves a problem everyone else either didn’t see or chose to ignore. Check them out here:

Flat Table leveler identifies and solves the problem of unlevel, rocking dining tables in restaurants: http://www.flat.net.au/

Instant-Off Water Saver identifies and solves the problem of needing to turn on/off faucets in environments that require frequent hand washing: http://www.instant-off.com/

Stove Shoes identify and solve the problem of moving heavy kitchen equipment: http://www.stoveshoes.com/


Converting trade show leads to sales

It’s a reality that many trade show leads, even qualified leads, don’t receive a follow-up. Show leads have a cost – an average of $212 each to generate according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (how are you doing against that average?). And when qualified leads aren’t followed-up properly, there’s a potentially much greater cost in terms of hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost sales for your company, and potentially negative brand perception.

When should lead follow-up begin? Good lead follow-up actually starts well before the show begins. In pre-show planning, a process can be developed to maximize lead qualification and documentation at the booth. The process should include an examination of exactly who constitutes the best type of show lead, and how to generate more appointments with the best type of lead at the show. Generating more appointments with the right type of lead, if you have a relationship with the prospect, can be as simple as calling them or emailing them prior to the show with an invitation to schedule a specific time to meet at the booth. If you don’t have a relationship with individuals you’d like to meet with, but have identified their general titles or areas of responsibility, then lists of show attendees can be secured and pre-show email and/or high value mailers can be sent with an invitation to visit your booth. The invitation can and typically should include a promotional offer as an incentive, doubling as a vehicle to increase product and brand awareness pre-show.

As an example, for a B2B client that manufactures metal shelving products, we increased the number of qualified sales leads at a major trade show through pre-show direct mail and email targeted to show attendees, using messaging and a specific call-to-action, which creatively tied-in with current branding and a trade show giveaway. Both a postcard and email offered three free inches of storage space (a computer thumb drive loaded with product specifying information) at the client’s booth if prospects registered for the grand prize giveaway. The client received 250 qualified sales leads – double the projected total.

Pre-show planning should also include how to execute on timely lead follow-ups, including providing the right tools, with the right message, at the right time and with the right frequency. There should be a strategic approach to lead follow-up, in bringing prospects through the sales cycle. Based on your particular objectives and goals, follow-ups may include opportunities to call or email prospects several days after the show to schedule an on-site product demonstration or cutting conducted by a local or regional sales representative. As an additional incentive to accept the product demonstration invitation, prospects receive significant “show special” discounts on their opening order.  Post show follow-up can also include opportunities for continuing online engagement with qualified leads. For example, you could tie-in a prospect’s booth visit to promotional or contest activity, including encouraging regular visits to your company’s Facebook page or a dedicated microsite, for a two-to-three week period following the show.

What if your trade show starts in a week, or you’ve just returned from the show and you’re reading this in hopes of finding a way to capitalize on the leads you’ve collected? Not to worry, the above practices can be considered and implemented at some level now. Consider this a test for, and precursor to, making pre-show planning a priority for your next show, in making your lead qualification and conversion efforts even more effective.