The Vendor's Guide to Trade Shows ... From a Retailer
I'm at the Shop.org Annual Summit in Seattle and having a great time catching up with old friends and colleagues, meeting new contacts, and learning about new digital marketing strategies and technologies.
Also, as usual, as I walk through the exhibit hall I'm being greeted by smiling vendors, eager to share with me information about their latest and greatest shiny new objects. For the most part, I actually enjoy talking with vendors and learning about their wares.
But I have noticed many folks — retailers, probably — with their badges turned the other way or tucked into their jackets, and I know why: they don’t want to be singled out and aggressively sold to by vendors.
I know the feeling. At one retail conference a few years back, the company division which Retail Online Integration is part of, the Target Marketing Group, was the name that ended up on my show badge, below my name. The word "Target” occupied a large portion of the badge, so therefore I was the most popular person at the ball. Salespeople were smiling at me, running after me, asking me all sorts of friendly questions … until they realized they weren't talking to someone from Target, the retail superstore, but Target Marketing Group, the media brand. So much for being popular!
But hey, I understand the plight of vendors. They pay a lot of money to exhibit at these shows, and without them, there would be no networking, no great content, no business in general. They should be able to “sell” as much as they want and how they want. In addition, I empathize with them. I’m sure it’s really hard to summon up the courage to go up to someone and make their pitches cold. And, let's face it, no merchant would be doing good business without good vendors.
But I wonder if there's a better way for them to communicate with their retailer prospects?
I actually had this conversation on the show flow with a great friend and contact of mine, Erik Lautier, the former opera singer now executive vice president and chief digital officer at bebe. He told me the problem is volume. While he loves vendors and is inspired by their creativity everyday, the sheer amount of them is becoming more and more difficult to manage. As a result, he's always looking for shortcuts around how to deal with the volume, such as, unfortunately, deleting emails and voicemails that don’t immediately grab his attention.
While we couldn’t come up with a way vendors could improve their show selling techniques, he told me about a blog post he wrote a few years ago that listed what he — someone who’s on the receiving end of a ton of emails from vendors soliciting business — is turned off by in said email solicitations. Here's a sampling from the post:
- What’s in a name? Erik writes that he’s received emails addressed to “Erik, Eric, Erick, and in what I hope was a first-time-ever and last-time-ever scenario, Erika.” A name is a brand, he wrote, “whether it’s an individual’s name or a company’s name, and there may be no surer way to immediately turn off a prospective client than by getting their name or their company’s name wrong.”
- Cut and paste. “Nothing says I love you like two different fonts in different sizes in the first line,” Erik wrote. "Yes, you need to move quickly. Yes, you need to automate certain things. No, merchants don’t expect every aspect of your email to be customized to them. However, we expect it to at least look like it was. So before you hit Send, select the body text and format it all equally so we don’t get a Frankenstein’s solicitation.”
- Importance. “While a solicitation email may be important to the sender, it's never important enough to the recipient to be marked as such,” he wrote. “Leave the little red exclamation point off.”
In closing, Erik wrote that, in general, retailers generally consider vendors that get these things right more seriously than those who don’t. Why? “It demonstrates professionalism, attention to detail and respect for the brand, and it shows that they’ve done some research (even if only for 30 seconds on LinkedIn).”
All those things count, he wrote, “and they instill confidence in the merchant that if you win their business, the account manager and the company as a whole probably have the same qualities. Hopefully, it can help make the difference between a reply and a recycle bin.”
Do you agree with Erik? What have your interactions with vendors at trade shows been like? Let us know by offering your thoughts below!