17 Aug How to sell nothing at a tradeshow

While waiting to watch Levi Leipheimer win the Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race in Colorado recently, I visited a bike festival to kill some time.  I paid my five dollars knowing “some” portion will go to the Livestrong Foundation and proceeded to visit the array of booths.  The people staffing the booths may know a great deal about bicycles, but I don’t know where they received their sales and marketing training!

At one booth, I got the low down on an easily removable chain and a tubeless tire sealant.  There were no qualifying questions, and no “discovery.”  In fact, the two representatives seemed to be competing with each other on how many facts they could spew.  I really wanted to stop-them mid-sentence, and initiate a role-play:  “Where you from?  Do you ride a lot?  Mountain or Road?  Ever have trouble with tire punctures?  Isn’t it a hassle to clean your chain while it’s on the bike?”  What made the “pitch” even worse was that there was no close.  No “What do you think?”  Or, “Here’s a coupon for 10% off for listening to my shtick.”  How unfulfilling it would be to tell, and have no idea on whether your effort contributed to actually moving product.

At another booth, a guy was pushing a new energy drink.  I heard it was full of B vitamins, didn’t have caffeine, and had low calories.  Features.  Lots of them!  Who cares?  For a guy like me, what’s the benefit?  Am I going to go ten percent faster; or experience less fatigue on a long ride?  The pitch was also made without qualifying me, but there was actually a trial close:   “Would you like to try some?”  I said, “Sure – I’ll try a sample.”  What did I have to lose, I thought.  The reply floored me:  “We don’t have samples – we’re only selling product today.”  What?!  They are definitely not the market leader, and they’re looking to gain share from a target audience (a captive one at that), and the leadership of this company didn’t have the foresight to provide samples to induce people to try something new, or switch from a competitor?  Why didn’t the rep feel empowered to just open a can and poor some in cups?  I could tell he was embarrassed.  If they were looking to sell enough product at the event to justify their expenses, their objective was woefully misguided.

The renowned business guru Peter Drucker famously said that there are only two basic business functions: marketing and innovation.  We know that cycling is becoming very high tech and innovative, but it looks like some entrepreneurs out there have a lot to learn about the basics of sales and marketing in the 21st Century, and that means engaging customers as individuals… with their permission… even at tradeshows.

Article first published as How to sell nothing at a tradeshow on Technorati.

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