For exhibit and event professionals  

Is Your Booth a Traffic Jam or Smooth Sailing?

July 2, 2012 By Editor

Managing traffic flow by design
by Martin Smith, President and Chief Behavioral Engineer, Buying Behavior Metrics

When it comes to exhibiting at a trade show, many companies believe the more attendees who visit their booth, the more successful the show. But traffic flow isn’t necessarily about the numbers. In an average exhibit, only 21 percent of visitors get to interact with booth staff; 79 percent don’t.

That means the challenge at any trade show is really twofold: finding ways to increase the traffic at your booth and your staff’s “interaction rate” with visitors.

Why are we here?

Companies exhibit for many reasons. Generally speaking, these fall into four categories that reflect the stages in the traditional sales funnel:

  • Creating awareness of who you are and what you do.
  • Gaining consideration of your products and/or services to solve a specific problem.
  • Driving preference of your products and/or services over the audience's current situation or other suppliers.
  • Converting attendees into loyal advocates and/or users of your products and services.

These goals — and the means to achieving them— are very different. And perhaps, that’s where the problem starts. Rather than focusing on one or two goals with superior results, many exhibitors try to be everything to everyone and end up with mediocre results.

To get top-notch results, you have to start at square one when designing your booth. Ask your team, “Why are we going to this show?” or “What behavior do we want attendees to act on?”  Then, design your booth to facilitate traffic flow and match your structured sales process.

Design drives behavior

Every behavior is driven by design or design elements. You drive through a fast food restaurant because it’s designed for you to do that. Booth design is the same. It drives attendees to do certain things — both positive and negative. If the architecture gets in the way, you’ve lost an opportunity. That means that although your booth may be professional and visually appealing, it may be dysfunctional to the attendee experience.

Recommendations for traffic flow in an exhibit. (Click here to see real-life examples.) 

  1. Check your force field. Minimize the “force field” by matching or complementing the aisle carpet so attendees can comfortably enter your space.
  2. Keep the “castle walls” low. Don’t have high walls around the perimeter of your booth, and don’t display products along the perimeter where visitors can’t get to them.
  3. Keep entry into your booth clear and easy. Don’t use a “portcullis” entry (towers on each side of the entrance) that forces attendees to make a 90° turn into your booth. Ensure they can “slide into” your booth from the aisle.
  4.  Make space for your staff. Position booth staff to intercept attendees and direct them to your presentation area or reception counter.

Form without function

Booth architecture and structures within your booth might seem obvious when you consider ways to improve traffic flow in your exhibit. But some of the most basic design elements are often overlooked. In fact, companies typically design or redesign their booths by choosing what looks good without measuring its effectiveness against their goals.

Take carpet for instance. Exhibitors use carpet to stand out on the show floor. However, this can create a force field effect. How? Attendees may be subconsciously uncomfortable stepping from the aisle carpet onto the exhibit carpet if there’s a strong contrast between the colors of the two spaces. Unless they’re invited in by booth staff, they’ll stay in the aisle where they feel safe.

Display walls with a company’s latest and greatest are staples in many booths. But towering displays and fortress-like walls can be intimidating, and those intrepid attendees who dare to enter the exhibit are forced to gain access through a narrow entry point.

Besides creating a barrier that keeps out attendees, these booth structures drive the behavior of booth staff. The walled-in, closed-off space creates a gathering area for staff to cluster or hide out. And as a result, attendees get ignored. Open architecture improves traffic flow and eliminates these staff “safe zones.”

Can you help me?

The number one attendee complaint is the inability to find a staffer to answer their questions. Sometimes, the architecture is to blame for this, but it can also be a result of your staff’s attitude. Some staff members view booth duty as a chore rather than a sales opportunity. So, instead of engaging visitors, they use their time to catch up on reading sales materials, texting their friends or browsing the Internet with their smart phones.

Why would professionals act this way? More than likely, your sales team is used to closing deals in a conference room or an office, a closed and somewhat controlled environment. On a trade show floor, they’re out of their element. Plus, interaction with prospects on the trade show floor is very different from a scheduled meeting with a client, and the “Hi! How are you?” approach they use to kick off a meeting in a client’s office does nothing to drive the sales process with booth visitors.

Consequently, you need an effective training program to provide your staff with the necessary tools for them to bridge the gap between the two experiences. That may mean some extra work on your part, but the payoff is worth it. A knowledgeable sales force drives interaction, and the success of each member of your team feeds back on itself. Staffers don’t want to do nothing or hide from attendees. In fact, they police each other to stay active and engaged.

Successful exhibits offer a way for visitors to engage hands-on and to interact with booth staff. The proof is in the numbers:

  • Attendees are 32 percent more likely to purchase a product they hold in their hands for 30 seconds.
  • 87 percent of show attendees won’t approach a booth staffer who’s having a conversation with someone else.
  • Only 21 percent of attendees have an interaction with booth staff. That’s 21 people for every 100 who visit your booth.

First impressions are exponentially everything

For some exhibitors, numbers are all-important. But too many visitors can result in a bad first impression of your company. For example, if your exhibit attracts 100 people and only 20 interact with your staff, the other 80 attendees have no interaction. Depending on how they deal with being “ignored,” they’ll either have no opinion of your company or a negative impression of it.

Instead of concentrating on numbers, aim to provide all your visitors with a good “experiential imprint.” Make sure every attendee leaves your exhibit feeling he or she has had an incredible experience. This may have included a great presentation, a hands-on product demo and/or personal interaction with a knowledgeable staffer. Add to this the physical experience of your booth’s design, and you’ve imprinted your company and its products favorably on the attendee’s memory. Plus, when an attendee has a positive imprinting experience in your booth and not in the next, he or she’s even more disappointed with the second booth. That makes the good imprint a winner for you in more ways than one.

When planning for your next show, remember design guides traffic flow and drives the behavior of your staff. And it can help you deliver the kind of positive experience that creates good buzz about your company and builds successful business relationships.

For more than two decades, Martin (Marty) Smith, founder and president of BuyerBehaviorMETRICS (bbmgo), has helped dozens of trade shows and hundreds of trade show exhibitors realize millions of dollars in increased revenues and reduced costs. A Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt Sensei, he’s considered to be a leading expert on the purchase experience and buying behavior marketing at trade shows. As part of his campaign to revolutionize the world of sales and marketing for trade shows, Smith has published three books, The New Exhibitor, Orange Belt for Exhibitors and The Show Approach. These publications, along with nearly 100 videotapes on trade show-related topics and other information about how his company uses Lean Six Sigma methodology to maximize his clients’ ROI, are available on the BuyingBehaviorMETRICS website (bbmgo.com).


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