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Set one foot on the trade show floor and instantly you’re surrounded by people. Tall ones, short ones, old ones, young ones. C-level executives are rubbing shoulders with corporate nobodies. Some rush from booth to booth in search of giveaways while others draw your sales staff into long, pointless conversations.

The good news is that between 80-90 percent of the attendees are often there to purchase new goods and services. The bad news is that other 10-20 percent can eat up lots of valuable floor time. How in the world do you identify who are valuable prospects and who are ‘just looking’ in this throng of people?

I’ve identified twelve distinct types of trade show attendees. Almost every person at the show will fall into one of these categories. Teach your staff to recognize these types. That way they can politely yet quickly handle the non-starters and spend their valuable floor time concentrating on the promising prospects.

Keep them moving if&ldots;

They come for the demo – any demo, every demo. Some people just love to watch a show, whether it’s for the newest floor cleaning squeegee mop or a hydraulic drill press that can bore through four feet of concrete. They seem to travel in flocks, congregating around one demonstration after another, with no intention of purchasing the products being shown. Asking a few open-ended questions will help your staff know who’s at the show to do some shopping and who’s simply looking to be entertained.

They say "Gimme, Gimme, Gimme" Any type of giveaway attracts these types. Keychains, pens, can cozies, mouse pads, t-shirts – it doesn’t matter. If it’s free, they want it. They may even want more than one, to give to their family, friends, and colleagues. You can often identify this type by their bulging tote bags and pockets full of unsharpened pencils. Keen questioning will ascertain if this visitor has any potential.

They’re a Gambling Man. Winning contests is a passion for some people – they have an almost biological compulsion to drop a business card into a fishbowl for any kind of drawing. They don’t even care what the prize is, as long as they might win. Contests that require more than a business card to enter will help deter these types from finding their way onto your follow-up lists.

They ask too many questions. Like it or not, trade shows are a prime opportunity for the competition to indulge in a little industrial espionage. Snooping can and does occur. These would-be spies often give themselves away by knowing far too much about your industry or asking specific, precise questions. Make sure that you do more questioning than talking to reduce the chances of giving away valuable information.

They’re snapping up every brochure in sight. Everybody collects something, and believe it or not, some people just love to collect sales literature. They’ll take any piece of paper, no matter what it is. Check to see if they’re researching a particular market for a supervisor – if so, they may be an influencer worth pursuing.

They don’t want to talk to you. Some attendees come to a show for a single purpose, and that’s all they want to see, hear, and talk about. These folks simply will not be interested in what your organization is offering. Luckily, they’re not shy about letting you know this. They’ll communicate via body language, by purposely avoiding eye contact with your booth staff, or chatting with a colleague when passing by your exhibit. Waylaying these types will only upset them.

They do want to talk to you – about who built your booth, where you got those great graphics, and how much you paid for your sweater. These types are extremely curious and engaging, but unless they want to talk about your products and services, you’ll want to keep them moving. You don’t have the time to waste on a discussion of booth construction.

Take a little time with &ldots;

Salespeople. You’ll find people at the shows who attend with one goal in mind: selling you their products or services. Publication advertising representatives are notorious for this. Chances are they themselves aren’t likely prospects, but you never know. Additionally, they’ve talked to everyone on the floor that day – the insights and info they share might lead you to a more likely prospect. If floor traffic is slow, it may be worth asking a few questions, if only to find out who they could refer you to.

Nobodies Just because you don’t know who the attendees are doesn’t mean their employers don’t. Often times larger firms send underlings in their organization to show to do specific research. Never, ever underestimate these folks. They may be extremely strong influencers – and if they aren’t now, they may be someday, and they’ll remember if you treated them poorly. They may also have some precious knowledge – the names and contact info of the decision makers in their firm. Time spent with them could be invaluable.

Happy, friendly people These types are usually extremely friendly. They smile and their whole body language says, "Please, talk to me! Please! Me, Here! I want to Talk to You!" Questioning will determine whether or not they are prospects worth pursuing, and you’re guaranteed a cheery bit of conversation.

Job Seekers The top companies in any industry, gathered all in one place – no wonder job seekers haunt trade shows. It’s an excellent way to network and look for organizations who may have present or future job openings. If you have a spare moment, take the time to talk with the job seeker. They may be just the person you need to help your company become even better.

But save most of your time for&ldots;

Definite Prospects Research has shown that the majority of trade show attendees are predisposed to purchase new products and services. These are the people who can easily be transformed from casual browsers to definite prospects. Concentrate on them!

If you’ve done a thorough job of pre-show marketing, you’ll also have definite prospects and customers seeking you out at the show. Don’t drop the ball once they’re at the booth – give them the attention they deserve. Consider having a separate conference area within your exhibit to speak with definite prospects. They appreciate the VIP treatment and you’ll be able to have a meaningful conversation with them despite the hustle and bustle of a busy trade show.

This Marketing article was written by Susan Friedman on 5/2/2005

Written by Susan A. Friedmann,CSP, The Tradeshow Coach, Lake Placid, NY, author: “Meeting & Event Planning for Dummies,” working with companies to improve their meeting and event success through coaching, consulting and training. For a free copy of ExhibitSmart Tips of the Week, e-mail:; website: