Social Indebtedness – How to Win at Tradeshows in 2020

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A few years ago I heard Nido Qubein, the CEO of Great Harvest Bread speak about business strategy. Near the end of his talk, he promised us one tidbit that was the key to building such a massively successful company. As the audience listened attentively he revealed the secret to his thriving multi-million dollar business, “a hot loaf of freshly baked bread sliced and slathered with honey butter – ready for each customer to sample.”

Dr. Qubein went on to say that by offering a valuable, full-sized sample while customers stand in line they’re more likely to reciprocate and increase order size and come back more often. He said that they were actually astounded when they looked at the results of the sites that offered the sample versus the sites that didn’t. And they quickly made it company policy nationwide.

Since that talk I’ve adapted the strategy for trade shows and created an incredibly effective trade show methodology that makes approaching trade show attendees easy and exciting. I’ve coined the term Social Indebtedness and I share it with every one of my clients that exhibits at trade shows. And shortly I’ll outline the exact methodology for you.

But first, think back to the last trade show booth you worked in. Remember how awkward and uncomfortable it can be to have to approach people walking in the aisle and to try to get them to engage? Most of the time trade show attendees do their best to avoid eye contact or even look in the general direction of your booth. But here’s how you can change that personal interaction and boost your trade show results.


Items with Perceived Value 

First and foremost, have a promotional item ready. Choose an item with a high perceived value. Now, to be clear, you don’t have to spend a lot of money on the item, just make sure you choose an item that doesn’t appear cheap. We’ve had great success with LED pens. LED pens light up and are easy to see. They also have a high perceived value because they’re electronic and functional. And, you can hang a dozen LED pens on your lanyard and really stand out (be sure to turn them on!).

Next, rather than ask the attendee what they do, what their company does or even what their name is. You simply ask them one question, “Can I give you a light-up pen (or whatever your item is)?” You’ll be amazed when 85% of them will smile and say “Yes!”

Next, your response should be, “Great! Let me have you talk to __________,” and introduce them to your co-worker in the booth.

Once the introduction is complete, it’s your job to scan their badge, or get their business card, while it’s your co-worker’s job to qualify them. Your co-worker will ask all the pertinent questions and, if qualified, give them a brief introduction to your company and prepare them for the next step in the sales process.

You’ll quickly discover that you’ll need three or more people working in your booth because so many attendees will step out of the aisles to meet with you!

Don’t waste another tradeshow to awkward approaches and lack of attendee response. Use promotional items and this tradeshow strategy and you’ll see your results skyrocket! Then, send a thank you note to Dr. Qubein and visit your local Great Harvest Bread store to show your appreciation.


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