Crucial Conversations a la Trade Shows

Crucial Conversations book cover

After many years of saying “I’ve got to get my hands on that book,” this weekend I found my way to Barnes & Noble and picked up a copy of Crucial Conversations.

While I strongly recommend the book for anyone with a mouth, ears and a need (or desire) to improve their personal or business lives, I bring it up here in context of trade show exhibiting. Why?

The essence of a ‘crucial conversation’ as defined in the book consists of three elements:

  1. (The potential for) varying and/or opposing opinions
  2. Emotions
  3. High stakes

Now let’s look at the essence of a business-to-business trade show:

An exhibitor invests time, reputation, money and its people in a marketing event because the show’s attendees are decision makers or strong influencers on purchasing. For many companies (although too many say ‘everyone knows us’) the show is their opportunity to make a first impression. Meeting in a nice quiet office with an important prospect is tough enough – how about meeting when your biggest competitor just had that same prospects’ ear and the startup chasing you is literally waiting in the aisle a few yards away to tackle your prospect as soon as they leave your booth. This is a high stakes game!

One can look at trade show exhibitors as “sellers” and the attendees as “buyers.” By virtue of the relationship there are inherent differences of opinion! Whether it is value, price, terms, applicability of a product or service solution, the exhibitor and the prospect start at different ends of the business spectrum. Some of the techniques and processes from the Crucial Conversations book can help both parties wind up in the mutually beneficial middle. Little things like having the right booth staffers and booth environment for a safe and trustworthy exchange of info, or clarifying the way things are communicated are key elements in the book as well as at a successful trade show.

As for emotion, the exhibitor wants to have a show experience where their objectives are met or exceeded. They’ve put their wares and their reputation on public display. They’ve spent money and need to know it wasn’t wasted. They’ve interacted with future clients, as well as current ones, who may be there shopping for reasons to seek new vendors. Throw in long hours, out of the normal sleeping, eating and drinking, patterns, and stress to have value to show for it (along with some disruption to personal schedules, too) and shows can be emotionally exhausting. Even for attendees, they are making key relationship and buying decisions, being bombarded with information and confronted with (too) many options that can impact their businesses. If nothing else, think of your trade show interactions as “crucial conversations.” If you want to benefit not only your show results but many aspects of life, get your hands on that book!

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