A lot of time and resources go into exhibiting at a trade show. Everyone wants to get it right and show a return. But what does it take? Is it a beauty contest? Should you give away more swag? Do you need to staff the booth with aggressive salespeople? Or, as I recommend, is it more about the right combination of location, strategy, value (message) and sales focus?
I reviewed 50 learning platform booths at the 2019 ATD International Expo to judge their design, messaging and lead gen strategy. Most vendors were learning management systems (LMS), but there were also learning experience platforms (LXPs), learning content management systems (LCMS), eLearning companies who have learning platforms and the occasional learning platform that doesn’t fit into a category.
There were over 400 booths and around 10,000 attendees at this year’s conference, so vendors put a lot of effort into standing out.
The common ingredients of the best booths
Out of the 50 learning platform booths at ATD, I put six in the excellent category. None were perfect, but a few were pretty close.
- Location, location, location
I can’t say enough about the importance of location. It’s the most important thing, by far. You can do everything right and spend a ton of money, but if your booth is not close to the front doors, on the outside edges or you don’t have a corner booth, then you can’t overcome that lack of natural traffic.
Getting a good location is all about planning and commitment. You need to secure your booth a year in advance, which means paying in advance. It also means you should tell your prospects where you are, before they get there.
- Focus on quality leads
Try to avoid generating booth traffic just for the sake of booth traffic. If you display piles of giveaways up front, beckoning people to stop and talk, then you’re creating a crowd of people who aren’t going to buy your system anytime soon and will effectively waste your precious time.
Prospects who are at the expo to find an LMS and have a list of vendors they want to talk to don’t really care about your giveaways. They’re working. They want to talk to you so they can decide whether they should send you an RFP. They are the ones who are standing in line at your booth but give up because you are busy giving out t-shirts or the latest $10 gadget.
- What’s the message?
Deciding what to put on your tradeshow booth can be tricky. You don’t want a lot of messaging because you’ll look as cluttered as a NASCAR race car. This communicates that you can do everything, but nothing outstanding. Too few words can also backfire if they don’t speak to what anyone needs. It has to be just right.
You also don’t want to be too vague, but you don’t want to be too direct … or do you? I’ve found that directness is the best path to take, especially if you target buyers who know what they want and have a budget to spend. Know who your buyer is and make your message speak to that person, the benefits they are looking for and/or the challenges they need to solve.
- Size isn’t everything
The size of your booth is important, but it’s not everything. The cost and time invested in a large booth can be budget-killing. The travel cost alone of sending 10-15 people can easily exceed $30,000, and then there’s the cost of the booth, collateral, giveaways, shipping, setup, and the unexpected.
Before you know it, you’ve spent $100,000, and what did you get for that money? To recoup that investment, you need to sell 10 times that amount, and that rarely happens. I’ve found that the best size booth is somewhere in the middle, if you can afford it. Not the smallest and not the biggest. Usually a 10-foot by 20-foot booth is ideal. That size in a good location with a good design and lead gen strategy will get a better ROI than a mega-booth.
- Don’t forget to demo
Real buyers want to see your product, so you have to focus your booth design around doing that. This means large screens at eye level, so several levels of people can see the product at the same time.
Unfortunately, when you’re designing a new booth, there’s usually pressure to minimize demoing. For one, it’s more expensive, because screens cost more and are harder to ship than signage and demos require more people at the booth. Also, your people have to be confident about demoing. If they’re not, they’ll try to talk you out of demoing at the booth. But the payback is there. Seeing the product is much more effective than brochures and talking to salespeople.
The top 6 learning platform booths
I’m not a fan of mega-booths, but the Litmos booth is extremely well-designed. The message is excellent. The main message is the clear focal point of the design and the message is specific and doesn’t try to be all things to all people. But it’s not overly minimalist. It’s just right. On the white panel on the right side, there’s a good list of features and benefits for people who want that and want something to read while they wait. Also, there are a lot of demo stations to show off the product and answer questions.
At first glance, this isn’t a very impressive booth, but the design is extremely effective in generating high-quality leads. The messaging is very concise “Learning in the Flow of Work” and there are plenty of demo stations for prospects to relax and see the product. Also, there are no giveaways in sight. They only want people at the booth who are seriously interested.
If you’re a buyer and you need to train salespeople, the “Sales Readiness Platform” will, stop you in your tracks. How could you pass it by? I love that MindTickle knows who they are and knows who their buyer is. Also, they have lots of seating and they’re doing lots of demos, but mostly on small screens.
I love what eLogic Learning has done. This is almost a perfect booth. I love the attractive, uncluttered design with the crisp, value-added message, “The LMS You Want. The Partner You Deserve” and the list of benefits on the side of the booth. The big, eye-level demo stations attract second-hand demo watchers and keep serious buyers in the booth. I’m not a big fan of t-shirt giveaways, but I love everything else.
Saba has been exhibiting at trade shows since the 1990s when they were one of the first LMSs on the market. Thankfully, they’ve moved away from mega-booths and have gone with an efficient 10 by 20-foot corner space. They have lots of demo stations with very few giveaways. They are selling!
Xyleme gets my award for best use of a small space. This is only 10 feet by 10 feet, but it makes great use of the space. It’s a corner booth, so that effectively doubles the “storefront.” The message is big, bold and brief and the design is modern. No piles of giveaways to build traffic that won’t convert into opportunities.
The Rest of the Learning Platform Booths
(in alphabetical order)