Trade Shows: What You Put In Is What You’ll Get Out

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Trade shows (also called trade fairs, exhibitions or just expos) are organized events where companies within a specific industry show off their products and services, and meet with current or potential customers. Although attending a trade show can be beneficial for finding new vendors or building partnerships, exhibiting at a show (when done right) can be a huge opportunity for your company to build brand awareness, generate leads, and get all-important face-to-face time with potential customers, all at the same time.

The Benefits of Exhibiting at a Trade Show

For The Sales Team

Attending a trade show is a no-brainer for your sales team members. By choosing to exhibit at trade shows that cater to your target demographics, your sales team gets to work directly with large numbers of pre-qualified visitors, meaning your sales people can do what they do best – generate leads. The one-on-one nature of a trade show lets your team members have more meaningful interactions with potential customers, leading to a more memorable experience (which has a higher likelihood of converting to a sale).

Trade shows also give direct access to a greater number of decision makers. A recent survey done by Exhibit Surveys, Inc. shows that 67% of trade show attendees represent a new potential customer for exhibiting companies – meaning they have a problem to solve and are looking for someone to help them solve it. In another study done by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, 46% of trade show attendees are in executive or upper management roles, giving them the power to make decisions right there on the spot.

Let’s not forget about current customers. Trade shows give your sales team opportunities to advance the sales cycle with customers who may have been on the fence about signing with you, or even upsell to existing clients who stop in to say “hello”.

For the Marketing Team

Your marketing team should be all thumbs-up about attending trade shows. They are the perfect opportunity to manage the perception of your brand and build its credibility, or to introduce brand re-positioning to a large number of people at the same time. They can also give you a way to humanize your brand, by letting potential or current customers meet face to face with the people behind the scenes, ask questions, and generally learn more about what makes you the company you are.

Don’t underestimate the level of access that a trade show gives your marketing team to solicit feedback and opinions from potential or current customers. You can use them as an opportunity to learn about objections to your products or services, identify weaknesses in your messaging, or to generally gauge the public perception of your brand.

If news or publicity about your company has been slow, attending a trade show also gives you another reason to reach out to media to reinvigorate interest in your company.

For the Product Team

Many companies use trade shows as a way to introduce new products into the marketplace to capitalize on the press and buzz that inherently surrounds the show itself. They can give your product team the opportunity to demonstrate your new product directly with potential buyers, answer questions, and even solicit feedback for future iterations.

Your product team can also use trade shows as a way to research your competitors latest products, services, and messaging, using them as a way to improve the work they are doing “back in the office”.

For Management

From a ten thousand foot view, trade shows give your management team a way to assess the current state of the industry, including identifying emerging trends or new demographics that may be entering the marketplace. They can see if your company is keeping pace with competitors, or if you are starting to fall behind in terms of innovation or positioning. They also give members of the management team a way to identify other businesses that may be beneficial from a partnership or alliance standpoint.

How to Prepare for a Trade Show

You’ve decided to make the leap and attend a trade show this year. Great! Now what?

Select Your Professionals

Exhibiting at a trade show is a big deal for your company, and should be treated as such. Team up with an experienced marketing agency that understands the intricacies of trade shows and the associated marketing – one that can produce a consistent booth experience, and help with your post show promotions.

Part of selecting your professionals is identifying the right staff members to man your booth. You want to select people who are interested in participating, are approachable and comfortable speaking with potential clients, and who have a good understanding of the product or service you are offering.

Set Objectives

If you’ve attended any sort of trade show before, spend time evaluating your previous goals and making realistic assessments about your level of success. Who did you target? How many people did you have visit your booth? Were your collateral pieces successful, or did you find them littered on the floor at the end of the event? Use any previous information you have to set new objectives for your upcoming show, being sure to keep your business goals and marketing plan in mind. How will you measure these objectives? How will you determine if your attendance was successful?

Set a Budget

In a best case scenario you’ve already sat down and devised a budget for your trade shows for this year, so this step should be an easy one to cross off. If, however, you have neglected to answer this question in advance, now is the time to give it some serious thought. Your trade show budget should be based on a number of factors including the size of the show you are attending, your current financial situation, your objectives for the trade show, and what sort of collateral you’ll need to help you reach your objectives. Don’t forget to consider the costs for travel and lodging for shows outside your regional area, staffing costs, print collateral, pre and post show promotions, and any items you plan on giving away.

Choose Your Show

The most important step in attending a trade show is to choose the right trade show to attend. Think back to your target demographics and choose events that they would be most likely to attend. If your target demographic is sports-loving men, a booth at the annual Diamond and Gemstone Expo would probably be a miss. Be willing to adjust your trade show plan every year; if you haven’t seen good results in previous years at the same trade show, consider branching out.

Define your Messaging

Now that you know who you’re talking to (the attendees of the trade show you’ve chosen), what are you going to say? Your messaging may make or break your overall trade show experience, so spend the time to get it just right. Remember your visitors will probably spend only a few minutes at your booth – what is the major takeaway you want them to have? Is it about your company’s history and values? Is it that you have the coolest new tech in the marketplace? Is it that your products are made in America? Limit your messaging to one important takeaway, and make sure all of your talking points support that message.

Evaluate Your Display

If you have a previous display, does its design and setup support your new objectives? If not, change it up. If you don’t have a display, work with your professionals to design and produce a display that focuses on bringing your selected messaging to the demographics at the show. Make sure your display reflects who you are as a brand, is visually appealing and welcoming, and provides room for your team members to interact with visitors.

Plan Your Pre and Post Show Promotions

Well in advance of the show, reach out to your current and potential customers and let them know you will be in attendance. Invite them to join you for refreshments, a giveaway, or to learn more about the products and services you offer. Decide when and how you plan to follow up with your booth visitors so you have a plan in place for collecting their contact information.


Finally, train your staff on all parts of the trade show experience, including how to assemble and disassemble your display (if necessary). It’s great to give them a heads up about what other competitors may be in attendance or what business will be on their sides or across the aisle, to prepare them before they arrive. Simulate scenarios where your booth visitors have already talked with competitors, or have objections to your messaging. Make sure your team understands the main messaging takeaway that you’ve defined.

Trade Show Exhibition Mistakes

We’ve all seen some bad trade show setups, or had bad experiences in trying to interact with specific businesses on the expo floor. Here are some of the most common trade show mistakes:

Exhibiting at a trade show can be a major investment, but when done right can also provide incredible returns. A professional, engaging booth can do everything from promoting your overall brand and raising awareness about your products and services, to generating leads and even closing sales right there on the spot. If you’re ready to make the investment, we’re ready to help!