Ten Tips for Trade Show Success

In Best Practices, Marketing, Sales by Marita Peterson

How Do You Get the Most Out of Trade Shows?

It’s a question we get asked quite frequently – why go to trade shows? Some of the companies we work with find a lot of success, but many of them struggle.

So how do you get the most out of trade shows?

Create a plan that incorporates what you will do before the trade show, during the trade show, and after the trade show. Many people jump in unprepared, and it costs them money and time, leaving them thinking trade shows are a waste of time.

Here is a pretty straightforward formula that we follow that yields results every time.

1) Pick the Right Trade Show

A lot of people think more is better, which may be true when eating dessert, but not when it comes to trade show attendance. Each trade show costs money just to attend, and then you have the additional booth cost if you’re one of the exhibitors, plus travel and lodging costs. It adds up quickly.

To get the highest ROI, you want to look at what shows are most relevant to your company. If you operate in many different industries, look at the top 2 or 3 industries your company performs best in and focus on those.

TIP: Searching Google for “list of trade shows” will bring up a ton of different sites that list dates and locations of trade shows and most allow you to filter by industry, or you can search specifically for “top trade shows in X industry.”

For B2B trade shows, this website by Orbus allows you to search by show name, city, state, country, industry, and month. It also allows you to sort the table it pulls up by attendee and exhibitor number so you can see the ones with highest attendance. It even provides links to the trade show websites!

2) Give Yourself Enough Time to Prepare for the Trade Show

Trade shows aren’t something you can just show up for and hope for the best. Just like anything else, you get the best results if you prepare beforehand. Give yourself the best chance by allowing for 6-8 weeks of preparation and pre-show work.

If you’re exhibiting, you’ll need this time to prepare your booth and make sure your team knows what to do at the booth. You’ll want to make schedules for your team so they know what to do and where to go.

You’ll also want to figure out how to handle leads at the show and what to do with the information, and what kind of outreach you want to do before, during, and after the show. All of this should be planned beforehand for the best chance at success.

3) Establish Clear, Actionable Goals

The next question is “What do I need to do to prepare for a trade show?”

To be able to answer this question for yourself, you need to first establish your goals.

  1. How many leads do you want to get from the trade show?
  2. How much time do you want to spend on the floor vs. at your booth if you’re exhibiting?
  3. How many other booths do you want to stop in by?

Your steps for preparation change depending on your goals. For example, if you don’t have a booth, you don’t need to prepare for giving demos of your product or service.

4) Choose the Right Team to Attend the Trade Show

Now you have to ask yourself, “who should I bring to the trade show?”

Use the goals you established to guide your decision making.

  1. What actions will your team be taking at the show?
  2. Do you need a member of your marketing team there?
  3. What about operations?
  4. Which salespeople are proactive, engaging, and knowledgeable enough to walk the floor or work the booth?

Look at your goals and think of which team members will be best to accomplish those goals.

5) Identify Your Top Prospects at the Trade Show

Most shows provide attendee lists ahead of time that you can review. Make sure you get this attendee list and actually review it.

Look through the attendees and ask yourself who might be the best fit for your services.

Make note of those companies and put them in your trade show plan.

Write down the names of those companies, any names or contact information related, how they’re qualified for what you’re selling, and why you think they’re a good fit for your services.

You should have this in writing so that you can reference it later.

6) Do Pre-Show Outreach

Once you’ve identified the attendees that are most likely to need your services and be compatible as a partner, make outreach. This is especially important for your top prospects – introducing yourself ahead of time can help in establishing rapport more quickly.

The outreach can be as simple as an email saying you’ll be at the trade show and a brief explanation of why you want to meet them.

If you’re going to have a booth at the show, make sure you mention the booth number. Either put it in the beginning of the email or make sure it stands out somehow.

The same goes for if you’re going to be handing anything out at the show – make sure to mention it!

7) Develop a Lead Handoff Workflow

Before you attend the show, you should have in place a workflow that details a) what information you want from leads, b) where to put that information, and c) what does the follow-up look like?

Are you collecting names and email addresses? What about phone numbers and job titles?

How are you collecting that information? Is it just business cards, are you writing it down in your phone? Some trade shows have apps or QR codes you can scan as a way to keep track of contacts, so make sure you look to see if the show you’re going to has that as an option.

Once you collect the information, what are you doing with it? Is it going into a CRM or a database?

Once you have the contacts in the CRM or database or whatever system you’re using, what next? Do you call them? Email them? When, and what’s the cadence?

Decide all of this ahead of time so you’re ready to jump on the opportunity as soon as possible.

Don’t be the salesperson with pockets full of business cards and no idea what to do with them.

8) Develop an At-Show Plan of Attack

A lot of trade shows will publish booth layouts ahead of time. Since you’ve identified your top prospects, mark where they are and assign specific team members to them to make sure contact is made.

You should also identify the questions you get asked most frequently by prospects and make sure every member on your team knows how to answer them.

Create an actual list ahead of time and give your team time to roleplay.

If you will be an exhibitor, make a plan for how you intend to draw attendees to your booth. Are you going to give things away or give a demo? Make sure your team is on the same page with how to perform the demo and what to give away.

9) Prepare a Plan for Outreach After the Trade Show

Take the list of prospects you initially reached out to before the show and segment it into two groups – those you met with, and those you didn’t. For those you met with, add any of the contact information you gathered of prospects that weren’t on your initial outreach list.

You should be sending different post-show emails depending on the group the prospects fall into.

For those who you didn’t see at the show but initially reached out to, mention that you were sad you didn’t get a chance to connect at the show and that you still want to connect.

For the people you did meet at the show, your email should be more personalized. It’s a good idea to send these individually and for each one mention something you talked about at the show before asking to meet again.

TIP: This is why it’s important to take notes on who you meet – it helps build rapport and gives you a leg up. They already know you, and they know you care enough to remember the conversation.

This is especially important for the top prospects whose contact information you gathered at the show. It’s a crucial part of the follow-up process because you want your prospects to remember you.

10) Commit to the Follow-Up!

This is one of the biggest mistakes people make – not properly following up.

Make sure the information you logged is somewhere accessible and set reminders for yourself so you don’t forget.

Something we find helpful is establishing clear next steps. In our CRM we have a field for next step date – when the prospect should be followed up with – and what the next step actually is.

Set an alert for yourself on that next step date to remind you to perform that action.

If you did a good job and have a ton of prospects, it can sometimes be a little overwhelming to remember all of that information. Use the tools you have and log the next steps properly.

Don’t let opportunities fall through the cracks because you’re unprepared.

The Takeaway

While there are a lot of different ways you can prepare for a trade show, these are the tried-and-true rules we use as a company that bring us, and the clients we attend trade shows with, success.

The principle behind these steps can also be translated to other areas of your business and can sometimes be overlooked.

Remember, review your goals and needs as a company before choosing a direction – for trade shows or anything else – because wasting time preparing for something you’ll never do takes away from time you can use to follow up on opportunities.

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