How to Plan a Successful Trade Show


It’s a new year (new calendar year anyway, maybe not fiscal) and your marketing budget is sitting pretty, waiting to be used efficiently and effectively. According to AdAge, trade shows are the biggest line item on a B-to-B marketer’s budget at nearly 20%. So you’re spending money on them, but are they successful? In 2015, for the fifth consecutive year, “in-person events” were rated as the top B2B effective tactic. How do you make sure you get the most bang for your buck from a trade show? Here are some tips:

  1. Go to the right trade shows. Not all trade shows are created equal. Some are run like Woodstock, others are planned so efficiently by the event creators that it is hard to fail as an exhibitor. A good show will provide detailed information on how to be successful at the show, they know that if you’re successful, they are too because you’ll come back next year. They’ll provide details on the attendee demographics (and sometimes even contact information), other exhibitors and where their booths will be, offer sponsorship packages that include different levels of benefits, they promote the show and its exhibitors far in advance (make sure you book early so you’re part of that), and they make it easy for you to collect lead information (barcodes on badges that can easily be scanned are popular nowadays). Make sure you’re picky and focused on your target market.
  2. Get added value. Being an exhibitor at a trade show is great but being an exhibitor and speaker is way better. Trade shows usually need speakers and/or panelists for industry topics, you should find out about the opportunities early on and apply to be part of them. And when you speak, don’t just talk about yourself or your company. You’re there as an industry expert so show them that and they will come (to your booth, then become a lead, and then a sale). Media also often attends industry trade shows, make sure to ask what media will be there and get in contact with them ahead of time and at the show as well.
  3. Pick a good location. If you don’t have the budget to make your booth the biggest and brightest with crazy giveaways, don’t be next to those people. Find out who will be where and pick a location strategically. Ask to see a layout and keep an eye out for entrances, exits, and bathrooms. This will be a long day for attendees too so you may not want to catch them at the end of their trade show floor journey when they’re attention span has diminished or right by the restroom that they’re on their way to after two cups of coffee. Being closer to the entrance or not too far from it is generally a good idea to catch attendees with fresh eyes and ears.
  4. Have a pre-show game plan. Let your clients and potential clients know you’ll be there ahead of time. If they will be there too, schedule an appointment or invite them to dinner (depending on how qualified the lead is or how valued the customer is, you could even pay for their attendee registration). Take full advantage of being in the same place at the same time. Before you even get to the show, you should have the sales wheels in motion. Post about the upcoming show on social media.
  5. Brand your booth and make it a place people will want to spend time in. You may already have a standard booth you’ve used a bunch of times and that’s great, the goal is to reuse. Make sure to take a fresh look if it’s been a while, the booth should match all of your other branding and marketing collateral. If you’re starting from scratch, make sure to work with a great booth/display vendor. A great vendor will provide a rendering of what the booth will look like (within your specs and budget) and help select the appropriate equipment and hardware. The goal is to make the booth very branded and inviting.
  6. Bring executives, extroverts, and a savvy marketer. Having executives at a trade show is great for speaking, press, and appointment opportunities. Extroverts and sales people are there to man the booth and not be shy about talking to everyone that walks by. The goal is not to sit there and wait for people to come, but rather stand and actively engage with people and tell them about your company/products/services. This will help make connections and generate leads. The savvy marketer’s job is to post about the event on social media in real-time (pictures, video, tag others, hashtags, etc.), make sure to secure any available media opportunities, and to scope out the competition (this might require some stealth moves). Find out what the competition is doing, new products/services shown, get your hands on marketing materials, swag, and maybe snap a picture or two.
  7. Give relevant stuff. Giveaways at trade shows have become somewhat of an expectation even though they often wind up in the bottom desk drawer. That said, you should give something away but make sure it’s branded and relevant. For example, if you’re a hardware storage manufacturer, a branded flash drive would be great – it’s super useful and relevant. You could also have an enter-to-win giveaway with more value, perhaps an external hard drive. When giving anything away, remember that gathering contact information is a form of “payment.” The other kind of giving are marketing materials. It’s a good idea to have printed brochures as takeaways but also have digital content to help as a visual guide during the show. A short video that talks about your company and a laptop with an internet connection that lets you show off your website and product/service offerings featured on it are two must haves.
  8. Have a post-show strategy. You met a bunch of people and collected their contact information, now it’s time to follow-up with them. Give them a few days to get back to the office from their travels and catch up on meetings and emails. If possible, it’s best for the person who made the connection at the show to call and then set up an appointment as needed. If you’re an all-star, you may have already set up an appointment during the trade show and are just calling to confirm. Enter all of your leads into your CRM tool (Salesforce, Marketo, etc, or maybe you’re not there yet and just have an Excel spreadsheet). If they are new leads, mark where they came from by including the name of the event. If they are existing leads or customers, log a note of the conversation had at the trade show and next steps. Adding them to your database will make it easier to execute your follow-up marketing strategy and track the trade show’s effectiveness.
  9. Calculate ROI. This may not be a quick or easy process, you have to give the follow-up strategy time in order to be able to determine how many of your leads converted to sales. Start by using the information entered into your CRM tool to get a count of leads and the type (qualified leads, new leads, past customers, etc.). Reach out to the event company to get post-show stats and any other contact information they can provide. Comparing attendance with the number of leads you obtained is a great stat. Remember to include the impressions you got from speaking, press, and social media as part of your ROI.

With the right planning, marketing, and execution, trade shows can yield great results – they are a worthy investment if you make them work for you. Using these 9 tips will help. You can also contact us and we’ll help you along the road to trade show success.