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Last Updated: August 4, 2022

Trade Show Strategy Revisited

Recently, I have had many conversations around trade show best practices and the challenges that many of my colleagues face.

I had published a blog on that subject and how to improve processes earlier in the year, Trade show best practices, improved processes and a little pixie dust..  It did have a lot of information in it (so I was told~) so in an effort to condense, here are the highlights recapped as helpful lists:

Tracking Trade Show ROI  

  1. Track where budget is being allocated vs. spent. Identifying expenses in last-minute shipping or missed discount deadline opportunities is important to the bigger picture and allows for CPL calculations that can potentially be adjusted/improved. This stage focuses on my performance as the trade show manager.
  2. Implement proper follow-up lead procedures for sales that include best practices for customer contact and pipeline tracking. This stage focuses on sales performance.
  3. Consider the bigger picture. Not all decisions can be made based on CPL alone but really evaluating the data against the strategy and objective is a critical step. Make a post-event meeting a priority and discuss the overall evaluation.

Event Objectives:

  • Create Engagement: Staff training on “booth etiquette” is a real art that requires structure. Do not be afraid to communicate booth rules. There are many articles over the years on how poor staff interactions by exhibitors can kill ROI. Every person in the booth is representing the company.  Here are some key areas worth a revisit with staff:
  • Remove physical barriers in the way of discussing and ultimately buying products:  Physical barriers are as simple as tables and furniture between staff and potential customers. Throughout the trade show, ensure staff members are out front to talk. Sitting down or standing behind a table does not communicate energy and openness. Trade shows are expensive and a limited number of hours. Think of it like a play or performance. Be on. Work hard. Don’t miss an opportunity.
  • Remove emotional barriers in the way of discussing and ultimately buying products:  Emotional barriers are actually the most common and include unfriendly facial or poor body language. Always be aware of what your body language is saying. Make the first move the same way you would if a guest came to your home and was at your front door. Say hello, welcome, be approachable and friendly. Additionally, one of the newer emotional barriers for staff in a booth is being on their devices whether it’s a phone, computer or tablet. If you need to take care of business, step outside of your booth to do so. Lastly, do not allow staff to pass off customers to other staff members stating that they do not have the ability to help. If you have a team member that is better suited to answer a question, have your staff state that. It implies they are knowledgeable and also know who is the expert.
  • Have a business synopsis (quick sentence or a few prepared that lets your audience know about your products and company). Have all staff commit it to memory. An average of 30 seconds is what we have to capture someone who approaches the booth. There is power in consistency. Getting mixed messages from different staff members indicates deception. Additionally practice, with your staff, how to identify someone who is not a qualified lead and end a conversation politely so they do not monopolize potential selling time with qualified leads. Practice, practice, practice these techniques.
  • Achieve Goals: Goals at a trade show are pretty simple. Attendees are there to learn and find solutions, and exhibitors are there to sell their services and products. In a world where we can easily make purchases online, why do decision makers continue to attend trade shows? They want to meet face to face, to learn about your product and service in person. Relationship sales are still what most business people are seeking and this is where the talented can shine. Know this.
  • Manage Follow up. Post trade show, sales not following up on leads is unacceptable. With a goal to sell your services and products, proper follow up on every opportunity is not negotiable. Make it happen. Make management hold all accountable for that. Checklist for follow up can consist of:
  • Use Technology to Capture Leads. Buy your own or rent the trade show scanner but use these tools to capture all contact info accurately, including notes to help with targeted successful follow up and to be able to transfer these leads to your CRM. If you have multiple staff in the booth, make it your system that the person entering a lead identifies themselves in the notes so they can be directed any questions that might arise for the salesperson following up about the face-to-face interaction.
  • Have a system for coding leads. The consistency will make follow up faster and more accurate. The system should accomplish grading and prioritizing the leads as you enter them.
  • Time is of the essence. Contact all leads as quickly as possible. The sundown rule is the best for all business. If you can respond and provide helpful information the same day (before you go to bed) it is worth pushing yourself to put the extra time in. Attendees usually receive follow up a week or two after events so you stand out from the rest with stellar customer service.

Preparation List

  • Objectives: Have the whole team on the same page for our common business goals. In order to do that, we have to know exactly what we want to achieve and just as important, why. It is a simple question but the very first step before each show is to answer, “What are we trying to accomplish?” The answers can vary between leads, awareness, customer relationships, and market leadership. This depends on the event and the prep work done to really understand it.
  • Plan: The very beginning stages of planning is choosing the right show. That sounds simplistic but knowing the exact customers you are targeting, including decision makers that will be in attendance, is sometimes assumed or overlooked by the planner. I use the motto “know your audience” in everything I do. Really. I even used it at a PTO meeting recently to illustrate communication issues between the school and the parents. You have to know your audience.
  • Strategy: Create an effective booth. If your graphics do not communicate who you are and what you do immediately, you are communicating a weakness.
  • Streamline: Printed collateral is passé. Attendees do not want to carry datasheets around the floor and usually request to have the key information electronically sent to them. Replace weight and clutter with a clean presentation and efficiency. Not only can that help alleviate unnecessary shipping costs but also can support positive branding. This can be accomplished by replacing a lot of equipment with video demos on tablets and collateral download options.
  • Organize: Efficiency is critical to improving CPLs. Pre-schedule meetings with your key customers and prospects ahead of time. Tell everyone you will be there. Let attendees know where your booth number is and, ideally, any booth activities. Use the Twitter feeds and different hashtags if the show is driving attendees to booths through those.
  • Communicate the Plan: Once you know your audience, you can structure all your communications and content effectively. Event-specific channels help to prepare for a show. Your channel might be social media, targeted lists, and/or attendee lists but the outcome of organized content through these will strengthen your brand. Organized content is based on message, expertise, product lines, features, and technology solutions. It is great branding not only for your audience but for the internal staff. As the show manager, you are responsible for training staff to be one cohesive team.
  • Document: Each trade show we exhibit at has a master spreadsheet to ensure we work as one seamless team, everyone is “in the know” about our event details and everyone can be contacted at any time. That includes:
    • all attending staff and their contact information (cell phones and emails)
    • staff travel itineraries
    • venue and hotel contact info/addresses
    • schedule that includes show hours, appointments and assigned staff to them
    • setup and tear-down Instructions
    • layouts
    • equipment checklist
    • shipping information and links to paperwork

How to Handle Challenges:

  • Know that you have planned appropriately and done your due diligence.
  • Have realistic expectations that challenges will arise.
  • Keep perspective that there are solutions to almost all problems.  See your role as solution provider who is prepared to do so.
  • Always begin by identifying and defining what type of challenge you are dealing with:
    • Real Challenges are those that result in a failure to meet objectives. I also sometimes ask myself, will this matter in five years and anything that might is a real challenge.
    • Fixable Challenges are those that can be resolved. They are generally all of the things that also will not really matter in five years.

Evaluation Check List Post Show

  • Was it the right message for the audience you brought to the booth?
  • Did you have the overall correct branding and presence that you planned for?  What needs to be improved?
  • Did you have the right focus on new product or service to communicate or demonstrate?
  • Did you have the right staff attend?  Was everyone representing your company trained properly and working as a team?

My favorite quote is still the infamous “Poor planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on mine.”  As a trade show manager you have ownership of both the planning and the emergency so avoid as many challenges as you can with stellar preparation.

  • Kathleen Skelton’s full blog can be read here.
  • Click Here for more on trade show CHALLENGES
  • Click Here for more on trade show SOLUTIONS


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