Trade Show Success: Setting Strategies, Objectives & Plans

To get the most out of a trade show, you need to give it some thought in advance and plan some strategies and objectives. I’ve put together a list of these that will be useful for many people participating in trade shows.

Special Offers

It is common practice to offer “show specials” at a slightly higher than usual discount or with better terms, such as free shipping, as an incentive to purchase on the trade show floor. You may want to pre-promote your “show special” by sending a preannouncement to attendees. Contact the convention organizers to see whether you can purchase the preregistered attendance list. Don’t forget to include your current and known potential customers in your mailing.

You may want to offer this group of consumers the “show special” even if they don’t plan on attending. Extend the offer for some limited period of time and specify how they can place an order. Perhaps email it out to current and prospective customers and/or announce it on your website. Let your customers know that you will be exhibiting at the trade show. If they are attending, they will be more likely to make a point of visiting your booth. Even if they are not attending, it will benefit you by appearing to be more of an industry “player” who is taken seriously by your customers and prospects.

Opening New Accounts

Many companies offer “new account specials” at trade shows. Consider offering a slightly better discount on the opening order or, perhaps, a free gift or merchandise item of limited value. You may want to offer a freebie to get prospective consumers to drop by your booth. Anything that will attract attendees to your booth, obviously, will increase your sales opportunities.

You may do better at opening new accounts by calling show attendees right after the show closes. Or you can pass on the names of people who visited your booth to your sales representatives for follow-up. Try setting up a “Prize Bowl” to collect business cards for a grand giveaway drawing. This can be a great way to amass leads! If you really want to attract new accounts, consider waiving credit checks or prepayments on first orders under a certain value. Be sure to inform such clients, however, that further credit orders will be contingent upon a favorable credit report.

Building Relationships with Current Customers

No amount of dazzle in your booth is likely to do as much for building positive relationships with customers as taking the time to sit down and talk. The more senior the employees you have “working” the booth, the better. This shows that you take your trade show attendance seriously. Take care that your representatives are well groomed, wear smiles, and possess a strong handshake. These seemingly small touches can go a long way toward building and maintaining customer relationships through trade shows.

Trade show attendees, even if current customers, can become frustrated if no one is available to talk to them. This is especially true at large company booths with heavy traffic. The concern at smaller booths may be the absence of the one attending company representative. Make sure you have adequate personnel in your booth at all times.

Launching a New Product Line

To launch a new product line at a trade show, be prepared to offer potential customers as much specific information about the new product line as possible. It is ideal to have a working sample of the product, but that isn’t always possible. If this is the case, try to represent the new product as accurately as possible with prototypes, photographs, product specification sheets, or any other type of substantive material that will best display the salient features of the new product. To create excitement about your new offerings and increase the number of visitors to your booth, you might display life-size posters or even three-dimensional representations of your new products.

Emphasizing the Firm’s Unique Attributes

In the circus like atmosphere of many trade shows, it is difficult to convey the subtle or numerous differences between your product and that of your competition. The most effective way to set yourself apart from the noise is to focus on one major delineating feature by highlighting it in a spectacular way. For example, you may choose to display a large sign reading “The Firm That Offers Free Freight All the Time,” or “Product Support Is Our #1 Concern,” or “Leading-Edge Products.”

Portraying the Firm as a Major Player in the Industry

Portraying your firm as a major player in the industry at a major trade show is going to cost a great deal of money. So, before you take this tack, you need to carefully consider the image ramifications of portraying yourself as a major player. You may have the best product on the market, but if you don’t have significant market share or a broad product line, you will look foolish trying to palm yourself off as an industry leader.

If you can swing the image, you will have to do more than just rent the largest floor space. What you do with that space will make a more significant impression on customers. A professional, polished display is absolutely essential. If you need to economize, give heavy emphasis to displaying your firm’s name at the price of deemphasizing product displays.

Seeking Publicity on Industry Websites and in Trade Publications

Send press releases and call the editors of industry websites and trade publications well before convention time. Be sure to have information available on special offers, promotions, or giveaways during the shows and, of course, information on new products. These are your best bets for getting press attention. Remember, industry websites and trade publications are also read by key prospects who are unable to attend the show.

Seeking Independent Sales Representatives

Independent sales representatives are most likely to respond to a professional booth display. They cruise show floors and size up companies at a glance. If your booth looks great, they will think you have a saleable product. You may wish to display a small neat sign reading, “Sales representatives needed for some territories.” Even if you don’t want to be as blatant in your representative search as a sign indicates, trade shows can be a terrific proving ground for lining up new sales representatives.

Seeking Overseas Distributors

Foreign distributors tend to avoid the smaller, least effective trade show booths. But even if your budget is tight, make sure your products are represented accurately. Given a choice, foreign distributors prefer seeing good production models of products rather than fancy booth displays. And unlike current domestic distributors, foreign distributors will be as interested in your existing product line as they will be in your new offerings.

The best place to find overseas distributors is at large international shows, but large national shows will draw some foreign candidates as well.

Seeking Large Distributors

Many key employees from large firms will be wandering the trade show floor looking for new ideas and products to add to their distribution line. To attract a large distributor or distribution firm, place your product or product representation at the forefront of your booth. Have your company representatives make eye contact and conversation with personnel from large distribution houses that pass by the booth.

Meeting with Key Accounts

If you hope to have meaningful meetings with key accounts, you need to make arrangements in advance. If you have the luxury of leaving your booth periodically, the ideal situation is to meet your key accounts off the trade show floor. If this isn’t possible, set up an area in your booth that is private, outfitted with chairs and a table, and relatively quiet. Instruct booth representatives to keep interruptions to a minimum while you are in the meeting.

Convention meetings are tricky. Everyone wants to get the attention of key buyers. It isn’t unusual to have appointments changed or canceled. You might even be stood up entirely. Don’t be surprised.

In-depth Demonstrations

If you need the full attention of current or prospective customers to demonstrate your product or service, you may wish to divide your booth into an area for displays and an area for demonstrations. Consider roping off the rear section of your booth for a seating or meeting area that will offer a comfortable atmosphere for viewing demonstrations. Remember, though, to encourage customers to stay at your booth for more than a cursory overview. During a busy trade show you’ll need a really hot product or an incredibly exciting presentation.

Solving Problems for Customers

While trade show exhibitors often enter into the venture very excited about publicly presenting their new products, what your customers may hope to accomplish through trade show attendance may, surprisingly for you, not even include viewing your new products. They may hope to resolve vendor, delivery, quality, billing, or other significant issues. Always be prepared to spend time restoring good relationships with some of your customers.

Checking Out Competitors’ Products

Virtually all exhibitors at trade shows budget time for surveying their competitors’ wares and latest offerings. Keep in mind, however, that while you are doing this—and it may be important—you aren’t in your booth meeting and selling to customers. If you need to go on a competitor scouting expedition, just make sure your booth will be adequately and professionally staffed in your absence.

Seeking New Products or Services to Distribute or Buy

Trade shows afford a fast way to peruse other firms’ products or services that you may wish to distribute or buy. Be cautious. It is easy to make hasty and premature decisions during the excitement of a trade show. If you have any hesitation at all about coming to an agreement at a trade show, back off until you get home and have a chance to think it through. Or, at the very least, wait until the end of the show, when you have had a chance to evaluate all of the potential products or services that may enhance your ability to meet your own customers’ needs.

Keeping Up Contacts

Keep careful track of every contact you meet during a trade show. Even a direct competitor can be a source of important information in the future. Make a point of asking for business cards and handing out yours. Many of the larger trade shows allow you to scan and electronically record the badges of attendees who visit your booth. Try to keep detailed notes for future reference. I’d suggest you consider taking notes right on your laptop or even your smartphone. It’s easy to forget key details and important information about key contacts during a busy trade show.

Takeaways You Can Use

  •  Offer show specials. 
  • Don’t ignore your current customers.
  • Use the opportunity to boost the firm’s image.

About Bob Adams

Bob Adams is a Harvard MBA serial entrepreneur. He has started over a dozen businesses including one that he launched with $1500 and sold for $40 million. He has written 17 books and created 52 online courses for entrepreneurs. Bob also founded BusinessTown, the go-to learning platform for starting and running a business.