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14 Successful Trade Show Tips

Avoid these common trade show mistakes and guarantee trade show success.

I would never deliberately tell you what to do, so I’m going to recommend that you avoid these common trade show mistakes. It doesn’t matter if you are a trade show rock star who’s been around for years, or a newbie. These tips are essential for everyone and anyone in face-to-face trade show sales. Mistakes happen; how you handle them is what makes the difference. The fate of trade show mistakes lies in your hands, and you are the ruler of your trade show destiny. I know that sounds a little deep, but in reality you do have control over upcoming trade shows. Planning ahead is the key to avoiding common trade show mistakes. Read on to save money, time, and maximize your trade show marketing skills.

Tip #1: Don’t over do it.

We all envision ourselves as the next significant thing when it comes to trade show sales and marketing. I think it's good to be confident, but it's even more valuable to be realistic when approaching an exhibit. The first trade show event of your career sould be focused on acquiring education and experience for the company. You can still consider an in-line 10 x 10 or 10 x 20, but starting off small tends to be best when you are first starting out. Rather than coming out with guns blazing, try and focus on learning more about what works for the company you represent. Start off with graphics and display configurations. Next time around you can invest in an island exhibit. You might be surprised to find that clients enjoy meeting exclusively, while others prefer a more casual meeting area. Without trial and error it will be impossible to produce an exhibit that fits the needs of your cliental.

Make a decision to avoid over doing it. That way you won’t spend unnecessary marketing money before you know what works best for the company and clients. Down the road you will be able to invest more money in a show that will generate more leads, increase your ROI and show your competitors who’s boss.

Tip #2: Don’t under do it.

This may sound a little contradictory, but there is a perfect medium. Trust me. Take the time to decide what is best for the company. Smaller exhibits have less visitors than the larger exhibits, but this is because of the location. The big exhibits get more attention because they are in the center of the exhibit, near the entrance, and aside main aisle-ways. The main benefit of a larger display is versatility. Island Exhibits can have presentation area(s), seating arrangements, storage space, fancy graphics, hanging signs, etc. Most in-line displays can be customized in similar ways, but space is more limited. The size of your exhibit or amount of exhibit space will not be the defining factor of your exhibit.

So, instead of obsessing over size, space, and location, focus your thoughts on the message you want to relay to your target audience. This will help you exceed your goals and create a booth that portrays the company vision. Keep it simple, stay goal oriented, and everything else will fall into place.

Tip #3: Skimping on goal development

The trade show is a unique opportunity for people to engage in good old-fashioned face-to-face sales. Apple has transformed the way we communicate and the majority of communication happens via email, text, iChat, social networks, etc. Trade shows are the only branch of sales to continue in face-to-face marketing. This is a unique way to approach sales because it makes faking it impossible. At the trade show, it is easy to discern who came prepared and who did not.

Goal development is essential in outworking a healthy and impressive exhibit. Making specific goals will articulate what you want your clients to hear and to see. You will know you’ve done a good job when you see Mr. and Mrs. Smith back at your booth the following year.

Note: Even if you are a marketing professional, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are knowledgeable in trade show marketing or exhibit design. A trade show guru is an important tool in the industry. They have an abundance of knowledge in the industry that comes with experience. The industry experience will be crucial when developing specific goals for the exhibit.

Tip #4: Bringing graphic chaos to the trade show.

Maybe your company sells a variety of products. Maybe a different department designs each product. I imagine it is important to each department that their product is advertised at the show. Let’s say you sell baby goods. That means you are bringing a lot of products to the show: diapers, baby wipes, pacifiers, toys, baby food, etc. You may also be obligated to print graphics that represent each product line. Messy and incohesive graphics make it difficult for clients to understand information. Based on a scientific study, our brains can only process so much in a 3-4 second time frame. Make it easier on trade show attendees and keep graphics uncluttered. Focus on relaying a clear and engaging message.

Let graphics speak for the company. Incorporate color, wit, and creativity, but not brand chaos. Ask yourself these essential questions: Who are you as a company? What do you do? What problem are you attempting to solve in less than 8 seconds? These questions will help you simplify the process and get straight to the point. High quality graphics that display a clear message are the defining factor of the booth space.

Tip #5: Giving away giveaways for no good reason.

Giveaways can be fun, but don’t determine your credibility as a company. Everyone loves free stuff, including me. I love attending trade shows to fill up my arms with free gadgets. I could move from booth to booth simply to collect free things and have absolutely no interest in what the company is selling. Giveaways may not attract your target audience. You may find yourself investing time (and money) in a large number of people rather than your concentrated target audience. This small percentage comes to your booth purely because they are interested in your company. Raffles have a similar effect. They bring in a large group of people, but again, you may be missing your concentrated clients.

You don’t have to spend valuable marketing money and time on giveaways that bring in unqualified leads. It couls simply be a waste of your time and resources. Have thought before making this decision.

Tip #6: Bringing clueless staffers to the trade show.

Hopefully your current staff is familiar with your products and company. You might think this is all they need to know when approaching a trade show, but that’s just not true. Keep in mind; we are in a face-to-face sales industry where you are not only selling your company and products, but you are also selling yourself. Customer service is as important and as crucial as ever.

Acquiring quality leads and developing a trusting relationship with trade show attendees is accomplished with staffers. Staffers should approach each client promptly, asking open-ended questions, engaging them and listening, and coming up with a solution. Training staffers before a show is critical.

The trade show is like a job interview. Potential clients are walking into the booth space contemplating a specific question: to hire or not to hire? Requiring quality customer service skills from your team members will help prompt a “to hire” response.

Tip #7: Contracting leads without follow up.

Imagine you are preparing for a date with a stranger. At first, you had slight resistance. However, with much persistence this person succeeded in persuading you to join them for dinner. You dressed to impress and mentally prepared yourself for the date. As the night progressed, you realized you had a great time. This person embodies many things you want in a significant other. By the end of the date, you are feeling excited about this new connection. You shake hands, respectfully, and express how much fun you had. Your date expresses the same and promises to call you soon.

Weeks later, you have yet to hear from this person and start to experience some real disappointment. You thought they had what you needed. This is an image of how your leads feel when you neglect getting in touch with them after the show. You’ve spent all this time and money in preparation and skipped the most important part, following up with your leads. Immediate follow-up with leads will ensure a higher chance of sales for your company. The sales evaluation after the show is just as important as the sales evaluation that takes place before the show.

Tip #8: Letting the booth space get messy.

Resist the urge to get lazy. The show must go on for the specified amount of time. Regardless of any achy feet or heavy eyelids, the booth space must look excellent. That means keeping it tidy and picking up after each show. There is no excuse for your booth to lack in excellence just because you are getting tired. Don’t ignore a messy booth, coffee spills, or gum wrappers.

Get your team pumped up, day in and day out. Bring some energy to the team and you are sure to deliver the highest quality booth in the history of the trade show industry. Build a checklist and assign specific tasks to staff members. This way you will know each teammate is contributing and that every area of the booth is being maintained.

Tip#9:  Being a party animal.

You are attending a trade show and it’s all about connecting with people. So you have the green light from your company to socialize, entertain and enjoy a drink or two during off hours. That’s all good, but keep the partying to a minimum. You are still on the clock and entertaining clients can be done responsibly.

The trade show can be the best social hour of your life, but it is still intensely competitive. Always be on you’re A game. Don’t let a couple drinks tear down inhibitions and expose company secrets. Party responsibly.

Finally, socializing shouldn’t collide with show responsibilities. Show up on time, looking sharp, and avoid showing up to the booth smelling of bourbon. Even if the bourbon was free, your responsibility is to the show and to your team.

Tip #10: Losing focus at the end of the show.

The end of a show is rough. Exhaustion has taken over. It is time to go home and recoup for a week. I get it. We all get to that point, but try and resist the urge to do an insufficient job of packing up. You won’t regret efficient booth pack-up down the road. The careful unpacking of your exhibit makes everything go faster, including repacking at the end of the show. Repacking the exhibit properly will ensure its safe arrival at the next destination.  An exhibit should always show up in good condition and completely ready for its next show. Remember, you are deemed the leader of the pack and positivity from beginning to end is contagious.

Tip #11: Participating in an empty show.

How do you ensure that you are participating in the right show for your company? You can have a strong grasp on the show by studying and researching shows you are interested in attending. Also, network with people who have attended those shows and get their opinions. Study the numbers on specific trade shows: how many people have attended the show? What does their success look like over a span of 3 years? That kind of trade show research is as important as attending the show itself. Save your time and save your money and do some trade show research before you make a commitment.

Tip #12: Deciding not to walk the trade show.

The show is about appealing to potential clients, but it also serves as a way to get to know your competitors. Don’t be the creeper in the corner, but instead network with competitors. You might even spark up a conversation that empowers and encourages you in your next business endeavors. Don’t over-share, but don’t feel like you can’t socialize in a warm and friendly way.

Tip #13: Forgetting about marketing before a show.

This should almost be the first tip, because it is an important part of overall trade show marketing. These days pre-show marketing is as simple as a quick email campaign you shoot out to all your clients. Write email content that will encourage a response. If you don’t hear back via email, then start making phone calls. Track down who will attend the show. You can learn a lot from client feedback, and it might even help determine what you bring to the show or the style of your graphics.

Tip # 14: Keep pushing forward.  

At the end of the day, the show will move forward. Face-to-face trade show sales have the potential to take your company to places it has never been before. The blood, sweat, and tears that make-up trade show preparation are all worth it when you’ve received various leads and helpful feedback. Be bold, be creative, and be abstract. The trade show will embrace whatever you bring to the table. Enjoy the ride!

Written by Jeff Diers
Owner and Founder of  Denver based Diers Exhibit Group