Does trade show marketing work? Are trade shows still relevant in the new age of online marketing, websites, Twitter, Facebook, Google, Bing, iPhones, iPads, and social media? Or are trade shows and trade show marketing just last century’s marketing dinosaurs?Is it still worthwhile to exhibit at a trade show or convention, especially in today’s economy?

The simple answer is a resounding, YES, trade show marketing DOES work, which is why every year there are thousands of trade shows held through the US and the world, with millions of attendees. And there are tens of thousands of trade show exhibitors who are successful, introducing new products and selling existing products, meeting new customers, and establishing new business relationships. Trade shows are still the most cost-effective “face-to-face” marketing method available today.  Trade show marketing allows an exhibitor to meet with hundreds of motivated potential customers.  But trade show success is not a foregone conclusion nor is it guaranteed, and unfortunately, far too many exhibitors waste much of the potential value of trade show marketing because they don’t following a few simple rules…


3 simple “Golden Rules” to make your next trade show a success!

Repeat after me… plan, qualify, follow-up.  Now say those three words again.  These three concepts are so simple, but it seems to me, are also so often overlooked by many exhibitors.  Too often I have seen exhibitors that instead (1) try to do everything at the last minute, (2) want to talk to and sell to every passerby, and (3) then go back to work and wait for the phone to start ringing and the orders to start flowing in…  May I instead suggest the following approach:

1.  PLAN [before your show]

One of my favorite quotes is “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”  I couldn’t agree more.  Plan for your trade show, and start early.

a.  Determine your Purpose:  What is the purpose of exhibiting at this show?  Are you introducing a new product?  Trying to get new customers?  Do you just have to be seen there (if so, make it worth it).

b.  Set Goals:  I want to meet “x” new prospects a day.  I want to get “$x” of new orders a day.  I want to contact “x” current customer and arrange to show them our new widget at the show.

c.  Make a Checklist:  what do you have to do?  Secure a booth space?  Order carpet, power, etc?  Do you need a portable booth?  Do you need graphics?  Do you need the graphics designed?  Do you need new literature?  Do you need to contact current customers and let them know you’ll be at the show?

d.  Assign Responsibility:  Who has to do what?  (this is really easy for a one-person exhibit)

e.  Create a Timeline and Set Deadlines:

f.   Pre-show Promotion: let people know you’ll be there (postcards, emails, phone calls).

g.  Create an incentive for them to visit your booth:  Consider some kind of drawing or handing out trade show giveaways. Tell people to bring your pre-show mailer by the booth and they can redeem it for a “super hip xyz widget” (i.e. trade show giveaway) or they can drop it in a box (after answer all the question on the questionnaire of course) and they’ll then qualify to win a new iPod (for example).

h.  Keep in mind the big picture. You’re competing with hundreds of exhibitors among all the other trade show booths. You’ve got to insure that your trade show display will stand out from all the other trade show displays, which means you’ll need a stand-out, breakthrough trade show booth design.

i.  Plan, plan, plan…

j.  see step “i” above (“I” means “YOU”)

2.  QUALIFY [at your show]

It always surprised me how many trade show booth staffers tried to sell to everyone.  I suppose they thought they could sell refrigerators to Eskimos too.

Do be sure to greet everyone passing by, but if they talk to you, QUALIFY them.  Ask if they are in the market for your product or service.  Ask if they have a problem (that you have a solution for, of course).  Ask if they are using any of your competitors.  Ask if the prospect is a decision-maker or influencer.  Ask these questions, but then listen.  Give them a chance to talk.  Determine what the likelihood of they or their company ever buying from you is.

If they are not a qualified prospect, thank them, and move on.  If they are, continue your discussion.  Get their contact information, and get some kind of personal information as well and make a note of it (this will help with your follow-up later).  If you think you can get a sale, by all means go for it.  Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can accomplish today.

I think of qualifying trade show prospects as a simple mathematical formula.  If you have 4 good hours of prospecting a day (240 minutes), would you rather spend 5 minutes each with 48 people when 80% of them would never buy from you (so the 9 good prospects only get 5 minutes of your time just like the others), or would you rather spend 2 minutes each qualifying the 48, and then have 16 minutes each for your 9 real prospects.  I’d rather have 18 minutes total for each of the 9 real prospects, not just the 5 minutes that the refrigerator salesman has.

There’s a lot more to do at the show [see what to do & what not to do at your booth], but qualifying prospects is to often overlooked or misunderstood.  So remember… qualify, qualify, qualify.

3.  FOLLOW-UP [after the show]

You’re back from your trade show, you’re tired, and you have a pile of mail and a folder full of emails to go through.  You’ve got two meetings to go to, and your boss wants to go over a new project with you.  You’ve just worked a Saturday, and you think you deserve some comp time.  Your buddies are over at the coffee maker talking about the game.  You’ve got too much to do.  You gave all your prospects your business card and brochure, so they’ll call you when they’re ready to order.  You’ve done your job.

Stop.  Your trade show marketing efforts aren’t finished.  Assume that your business card and brochure are in a plastic bag with 50 other companies on the floor in your prospect’s office.  He’s in the same boat as you.  He’ll get to the plastic bag when he gets time, which turns out to be never, and three months later the entire contents go into the office recycling bin.

I found that I could double or triple my new customers from a trade show by doing one thing… follow-up.  Call all of your prospects within 3 days of getting back to work.  Hopefully you wrote a personal note on the back of each prospect’s business card so that you can mention it and show that you remember him.  Don’t stop with one call.  Call back in two weeks, and then in a month.  You aren’t cold-calling because you already know your prospect.  Follow-up is more work, but with all the work you already invested in preparing for and going to the show, it’s a waste to not finish the job.  So remember… follow-up, follow-up, follow-up! Follow these three simple steps, PLAN, QUALIFY, AND FOLLOW UP, and be a trade show success!


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