What goest on behind the scene of a successful trade show? More than you could imagine! First, let’s start with your marketing objective for exhibiting at a particular trade show. So often I hear that companies continue to exhibit at a particular show because, “We’ve always done it and if we don’t our competition is still there and attendees might think we are out of business.” At first glance, this might make sense; however, if you are not getting qualified leads from the show, it’s not worth going. No sense throwing good money after bad.

Define your target audience. What is the title of the attendee that you want to do business with? What companies and industries do you want to reach? You can research the right trade shows through trade publications and the Internet. Once you narrow down your options, you can obtain the registered attendee list for the previous year from show management. If you want to market to the show attendees, you will need to buy the current registered attendee list with names and addresses through a sponsorship. Hey, there really is no free lunch.

After deciding on which trade show to attend based on the information you gathered through your research of your target audience, you are now ready to choose your booth space location on the floor plan. There is usually an interactive floor map on the trade show website listed under the exhibitor section. It is important to think strategically about your location. What companies would you like to be next to? Or which competitors would you rather not be next to? What else is happening in sections of the trade show floor (coffee area, general sessions, break-out rooms, entertainment, lunch area, etc.)? Are there any building columns obstructing the line of sight to your booth? Is the ceiling lower in certain areas? All these things can affect how attendees find your booth among the hundreds of others located on the floor.

What is your actual booth size? Here is where a lot of people think bigger is better. Not necessarily true. Again, what is your marketing objective? If you need the space for customer demonstrations, bigger may be the way to go. Will you have interactive media in the booth? Will you have entertainment? If you are concentrating on building brand awareness, a smaller booth with a larger sponsorship might be the way to go. All shows need sponsors. The cost of sponsorship packages, as well as what is included in each, differs for each show. I have seen mid-sized companies create a huge presence at a show with a smaller booth and multiple sponsorships, which allowed their name to be everywhere.

Once you’ve decided on which show to attend, selected your booth size and location, as well as a sponsorship package, you can now focus on who from your team should staff the booth. Booth staff needs to have outgoing and friendly personalities. Product knowledge is critical, but not if the person is shy and/or abrupt with others. The most successful booth staffers are those who know the product, enjoy talking with others and have outgoing personalities. It is imperative to train your booth staffers prior to sending them off to a trade show. Having key objectives on what they need to cover with an attendee to qualify them as a potential lead will make the difference in your sales process. Booth staff needs to be asking open-ended questions to qualify the leads quickly and not waste time on attendees just collecting promotional giveaways.

What are promotional giveaways? These item could be anything (a pen, T-shirt, keychain, coffee mug, etc.), but the point is to include your company logo, website address and/or contact info on it. In addition, if you know that your current customers might be visiting your booth, you may want to have another promotional giveaway item of higher value set aside only for those clients. It really does make a person feel special to receive something above and beyond the usual give- away item.

As you can see, a ton goes into the preliminary planning of a successful trade show. Most importantly, strategic planning with your marketing objective is crucial in getting your money’s worth from exhibiting at trade shows. 


Suzanne Axt, CMM, CTSM, is a trade show and event marketing consultant with over 15 years industry experience. Suzanne works with companies in developing effective trade show operations and event marketing strategies. 

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