Trade Shows: Going Beyond the Booth to Get Results  

Trade shows can be a really lucrative way for businesses to show off what they do—and to reach valuable prospects in the process. But if your trade show efforts have not been producing the results you hoped for, it’s likely because your mindset is still stuck in the booth.

When it comes to trade shows, virtually everyone concentrates on the booth. In fact, we did a little research on the most common queries people have about trade shows, based on search data from Semrush. Here are some of the top ones: 

  • What to give away at a trade show
  • A before-and-after trade show display
  • A-frame trade show graphics
  • [What is] a standard trade show booth size?
  • Are trade show booth tables typically 8 foot or 6 foot?
  • Are trade show booths marketing materials?
  • Can anyone do next-day banners for trade shows?

Notice anything? These are all about creating, setting up, or displaying booths! (Granted, the top question was “Is trade show one word or two?” Most people write it as two words, but whatever—just be consistent!)

Again, when it comes to trade shows, most people are fixated on the booth. The trade show booth is important…but there are a lot of things that have to happen before, after, and around the booth to make a trade show successful. If you lose sight of these things, then your appearance at the trade show will not meet your expectations, and all those expensive displays will just be a waste of money.

Here is our battle plan when it comes to trade shows in which our clients want to participate.

Planning the Show

The earlier you plan your trade show event, the better. Your plan is not just a plan for getting a bunch of marketing materials into a building; it is a plan for building engagement. So:

Get clear on your goals. How many conversations do you want to have? Is there anyone in particular you want to meet? Are you there to build a prospect list, or just to create some buzz around a new product? Get clear on your trade show goals and how you will measure success. If you have attended the same or similar events in the past, you can look at past data to determine what went well, what didn’t and use past data to set performance benchmarks.

Outline how you will attract attention at every stage and gather resources. Think about how you will attract the attention of your intended audience before, during, and after the trade show. Some ideas are covered below; at this stage, you need an outline of your plan so you can marshall the right resources. For example, do you need to pull email lists? Will you run some digital ads? Will you sponsor an event at the show? (Most established or larger events will have a media kit available for you to see what sponsorships or marketing opportunities are available—and they might be open to other ideas as well!) Do you need to reach out to Key Opinion Leaders who could speak about your product?

Start thinking about booth logistics. Yes, the focus of this article is on the marketing beyond the booth, but booths do not just magically appear. Start planning out your booth based on the size you have available and what you want to accomplish. This means thinking through not only the dimensions, but the visitor flow, support materials and supplies. For example, will you need marketing materials? Will you show a video? Is there a demo or app? All of those things need to be created, and planning early allows you enough time to do so.

In the Run-Up to the Show

Most of the communication you do with attendees won’t actually be at the trade show itself. Start communicating with confirmed or potential attendees well ahead of the event to maximize your chances of show success.

Plan on email outreach early and often. Reach out to clients and prospects you hope will be at the show. Invite them to come see you. (Offer an incentive if you can.) Tell them about all the cool things they will find there. This helps generate buzz around the trade show itself—something that benefits you and will be appreciated by the organizers.

Make a big deal on social media. Email can reach people you already know. Social media has the potential to reach beyond your email list. Share your excitement about your upcoming trade show and start building energy around the event. For example: You can post pictures and details about the products you will demo and highlight any upcoming show promotions, sponsorships, or special events.

Train your show staff. Too often, trade shows are left to interns and junior salespeople who are not fully trained to have the kinds of conversations that drive future engagement. That’s not their fault; it’s up to you to train your trade show representatives so they know how to seek out visitors, how to talk about unearth visitor’s needs, and most importantly, how to follow up. We also highly recommend a pre-show sales meeting, which will help set expectations for your team going into the show.

During the Show

Yes, you do need to handle the logistical details of getting your booth set up before exhibit hours begin. You also need to think about doing the following to encourage long-term engagement:

Aim for conversations. Walk around any show and you will see some booths with reps just siting in their booth, staring at their phone. You will also see reps who aggressively sell their company, sounding like a carnival barker from the olden days. Avoid both extremes; brainstorm some good conversation starters, and then engage naturally. (If you are an introvert, you will likely need to plan this out a little more than your extrovert colleagues.)

Collect contact info! Be ready to collect contact info. But collect contact info only if you’ve had a conversation—and let them know that you plan on reaching out after the show. Avoid gimmicks like putting a business card in a bowl for a free drawing; people will do that for the freebie, not because they want to talk to you. Those same people will be the first to move your marketing emails to “spam” after the show.

Bring a lot of energy. Here’s an interesting finding: Several studies have shown that one of the biggest motivators for students in a classroom is seeing that their teacher or professor is excited about the subject they are teaching. Enthusiasm, it seems, is contagious. The same goes for trade show appearances: If you are enthusiastic and bring your positive energy, others around you will begin to feel excited. Even better, they will be more likely to remember you, and more willing to engage with you after the trade show is just a memory.

All that said, don’t forget to step back every once in a while, even if things are busy. Use the opportunity to take a photo of your busy booth and share it online; that way, you can share the energy with those who are not physically there, too. Even better if you can get a picture with key visitors and tag them in the photos.

After the Show

Follow up immediately. After the trade show, you will likely have a list of emails and/or a stack of business cards. Follow up as soon as you can. It doesn’t have to be complicated, and it should not be salesy. (Unless you are providing additional value—for example, if you are extending your show offer to those who stopped by your booth and showed interest.) The goal is simply to carry on the conversation beyond the trade show event itself. You should also follow up with people who weren’t there (but that you wanted to see). A simple email that says “Hey, I missed seeing you at the XYZ show this past weekend…” is enough to show you care, and that you want to engage.

Make people wish they were there. Keep at the social media. Did anyone take a good photo or two at the event? Share them. Did you learn something cool at a break-out session? Share it and tag the presenter. You want to solidify memories of the event for people that were there, but more importantly, you want to make the people who weren’t there wish that they had gone (and had come to see you specifically).

Follow up again. Don’t stop the follow-up with a single email. Add each contact to your CRM for further follow-up. Then use your new list to create a drip campaign that touches people four to six times. A busy attendee might not have the time (or energy) to re-engage in the first few days back. But if you keep the connection alive, they will likely reach out when ready.

Ready to Put Together Your Trade Show Strategy?

Don’t get stuck in the booth. Trade shows take a lot of planning beyond the booth to generate a positive return on your investment. With the right strategy, you can transform your trade shows from a stress-inducing chore to an exciting and worthwhile marketing tactic.

We commonly advise our own clients on how to conduct trade show campaigns effectively as part of a much larger marketing plan. If trade shows (or marketing plans) have been a challenge for your company, let’s have a Roadmap Call and assess what will truly move the needle forward.

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