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Posted by Todd Hockenberry ● May 09, 2017

How to Get the Most Out of Exhibiting at a Trade Show

Many trade show visitors are at the early stages of the buying process or are not actual buyers but influencers. Trade shows are also, almost universally, expensive time sinks. Lots of time and energy are spent preparing for, getting to, setting up, and tearing down. So, why do we still attend trade shows? Is there any value or ROI in all that effort?

tradeshow roi.pngThe short answer is, yes, but...

While there are certainly less expensive ways to generate leads, there is value in attending a trade show if your target persona and ideal buyer type companies are also at the trade show. The value of trade shows is in being able to meet prospects and customers face-to-face of course. But there is also value in meeting and expanding your ecosystem to include those other people that are parts of your industry like editors and reporters, or suppliers and vendors, or even competitors.

If prospects and customers are there then there is value in attending, but it is deeply undercut if you follow the old-school formula of show up, hand out SWAG, shake a few hands, and pack it in.

So, no to showing up and throwing up.

Yes to preparing, planning, engaging, and following-up.

And when we say prepare, we don’t just mean prepping cool SWAG. After all, trade show attendees will remember the company that was helpful, not the one that insulted them with worthless toys and other over-branded SWAG (I am a known SWAG lover, it has NEVER swayed me towards a purchase).


  • What should you be preparing?
  • What kinds of post-show planning do you need in place?
  • Who should you be talking to at the show?
  • How should you follow up?

The first step in tipping the trade show scale is, like with most things, preparation.

Trade Show Preparation

The key to success is often preparation, and trade shows are no exception.

Promote your exhibit and what makes it interesting - Email your database the details and not just 'stop by our booth.' If you are doing demos, handing out samples, or have a booth special, make sure to let your contacts know.

Set appointments with key customers and prospects - Do not leave it to chance that they will walk by, set a schedule to meet before the show starts and have something prepared just for them and not for the rest of the show floor walkers.

Get in the trade publications for that show - Reach out to the editor of the trade publication and use your content (one of the best uses of great content) to convince them to run articles or other placements (often for free) in the magazine or e-newsletter.

Optimize your profiles - Take advantage of the free promotion trade shows offer and make sure your trade show site profile is as complete as possible. Uploading your logo (if possible) and entering your contact info is the bare minimum. Make this a priority and do not just assign it to the marketing intern.

Promote on your website and social media - Use the show as a reason to talk to your persona across your internet presence. Write about the ways you help your target persona and let them know what is new, special, or different that you'll be sharing at the show.

Plan demos/ training- Set up times with your sales channel ahead of time to do demos or training on new equipment or processes.

Prepare great content to give away - Give visitors to your booth what they want from their perspective: case studies, not a catalog, how to guides instead of specification sheets, application stories with your business cards, or show videos of real people using your products.

Come up with a great offer that only booth visitors can get - Write up a new white paper, ROI calculator, cost savings tools. Your offer should be something that helps them, gives you a value-added reason to follow up, and serves as a reason for them to be looking for your follow up.

Think of ways to stand out in the crowd, don’t just stand around waiting for visitors to amble into your booth.

Planning for Post-Show is Key

Before you leave for the show, have a post-show plan in place.

The key principle when following up a trade show is speed. Do not wait for long to follow up. Be there immediately after the show with the resources and information you promised people at the show. Build your credibility with your speed and thoroughness of response.

  • Follow- Begin by following leads on LinkedIn and social media - use a tool like HubSpot CRM or Rapportive to find them
  • Delegate - Assign a specific follow-up person to each lead
  • Prep your in-house resources - Make sure sales and marketing knows who is doing what - who is calling and who is nurturing
  • Score your leads - Create a priority or lead score based on where the lead is in the buying journey
  • Segment your leads - Have segments based on urgency of follow-up, know the best prospects and treat them accordingly
  • Identify influencers and connectors - Make sure you list the influencers and connectors you worked with at the show for a full ROI picture
  • Build a schedule for contacting leads over time - Set reminders to follow up with these contacts and build value with each contact
  • Add leads to your mailing lists - All leads get top-level company communications
  • Have a series of offers and emails that nurture them along the buying journey - Continue to be helpful and show your commitment to helping them even if they are not ready to buy now

Engage These 3 Types of Contacts and How to Woo Them

There are three types of contacts that you are likely to meet at a trade show. Each of these contacts has unique expectations, needs, and values and you need to be prepared for each of them. So, who are they?

1. Buyers - Obviously!

Be helpful!

Leave the impression that you are there for them. They should walk away feeling that that you have expertise and value to add to help them solve their problems. Give them something of value, not just specifications and product literature. Have your case studies ready to hand out.

Other opportunities to interact with buyers, outside of your booth, include:

  • Where are your ideal target personas going during the trade show? Where are they staying, eating dinner, what presentations are they going to? What are they going out of their way to see? You should be there too!
  • Make specific appointments for follow-ups with high-level buyers you meet (visits, demos, calls with experts, quotes). Do not just hand them a business card and say you will call to arrange a follow-up. Make specific follow-up plans with dates and responsibilities.
  • Offer a complimentary service/consultation/assessment/evaluation - Offer to help them after the show as a way to build credibility as a trusted resources (remember, the first one to be helpful wins 74% of the time)
  • Get testimonial quotes (or videos) and case studies from existing customers
  • Shoot demo videos of your equipment
  • Competitive analysis - Talk to your competitors, they will often tell you just about anything you want to know, and this is a great opportunity to identify areas for growth within your own organization.
  • Blog post ideas- Think, "top 10 questions". This is an amazing opportunity to make all of your show team write down the questions people are asking when they come into your booth. These questions are great fodder for blog posts post show.
  • Have a special offer for your existing customers that attend the show!

2. Influencers

An influencer is someone who has the attention of your target audience. Think media, media, media. Do not overlook these key people!

Editors and publishers work with people they have relationships with, and their events are great places to build those relationships.

I have consulted with my clients to meet the membership directors of the host association and helped to build a dialogue with them so that when the time comes, they can ask for an introduction to another member that might be a perfect target persona. The membership director always knows the members; they are a great resource if you take the time to cultivate a relationship with them!

The best way to cultivate this type of meeting is to bring one your colleagues to them as a prospect for membership; now you have their attention.

Who at the trade show already has subject matter credibility and your target persona's ear? Find them. Talk to them!

How about suppliers or service providers? Could you meet with them and develop a joint marketing campaign to each other’s audience?

Think of all of the people coming to the show and how you can connect with them to build your personal network and businesses ecosystem.

3. Connectors

In the same vein of influencers are your connectors. Who has specific business relationships with your ideal personas and is in a position to give you and your company an introduction? For this type of contact you should be thinking about:

  • Distributors/reps - Find out who is the best by asking buyers who they love to work with, and then recruit them.
  • Co-marketing opportunities - Companies that sell a complimentary (your ideal persona also buys it) but not a competitive one. Think this through and meet these complimentary companies at the show.
  • Consultants and other service providers - These people are always either exhibiting or attending. Find ways to use your great content to educate their audiences and then arrange access. Guest blog, arrange a joint webinar, make referrals for them to people you know, create joint marketing opportunities.

Social media can give you some clues here. Who is Tweeting about the show? Are there are any relevant social media conversations going on? Trade shows are all about people.

Follow Up and How to Measure the Elusive Trade Show ROI

The best way to measure the ROI of a trade show is with automation tools and CRM. If you’re a HubSpot user, this is easy.

The tools we would suggest using include:

  • Database management - do not manage your leads with a spreadsheet, please
  • Marketing automation - use personalized follow-up to be in front the prospects first
  • Data import tools - get your data into your system fast
  • Workflows for automated emails and notifications
  • Lead scoring -  sort the best prospects from the tire kickers
  • Ability to create specially branded show pages
  • Smart content - give your site visitors and email readers personalized content
  • Inside sales resources - be ready to follow up

Now is the time to put all of that planning into play. Add those leads to mailing lists, send out the emails you’ve already built, and get leads into your sales funnel.

Post-show you can also use your experience to create new content. Curate all of your show pictures and video and showcase it on your blog and social media. Upload demos to your YouTube channel. Did you poll your booth visitors or conduct training? Write up your findings and share the experience.

This is also a great time to take any questions or comments you got while on the show floor and craft them into new offers or articles. After all, the chances are good that if someone asked you a question in your booth, your blog readers would be interested in the answer as well.

Depending on the length of your typical sales cycle the ROI of a trade show may take months or even years to determine. ROI has many facets, and direct connections to sales are just one measure, though often the most important one.

Think about how many leads you get and track them to completion and see how many sales can be attributed to the show.

But also start to think about influencers and connectors and how they contribute to the investment of a trade show. Making a few influential connections often leads to more business through referrals or access to another group of potential customers.

In the end, like most of life, you get out of trade shows what you put in.

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Topics: Marketing, Manufacturing, Tradeshows