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Posted by Todd Hockenberry ● Nov 10, 2015

Making a Trade Show Investment Pay Off

You answered yes to the question 'Should my company still exhibit at trade shows?' - now what?

tradeshow investmentIf you answered yes to the question of trade shows then you should be at a show that attracts your target personas. Now you need an approach on the floor that is helpful not "salesy".

So what do you do now?

The most important thing is to know what you are going to say. You should go into the show knowing what message you want to communicate and how you are going to differentiate yourself from everyone else.  

Do not wing it!  

Make sure your whole show team knows the areas of value you want to communicate and is familiar with how you plan to be helpful.  Make sure they all know their role in going after the key connections you need to make to have a successful trade show.

To do this, focus on three types of contacts:

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!


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

Last night, at a major industrial trade show, I pitched two client's content to the association's publication editors at a cocktail reception. I also pitched a consulting proposition to the host association publisher, an article series I would write about marketing and growing their member's business to the editors, and threw my hat in the ring for speaking at next year's event.  Where else I am going to get all of these decision makers and influencers for my clients and for my business in the same room?

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, so how great of a resource are they if you take the time to cultivate a relationship?!

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!


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. Who you meet, who you talk to, and you who connect with. A big part of making trade shows profitable is getting out there and being, intelligently, social.

Check out this old post How Not to Drive Traffic To Your Trade Show Booth

My next post will talk about the second part of the answer - having a plan in place to follow up with show leads and measure the ROI.

Inbound Marketing for Manufacturers - Watch the Webinar

Topics: Marketing, Tradeshows