Tips for Trade Show Exhibitors

17 01 2011

For over a decade I was an exhibitor at hundreds of trade shows.  The amount of details that led to the success or failure of an exhibitor’s trade show experience is staggering:

“Do we have enough samples?”
“Did we pack extra lightbulbs?”
“Where’s the extension cord?”
“Who ordered the badge scanner?”
“What happened to the tool-kit?”

If you have ever exhibited at a trade show then you panic a little at each of these questions – or at least you can tell a story of your own personal trade show fiasco.  There are so many little things that can go wrong.

Now that I am someone walking the aisles talking to exhibitors instead of being one, I wish I knew years ago all the things that I have learned since my perspective changed.  So, as the trade show season has kicked-off in all industries, here are my Top 10 Tips for Being a Successful Exhibitor:

1.  Set appointments. It is very easy for attendees to become distracted and completely miss large stretches of exhibits.  If there are clients that you must see, then set appointments with specific meeting times.

2.  Chill out with the catalogs. Seriously, if the only reason you came to the show was to hand me a catalog, then you should have done a mailing and stayed home.  Trade shows are about forming and expanding relationships.

3.  Stop talking to your coworkers. I appreciate that you like the people you work with, I really do.  But if you are talking to them then you are not talking to your customers.  Unless you plan on selling to your colleagues you should focus on the people in the aisle, not in the booth.

4.  Make noise. There were many booths I walked past without noticing, but it was hard to ignore booths playing music or having some kind of loud demonstration.

5.  Smile. Okay look, I completely understand that you have been standing in the same spot all day saying the same thing.  Get over it.  If you look sad, frustrated, or in any way unpleasant then you make yourself unapproachable.

6.  Have a goal. There is a significant difference between talking to an exhibitor that leads a conversation compared to one that is just making conversation.  Set goals before the show and focus your actions toward meeting them.

7.  Be different. Your competitors go to the same trade shows that you go to.  Take a hard look at your approach to differentiating your value.  Think about what you can do at a show to genuinely set yourself apart from competitors.  Don’t be scared to go against the grain.

8.  Burn the booth. No one notices if your lights break, if the table falls apart, or if the scanner stops working.  They will remember the interaction they have with YOU – they will remember how you make them FEEL – they will not remember if your sign has been duct-taped to the wall.

9.  Hang ‘Em High. Speaking of signs, those signs that hang from the rafters are a little pricey but they are worth every penny for exhibitors.  That is definitely the easiest way for your clients to find you.

10.  Follow-Up. How many exhibitors say they will contact you the week after the show?  How many actually will?  The first week after the show is your big chance to show potential clients that you are serious about moving your business relationship forward – especially if you told someone that you would do so.  After the first week it is awfully hard for your potential clients to remember you or the conversations you had at the show – so act fast!

Exhibitors, I feel your pain.  I know what it’s like to answer silly questions all day long.  I know how difficult it is to live on hot-dog lunches all week.  But you CAN have a good show if you build a strategy and focus your efforts.  Good luck!



11 responses

17 01 2011

Great article. Easy ideas to implement!

17 01 2011
Brad White

Thanks Nicole. And you’re right – having a great show is not complicated. In fact, complicating is often where things go wrong.

18 01 2011

How true! Isn’t it interesting to see things from the opposite point of view? I find it amazing when trying to sell the “right” promotional products to folks and ask them what they are trying to accomplish at a show that I get blank stares. Companies need to tell their folks how to act and certainly what they expect as a return on their investment in these shows otherwise they have no purpose and end up chatting with each other and ignoring everyone attending! I will use your list as backup material (if that is ok with you) to prove my point and help both the folks I sell promotional products to and to those I consult. Thanks for your concise words!

18 01 2011
Brad White

Thanks Holly. Many companies exhibit at trade shows, but selling in that type of environment is not their forte. There are easy ways to make the show efforts worth the time and money.
Feel free to use my list as a resource for your clients – and thanks for the feedback.

20 01 2011
Kori Carr

I am loving this post. It must have been quite interesting to see it from the other side. I had to laugh at #10. I can’t begin to tell you the countless times vendors have promised something at a show and then never came through. It is like you were never there. 1 week after and only 1 vendor has actually called me to follow up.

21 01 2011
Brad White

It’s weird right? I’m looking at a stack of business cards on my desk from people that promised to call me this week. Same story as you – 1 person has called. Seems like that person gets it – and gets my business.

23 01 2011
Michael Thimmesch

Very nicely done, Brad. These are great tips. Every show I gently remind our staffers not to talk to each other, because then we lose two booth staffers at once.

And #10 is the biggest kicker. Without good lead follow up what was the point of going to the show? The best way to ensure follow up after the show is have your lead fulfillment ready before you even leave, and have someone appointed whose job is to enter the leads in your database and then get them into your sales people’s hands.

23 01 2011

Brad, we went to a boat and rv show yesterday that needed to read this. One girl was too busy with her Kindle to try to sell us water park passes. The other thing that got me…very very few promotional items. I load up on them for two reasons. I may not have sold them but someone like me did so I need to support them, maybe they are doing the same for me! And, new ideas!!!

10 01 2013
Tips for Tradeshow Attendees - PromoKitchen :: PromoKitchen

[…] (Suppliers, I haven’t forgotten you – here is a blog I posted about Tips for Tradeshow Exhibitors) […]

11 01 2013
Kim Brockschmidt

I will be sharing this with my team pre tradeshow! Lots of great reminders to be more effective at our upcoming shows. Thank you.

11 01 2013
Brad White

Thanks Kim. I will stop by your booth to see how you’re doing!

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