Trade shows are convenient events that bring buyers and sellers together to exchange products, contact information, ideas, and ultimately, form beneficial and lasting business relationships. Trade shows can be useful because, without them, buyers and suppliers must travel long distances to meet potential trade partners. Travel is not cheap, nor is taking time away from a busy office. When you can meet several trade partners under one roof over the span of a few days, the return on investment (ROI) is great. However, too many businesses fail to plan ahead adequately, or fail to do important follow-ups, when it comes to trade shows. Getting out of the office and spending a few nights in another city is fun, but to get the value out of a trade show, buyers and sellers must have a plan of action.

Here is your guide to tradeshow success:

A) How to Prepare Before the Trade Show

Identify your goal: Why do you want to attend this particular trade show? Are you looking to find new customers? Are you debuting a new product? Entering a new market? The first thing you must do is identify your goal, as this step will drive how you prepare for and present yourself at the show.

Identify your target customer: Now that you know why you want to attend the trade show, you must tailor your presentation to target your market. If you are looking for new clients, what information do you need to have on hand? If you are looking to build rapport with existing clients, bring documents and products that show your latest successes and innovations. If you are looking to create B2B relationships, deliver information that can be taken back to boardrooms and shared (like a PowerPoint presentation on a flash drive).

Create a slogan or message: You’ll be competing with many other suppliers at the trade show, so ensure your message is visible and easy to remember. Create a slogan that can go on your booth and your marketing materials. Your message should sum up why you are at the trade show.

Book your booth: This may seem like a given, but booking your spot is more than just sending the registration fee. Book early so you can request a table in a spot where foot traffic is high. Is there a cafe on site where you can take potential clients for coffee? Or, is your booth large enough for a small table with a couple of chairs in the back? Know the layout of your booth and use it well.

Calculate cost to attend against expected ROI: Trade shows can be very expensive, especially if you must travel from another city to attend. Before you go, map out all your costs: flight with extra baggage fees, hotel, conference fees, marketing materials, salary for staffing booths, etc. Next, determine how much business you need to generate from the show to cover those costs and turn a profit. Bring the materials and choose the best people to ensure those costs are covered. For example, sending the office introvert is not good for networking, nor is forgetting to send business cards and takeaway materials.

Social media: Two weeks before you go to the trade show, start a social media campaign. Every second-day post photos of your company getting ready, or a colorful marketing photo from a site like Canva or Pixabay with text showing your excitement about the show. This lets prospects know you’ll be attending and will draw them to you during the event. It also shows that you are engaged and active in your marketplace, which helps you stand out among the competition.

Start calling: Pick up the phone and call existing clients and prospects, that may be attending the show. Tell them you will be at the show and you’d like them to stop by to learn about your product, pick up a sample, etc. If possible, book times where you can meet prospects at the show (here’s where it’s good to know if there is a coffee spot or meeting space on site). Set up emailable calendar invites for those that agree to meet, to ensure they know where to find you and what time they are expected.

Decide what merchandise to bring: Business cards are a must, but also bring something useful that people will take away and keep in a visible place. Pens, mugs, and charging cords – branded with your logo, of course – are good examples. Brochures tend to get tossed and large, hard-to-carry items get left on the table.

B) What to Do During the Event

Set up early: Don’t be the group struggling to put up your booth long after the trade show has started. Arrive early – the night before is best – to have time to set up a professional space, and to track down last minute items like longer extension cords.

Distinguish yourself: How will you stand out among the hundreds of other trade show vendors? Create excitement and draw people in – have staff working the crowd away from the booth handing out your branded products. Have a presentation at timed intervals with a big countdown sign announcing each one. Have a special guest and an amazing door prize.

Live Tweet or Facebook Live: Share live snippets of the event. Again, this shows your prospects where you are, and how engaged you are. It may bring some people to your booth that were not planning to attend to visit.

Always have someone in the booth: Nothing is more frustrating for your prospects than going to your booth and finding it empty or waiting for 20 minutes to speak with someone. Gauge how much foot traffic you expect and have enough staff to ensure the booth is properly manned at all times.

Have a data collection system in place: For follow up after the event, have a data collection system in place. This could be a bowl for business cards, a database on a laptop to record the emails of people that want more information after the show, a clicker to count foot traffic, etc.

C) Post-event Actions

Social media: Say a thank you, tagging the event organizers, using hashtags created for the event, and tagging new or existing customers with whom you interacted.

Mail thank-you cards: Send cards to thank people for stopping by your booth. This will remind them that you are a proactive company actively seeking their business. Besides, who doesn’t like to get a nice card in the mail? Saying "thank you" is cheap and easy, but has a profound effect.

Don’t delay your follow-ups: Within the next couple of days, email, call, or mail those that wanted more information, or wanted further meetings. Competitors from the show are just as eager for business; don’t delay in proving why those customers deserve your company instead.

Calculate costs vs. ROI: A month or two after the event, calculate how much new business, sales, and contacts you generated. Contrast this with the cost to attend the trade show. Plan to adjust where necessary if you fell short of the target, and congratulate yourself if you met or exceeded the target.

Answer this question: Did we achieve our goal? Think back to the question you asked yourself as you prepared for the trade show. Why did you want to attend? Sales? Presenting a new product? Entering a new market? Look at the data collected and ask if you achieved that goal. Put together a checklist of what went right, and what could be improved next time. Refer to this list before the next trade show.

Achieving Trade Show Success is all About Being Prepared

Trade shows can be a lot of fun and are a nice break from daily life in the office or on the manufacturing floor. However, as a supplier, you must take steps before, during, and after the event to get the full benefit of trade shows. With a few simple steps, you can get the desired result you want from your next trade show.

Resources

Trade show planning guide for buyers