Effective Trade Show Strategy and Tactics

Words To The Wise™ By Marketingsage Staff.

Trade shows are a great way to demonstrate products and to meet people face-to-face. They are very useful when you sell products that require a demonstration or that need to be handled by the prospect. For these reasons, trade shows are usually good for introducing new types of products or for complex products.

Additionally, shows can be used as a deadline for product development or other internal deliverables. They are a good source of competitive information and a venue to meet peers, partners, press/analysts, competitors, vendors and resellers. You can make sales, generate leads, enhance your brand and generate PR at a trade show.

On the other hand, shows are relatively expensive and require a lot of organization. A typical business-to-business show generates about 85 leads of varying quality. This means the cost per lead can easily exceed what you might pay for leads generated by advertising. However, because show attendees are often looking for products, show leads can be of a higher quality than from other sources. This may result in a lower cost per sale.

A 2002 CIER* study estimated that the average number of calls required to close a trade show lead was 1.6. This compared favorably with an average 3.7 calls to close a field sales lead. If you have an outbound sales team, fewer sales calls may result in significant savings on travel and expenses while accelerating revenue.

Regardless of the costs, salespeople tend to like trade shows because the face-to-face time with a prospect gives them a better idea as to the quality of the lead. This meeting gets them through the difficult introduction phase of the sale. Salespeople also get some useful exposure to the broader market and to the products and companies they compete against. Additionally, shows attract people from limited geographies so the leads can be particularly relevant to the salespeople who work that territory.

Choosing The Show

Experience is usually the best guide to choosing a show. However, in the absence of experience with a particular event you can use these guidelines:

  • Vertical shows, those specific to your product or prospect type, typically generate 25% more qualified leads than broad shows.
  • Estimate how many people are likely to attend and how many potential attendees matter to you.




    • Look at last years attendance numbers and make sure exhibitor staff are excluded from these numbers.
    • Don't confuse invites with attendees. Show organizers often quote invite numbers, rather than expected attendee numbers.
    • Look at the show demographics for last year to and estimate how many attendees are meet your qualifications for prospects.
  • For large shows with thousands of exhibitors and maybe tens of thousands of attendees, calculate the ratio of visitors to exhibitors and choose shows with less competition. At large shows attendees tend not to browse too much. They make a list of exhibitors and move from planned destination to planned destination.
  • Look at the exhibitor list for the last 2+ years to see who is attending again. Pay particular attention to competitors and whether exhibitors are upgrading or downgrading their booth space.
  • Understand the true cost of the show, not just the cost for booth space. Other expenses can easily exceed the cost of space. Typical examples include:




    • Travel, hotel, meals for everybody attending.
    • Equipment shipping.
    • Union labor to set-up and tear-down your display.
    • Drayage (mandatory fee for moving your display from the door to the booth space).
    • Electrical service, carpet rental, furniture rental.
    • Giveaways — brochures and promotional items.
    • Lead retrieval system rental (every show has it's own system).
    • Show management costs. All shows involve lots of paperwork and someone needs to check and ship the equipment.
    • Booth staff costs. Unless you hire someone just for the show, staff salaries are typically not assigned as a show expense. However, the travel time and show time usually means that the staff are not doing something else.

Choosing Your Booth Location

  • Most attendees work the show floor by turning left (clockwise) when the enter the hall. After reviewing left-most aisle, they snake through the rest of the aisles parallel to the first one — up aisle 1, down isle 2, up isle 3, etc.
  • Most traffic is at the front of the hall, near the entrance.
  • Big vendors attract traffic so being next to big vendors is advantageous.
  • Visitors like the anonymity of the crowd when trying to figure out what you sell. If your booth is on its own or in a low traffic area such as a cross isle, many visitors will not linger in front of your booth. They don't want to stand out to potentially aggressive salespeople with no one else to approach but them. Stay on the main traffic routes.

Signage Basics

  • The single biggest mistake exhibitors make is not instantly communicating what is being sold in generic terms — the heading your product would be under in a typical phone book. In the majority of cases the generic description is NOT a benefit statement, it as simple as saying you sell accounting software, decorative automobile accessories, market research services, etc. Without being able to classify you, visitors cannot decide if they want to speak with you without committing to a conversation. Most will move on.
  • Lettering must be 4+ inches high so it can be read from outside the booth. Keep signs to 1, 2 or 3 bullets points of about 5 words each. Anything more cannot be read on the move.
  • Signs should not be obstructed by people and objects in the booth. Keep key signage high, in the line of sight for passing traffic and away from the podium where people gather.

Booth Staffing

  • Appoint a booth captain. Someone who takes responsible for managing set-up, tear-down, paperwork, staffing schedules, and miscellaneous expenses.
  • At least two people need to be at a small booth almost all the time.
  • At least one person in attendance needs to know what he or she is talking about so don't abandon the booth to "booth babes" and rookies.
  • Provide all booth staff with a short elevator pitch that explains in a sentence or two what you sell and why the visitor should care.
  • Booth staff should be easily distinguishable from guests. Use matching shirts and/or distinct name badges (not the badges provided by the show management).

Sales Collateral

Don't expect attendees to remember you after visiting dozens of vendors at a show. You need to give them something to remind them why they wanted to talk to you and you need a way to contact them.

To help them remember, you should always have product information available for people to take away from your booth. Make sure this sales collateral has contact information on it. You also need to capture contact details from anyone who expressed an interest in your product.

Bring-along's include:

  • Business cards. A box of generic cards can be very useful.
  • Prizes to encourage people to leave their contact information.
  • Registration forms
  • Press announcements (usually placed in the event Press Room).
  • A list of resellers.

Competitive Reconnaissance

Show are a great place to learn about competitive products. You can usually collect their marketing material, sit in on demonstrations and ask questions.

Tips for competitive reconnaissance:

  • Know which competitors are at the show and which resellers at the show represent them. Make sure all your booth staff know who's who.
  • Have a list of things you want to find out such as product availability, pricing, key messages, etc.
  • Observe competitor booths around opening time to identify their staff, especially those out of uniform who will visit your booth.
  • Visit the press room early to gather press kits.
  • Gather brochures and other available materials from their booth.
  • Join the crowd at a competitors booth so you can listen to questions and answers.

Recognizing and managing competitor reconnaissance of you:

  • Be careful to identify people who are asking questions that are more detailed and focused than typical prospects. If in doubt, tell them you'll get back to them with an answer and ask for a business card. Don't assume the badge they are wearing is valid.
  • Don't display anything you don't want photographed and don't authorize photography (except from a recognized media outlet who is writing a story.) That said, with today's camera phones, it's almost impossible to prevent photography.
  • Remove all material from view after show hours. Remember exhibiting competitors can visit your booth when you're not there.

About Marketingsage

Marketingsage is a full service marketing firm that helps other marketers and business executives increase revenue by cost-effectively generating sales leads, building brands, launching products and developing sales channels. With Marketingsage you can add expertise, bandwidth, specialized tools and contacts when you need them, for as long as you need them.

If you think Marketingsage may be able to help you and your business, please give us a call at 925-426-0488 or click here to have us contact you.

*Center for Exhibition Industry Research

When negotiating with a trade show organizer, look for the following added-value extras such as:

Speaking slots at seminars.

A copy of the press list so your PR Manager can invite the press and analysts to meet attending executives and view products.

Access to the pre-show registration list for a pre show mailing to promote your booth.

Access to the attendee list.

Advertising space or editorial in the show guide.

Additional seminar passes.

Additional exhibit passes.

At Your (Big and Prominent) Booth
– Demonstrations and tutorials
– Giveaways
– Celebrity guests
– Contests, drawings, games
– Entertainment

Post Show (to attendees)
– Direct mail and email
– Telemarketing