Beyond the Booth: 6 Ways to Optimize Your Trade Show Investment

By C&EN Media Group

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Trade shows are a great venue for connecting with customers, engaging with serious buyers, and gaining valuable industry knowledge from others in your field. But strategic planning is crucial before you invest any time or money as an exhibitor.

Even if you’re a trade show veteran, it’s impossible to just arrive on show day, pop up a backdrop, and expect leads to roll in. Here are some tips for making the most of your exhibitor experience, from beginning to end.

1. Determine what shows are right for you.

There are probably many trade shows within your industry, but you don’t need to be at all of them. Find out where your most valued customers will be. Ask peers for their opinions on the various options, and reach out to conference organizers to learn more. Is the trade show floor lively? Are attendees engaged? Is your target audience well represented? What exactly do you get for your money?

2. Set SMART goals.

After choosing the best trade show (or shows), define your business goals. What do you want to get out of the experience? Think SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Bound. Do you want to generate sales leads, meet a certain number of qualified prospects, research competitors, or just boost your name recognition? Goals will help determine how to use your time at the show.

3. Communicate early.

If possible, acquire an attendee list prior to the event and send out a pre-event email to all prospects. Introduce yourself and let attendees know why they should seek you out. If you’re looking for media attention, give trade press a good reason to stop by your booth, attend your press conference, or show up at your cocktail party. This is your chance to present story ideas and establish ongoing relationships. Promotions are important, too. Make sure your booth or event is listed on your website and the conference website, included in your newsletters, and promoted via social media. As early as possible after booking the show, inquire about editorial coverage and press release submission for the conference Show Daily; there are often special opportunities for exhibitors, but space fills up fast.

4. Plan an engaging presence.

Everything you do at a trade show is a representation of your company and your brand. Design a booth that reflects your message and allows serious buyers and important customers to be treated with care. Be engaging when working at the booth — answer questions and listen to customers’ needs. The atmosphere should be fun and interactive, but don’t forget to create a space for sitting down with prospects or scheduled sales appointments. In addition, many trade shows will have additional sponsorship packages to maximize your company’s exposure to qualified decision makers. These onsite marketing opportunities may include advertising in the program guide, hosting user group meetings, participating in short course presentations, or sponsoring exhibition giveaways.

5. Get out and interact.

Make yourself known around the conference. Schedule time to get out of the booth to engage in panel discussions, lectures, poster presentations, and networking events. Stop by the press office to distribute any press releases and encourage reporters to stop by your booth. Leverage social media, especially Twitter (most conferences have a specific hashtag you can track), to contribute to discussions and hot topics at the conference.

6. Follow up and plan for the next one.

As the show wraps up, conduct a post-show analysis and figure out how well you did. Did you meet your goals? Knowing what went well and what didn’t work will be crucial for other shows. Once you’re back at the office, share your knowledge with the rest of your team and begin to follow up on leads. Within a week you should be sending thank you emails and reaching out to prospects you met at the show.

Trade shows are a lot of work, but are they worth it? Of course they are. Especially when you consider that 81 percent of trade show attendees have buying authority, according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research. With the right planning, execution, and follow-up, you can ensure that your investment pays dividends.   

Have something to add to this list? Share your trade show secrets with us in the comments section!  

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