How to successfully exhibit at a trade show

Trade shows are a significant investment for companies; requiring time, money and additional resources.

While a trade show success is typically measured in lead generation and estimated return on investment, a carefully executed show represents a unique opportunity for companies to build long-lasting relationships.

trade show

With the Express team gearing up for this year’s Facilities Show, area manager Rachel Whitford offers key insights for businesses navigating their own way through a trade show.

First things first

Trade shows offer a unique opportunity to build brand awareness. Personal interactions are key in not only growing awareness but exploring competitors’ offerings, checking in with existing clients and generating new leads.

Set clear objectives of what you want to achieve at your chosen trade show. Are you launching a new product? Do you want to strengthen your contacts in the industry? Asking yourself these questions will narrow your event choices and help you align your budget and audience considerations to select your ideal show.

It’s important to think about your branding and corporate identity. Company colours, logos and graphics are important, but think beyond these and consider how to play to your company’s strengths. You may be able to hire an expert speaker or work with your graphic design department to create an eye-catching stand. This will help stimulate discussion and interest.

Preparation is key

Planning makes the difference between a successful show and one that fails to meet targets. Logistical decisions must be made in advance, as hotel rooms and flights can sell out around a popular trade show. 

Develop a plan of action in advance of your show to ensure you achieve your exhibiting goals and maximise return on investment. This may include selecting which team members will attend and allocating an event budget.

It’s also important to pack thoroughly, so include these essential items:

  • Giveaways: to help people remember your brand
  • Technology: give interactive demos to interested attendees
  • Sign-up sheets: to capture contact information

Pre-show communications

Pre-show marketing ensures key clients and industry contacts are aware of your brand before they enter the event.

Use social media plus traditional communications to raise awareness before the event and ensure you generate quality traffic to your stand. LinkedIn and Twitter are appropriate channels for promoting B2B activity.

However, don’t overlook the role of tailored email invitations to clients you want to attract at your trade show.

Your chosen show may even have a promotional team, who you can work with to maximise exposure of your business before the event and on the day.

The direct approach

The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) claims 76% of attendees arrive with an agenda of exhibitors they plan to visit, so direct marketing is key in ensuring potential clients have your organisation listed.

Incentives like exclusive trade show offers and contests can encourage greater footfall to your booth. Make sure any new products you’re launching are included in your pre-show marketing.

Existing business relationships should not be overlooked in your marketing strategy, either. Use eCRM (electronic customer relationship management) as a tool for collecting data about existing customers – including information like buying habits – so you can tailor your communication to fit their needs and make sure they know where they can reach you.

Soft sell

Trade show attendees have buying authority, so make the most of the opportunity to meet them in person and grow relationships.

Focus on the ‘soft sell’ by making a good impression at each stage of your interaction. Get to know your visitors by asking and answering any questions. This will give you the opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge and understand where they stand in the buyer journey. Talk business but allow visitors to relax and enjoy the experience of your booth.

Stand out by offering refreshments or places to sit. Finally, send interested contacts on their way with a piece of promotional merchandise.

Following up

After the show, plan your follow-up with attendees. The essence of this is a prompt, tailored communication.

Prioritise your leads by how ‘hot’ they are. A phone call is the most direct way to reach out and allows you to begin growing relationships with contacts. Nurturing a select few relationships can be more advantageous and time-effective than chasing every attendee.

It’s also worth following up with less ‘hot’ leads, as this will enable you to gain an understanding of their business needs so you can serve as a resource to them in the future. Email is the best way to contact this tier of lead.

Finally, you’ll want to measure the success of your trade show to help drive better decision-making in the future.

Your measure of success depends on the objectives you set at the planning stage. If your goal was to generate sales, Return on Investment (ROI) will be the figures you’ll want to analyse. If brand awareness was your goal, track brand-level metrics like social media followers and website traffic.

Rachel Whitford, area manager – City of London, Express