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Making your next trade show a success

August 18, 2010
By Marc Gordon


The next trade show you choose to participate in can be your most successful.

The next trade show you choose to participate in can be your most successful. Why? Because you are about to learn the key components to creating a trade show booth that will attract more people, accumulate more quality leads, and close more sales. It’s really that simple.


Starting right now, I want you to change the way you think about trade shows. No longer do they need to be long days of standing around waiting for people to notice you. Now your booth can be the first destination attendees seek out. Qualified leads will be lined up waiting to talk to you. Visitors will remember you when you follow up with them days later. And most importantly, you and your staff will have fun.

All you need to do is apply the tips I’ve laid out for you here and share them with all those who will be working with you at your next trade show. If the preparation work is more than your staff can handle, consider the services of an outside marketing specialist. They will be able to help carry the load and allow you to concentrate on the tasks you feel most comfortable with:


Treat your next trade show as if it were your first. Take nothing for granted.

A successful trade show can produce more sales than all your annual advertising combined. Also be aware that your competitors will also be there vying for the same clients and market share.

The question is: what can make your participation more successful than theirs? It comes down to planning. Start by making a list of every detail you can think of pertaining to your show. Brainstorm with others. Organize a process and delegate tasks to ensure everything is done on time. The sooner you start the better.

Pre-show marketing
As soon as you have signed on for the show, start letting the world know you will be in it. Post it on your web site. Send out mailings, e-mails, even cards in your shipments. Combine it with a promotional incentive to get people to visit your booth. Mention any show specials on products or services. Have them bring the card or e-mail to your booth for a free gift.

Quality booth
Your trade show booth is your only opportunity to flex your marketing muscles. No other advertising medium will allow you to communicate directly to so many people in such a short period of time.

Do not cut corners on the visual appeal of your booth or your staff. Do a quick ROI to see how much business you will have to generate to pay for a quality booth. Keep in mind your booth can be reused for other shows.

Obviously your booth design will be influenced by your company’s products and services. Companies that are product based will need more displays to showcase their items. Avoid having tables that create barriers between your staff and visitors. Your booth should be open and inviting. Service-based companies will tend to have more open concept booths. In these situations try to compensate by having some form of media. A big screen (LCD televisions can be rented) displaying visually rich information can create a powerful visitor experience.

Another key point is booth placement. Show organizers will provide you with a map showing the layout and available booth spots. Booths by the entrance, on main paths and food areas tend to get the most traffic. If one of those spots are not available, try to get as close as possible to the biggest booth by a non-competitor.

Try to avoid formal business attire as it can subconsciously create a barrier between you and your visitors.

Instead opt for matching golf shirts or dress shirts with your logo on them. Have your staff match the shirts to a colour of pant (black is always safe). This common look will create a high energy team atmosphere that will make your visitors excited to speak to you. In addition, you’ll get additional advertising when your staff roams the trade show floor.

Sufficient staffing
Avoid working alone at all costs. Having at least one other person with you will keep your energy up. It will also help avoid visitors from having to wait to speak to someone.

For a 10×10 foot booth, three staff would be ideal. Be sure all your staff are capable of answering visitor’s questions. More importantly, stay hydrated, take breaks throughout the day and always smile.

Effective materials
While giving out product samples may not be practical or cost effective, you still need to give out something. A catalogue (or a mini version of your catalogue), brochures, or even a CD-ROM can help potential clients learn more about your company after they’ve left the show. What’s key is that it be professional.

When they’re sorting through the dozens of pieces of information back at the office, will yours leap out at them or end up in the blue box?

Promotional items
People love free stuff, so make sure everyone who visits your booth gets something.

I would encourage you to divide your promotional items inventory into two groups: premium gifts and handouts. Premium gifts are given to those who visit your booth and bring a coupon or e-mail that you previously sent them. These gifts should be around $5-10 depending on your industry and should be innovative, yet useful. T-shirts, pilsner glasses and shoulder bags are some of the gift ideas to work with.

As for everyone else, make sure they leave with something that has your company name on it. Pens, letter openers, note pads or chip clips are all popular items that people will tend to hold on to rather than throw away.

Again, the type of industry you’re in will influence your decision. Remember, items that you give out are a direct reflection on you and your company. Quality companies give out quality promotional items.

Information gathering
Do your best to collect information about each person who visits your booth. Some show organizers will make data collection systems available to exhibitors (at a cost) that retrieve visitor information from their show passes.

Collecting business cards is the most economical way but someone has to manually input the information into a database later. Be sure to make notes on the back of each card as to the quality of the prospect and what product or service they are most interested in. Adding a note about something specific you talked about is also a good idea. If the visitor mentions how they need to work on their golf game or a tells you a funny story, make note of it. Of course, do this after they leave your booth.

Within 24 hours of the show, send an e-mail to all those who came to your booth thanking them for visiting. Make sure the e-mail is sent by the person at your company they actually spoke to.

The e-mail should casually refer back to the comments made on the back of the business card. The e-mail should also let them know that a phone call will follow in the next day or so and in the meantime they can visit your company’s web site for more information. Make sure that phone call is actually made.

Effective post-show correspondence can increase the chance of a sale by 65 per cent.


Many trade shows will offer you the opportunity to hold a seminar in a separate area, often at no charge. This is a great opportunity for you to explain to a “captive” audience what makes your products or services so special.

If you’re not comfortable speaking to a group, find someone who is. Make sure the presentation is energetic, interesting, and entertaining. Using visual aids like product demos or PowerPoint is always a good idea.

Show specials
Depending on the kinds of products your company provides, you may be able to close some sales at the show. Offering a strong promotion, either through price or product incentives, can increase sales to the point they may even pay for the whole show.

For those products that cannot be sold at the show, be sure to offer incentives in the follow up e-mails and personal visits.

There’s a good chance that there will be more visitors to your booth at one time than people manning it. So be sure to screen visitors quickly to separate potential buyers from those with some time to kill.
Ask qualifying questions to find out if the visitor is a potential client. Do they have a legitimate need for your product? Do they fit your profile of the “ideal” client?

Although each of these points is important, some may be more relevant to you than others depending on your company or the type of show. In the end, what’s important is that people leave your booth having had a positive experience and the opportunity to learn how your company can help their business.

Marc Gordon is a professional speaker and marketing consultant based in Toronto, Ontario. His firm, Fourword Marketing, specializes in helping businesses create a brand identity and developing effective marketing campaigns. Marc can be reached at 416-238-7811 or visit

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