7 Easy Steps to an Effective Trade Show Exhibit

effective trade show exhibit

Will this get attention? Will it generate interest? Will it produce sales?

It wasn’t the largest trade show but it was a good turnout of the broadcasting profession of some 6,000 of our closest showbizzy friends. Each attendee was a professional who was part of a select community, or tribe, as marketing guru Seth Godin would say.

Our goal: to get email addresses and permission to contact.

Each trade show attendee was there to learn and to expand their network of contacts and colleagues. They were looking to do their jobs better. This is why people go to trade exhibits.

Were they looking for you?

Exhibiting at a trade show requires commitment, attention to detail, and follow-up. Here are a few simple steps to an effective trade show exhibit.

1. Why Are We Here?

Sales and marketing professionals know how to be an active participant in the exhibition hall. The trade-show is where marketing meets sales. The best reason to buy that 10 x 10 foot exhibit space is to meet decision makers and key influencers face-to-face. Good marketing will bring prospects to the booth. And sales experts know that the first step in the sales process is to establish rapport with prospects – this is best done IRL (In Real Life).

Timothy Carter is the Digital Marketing Manager for the trade show display exhibit company, Nimlok. Carter reminds us to “create a clear goal for the trade show” in his must read 4 Trade Show Tactics For Small Business Success.

Professors Dhruv Grewal and Michael Levy from Babson College write in their popular text book, “M: Marketing,” that trade shows are “major events attended by buyers who choose to be exposed to products and services offered by potential suppliers in an industry. Trade shows also offer an excellent forum for finding leads.”

The attendees want to be there. And so do you.

Remember, the person-to-person sales practice also has the best close rate. The only reason people are anywhere near the exhibit hall is to pitch or be pitched. Or get coffee or SWAG (Stuff We All Get).

2. Logical Logistics

The seasoned trade-show event planner knows the floor plan and traffic patterns. The exhibitor knows where the foot traffic is headed—from the entrance to the refreshments and places the booth strategically on the route. The additional cost of location may be worth the expense.

Be sure to rent thick carpet to cover the concrete floor; get candy — M&M’s in a dispenser are my favorite and have a flat screen monitor running continuously a movie—movement catches the eye.

Manning the booth is hard work. Watch the heavy lifting: many convention centers are run by union workers (do NOT call them “union thugs”). Some companies will require staffers who work the booth to be able to lift 45 pounds.

Your event planner will know what is forbidden and what is permissible. Be sure to get a trashcan and order the nightly vacuuming.

Don’t eat at the booth. (Decades ago we used to say ‘Don’t Smoke’ at the Booth.) Stand in the booth — sit someplace else. Electrical outlets needed? Special lighting? Parking passes?

3. Get Professional Help

Assign a point man, a go-to guy.

  • Large Business = event planner
  • Medium Business = marketing guy
  • Small Business = consultant
  • Thinly Capitalized Tiny Company with no budget = free consultant.

To get advice and ideas, use an expert at no charge. Schmooze the advertising and promotional products sales representative who’s selling you your imprinted promotional SWAG. That rep makes a living designing programs that sell. His advice is not free. It comes with the cost of the goods sold. But you can get a lot of advice and ideas with no “budget.”

The point man or booth captain will set manning schedules to work the table and scope out the other exhibits. Once you master the attention-to-details you can then be the…

4. Center of Attention

Not all trade show attendees show up to get drunk. Especially not at religious conventions. Except, maybe the Episcopalians. Anyway, the biggest (claimed) reason to attend is education. To learn what’s new in trends. Learn in-side how-to secrets. Learn from the Big Dogs. If you have the budget, sponsor a class. But even better would be to be the teacher, panelist, moderator, or discussant at a seminar or breakout session. The perceived expert, class leader will get the leads.

Trade shows can be used to launch products and to manage the corporate image. This is sober work. The meeting and greeting is warm and friendly and spontaneous. But being extemporaneous demands practice.

The sales presentation should be memorized. Exhibitors should take no more than three minutes to perform a sales presentation. Once you start with a single person, a crowd will gather.

But be careful about …

5. Propaganda

Take aways to take home? No. Do not hand out literature at your trade show. It won’t survive the airplane ride home. Remember, your purpose is to make a friend. Make an appointment. Make a deal. All that paper only makes a mess.

If the prospect is in real pain for (your) solutions, he can retrieve the info from your website and blog. But you make an appointment to see the prospect. And continue with …

6. Follow Up

Most trade shows will have technology where the attendee’s badge can be scanned if there is interest. But the exchange of a handshake and business cards remain the personal standard of small business etiquette. A hand written thank you note with a fountain pen on fine card stock delivered by snail mail will astonish your new friend. (This may be the best value today for the United States Postal Service.) Then follow up. Follow up to meet.

This will improve your…

7. ROI

Return on Investment. The purpose of the trade show and of all marketing is to sell. Run the funnel with numbers and dollars. For example, if the trade show had 6000 attendees, and your booth gets 600 visitors, generating 200 leads, getting 100 sales presentations, then producing 25 sales. If the trade show cost $25,000, then each sale ‘cost’ $1,000.

Would the trade show be worth it? Maybe not.

You need to justify the marketing expense with sales numbers and results. With this information you might spend the budget on other marketing and sales strategies. Even if you have to miss some great speeches at the event.

Non-profit trade shows have a slightly difference emphasis. They are selling the improvement of the human condition–without profiting. This is the selling of an intangible service, which is always more of a challenge than selling a tangible product. Here the prospect is a potential donor. The trade show purpose might be to gather email addresses for the non-profit mailing list.

Other goals of any trade show exhibitor could be to strengthen market share or to re-position the company offerings. But these marketing goals may have different measures of success.

Yes, I am an enthusiast for small business attendance at trade shows. However, the purpose is to sell.

Marketing is what you do when you don’t have anyone to see and sell to. But trade shows are sales and marketing vehicles.

Make sure the vehicle is convertible to sales.

The staff worked the exhibit booth and had a blast with the broadcast industry attendees. We were able to get over five hundred email addresses to add to our small business mailing list. After all, we were part of the same tribe.

Trade Show Aerial Photo via Shutterstock

Jack Yoest John Wesley (Jack) Yoest Jr., is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Management at The Catholic University of America. His expertise is in management training and development, operations, sales, and marketing. Professor Yoest is the president of Management Training of DC, LLC. A former Captain in the U.S. Army and with various stints as a corporate executive, he also served as Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Resources in the Administration of Governor James Gilmore of Virginia.