Is your trade show marketing designed for successful participation that will grow your business?

Seems like a no-brainer, right? But many companies that participate in a trade shows don’t have a plan for success.

Okay, maybe they have a booth, maybe they have some literature and maybe they have a give-away or two, but that doesn’t mean you are prepared.

We recently participated in a very targeted show for the travel & tourism industry. We developed a special give-away and custom logoed items specific to the industry. We knew how we were going to follow up after the show and as a result we have already closed some sales.

First Step is Determining the Why

If you are thinking about participating in trade shows the first thing you need to understand is the why.

Your trade show marketing should include a plan for all elements

Are you introducing a new product? Want to generate leads? Do you have new service enhancements? Want to build better client relationships? Are you looking to cross-sell existing clients or maybe looking to recruit new salespeople? There are many reasons it makes sense to participate. My recommendation is to pick your top 3 and develop all your trade show marketing materials with those goals in mind.

Once goals are determined you can begin planning the three main phases of any trade show: pre-show preparation, show attendance and participation, post-show follow up.

Pre-Show Preparation First Step to Successful Show

Develop all the elements of your trade show marketing materials to be branded with the overall look and feel of your company. Your trade show exhibit, sales uniforms, brochures and trade show giveaways should all convey the same theme.

If it is a large show and you are going to be setting up appointments for your top customers then a pre-show mailing may be in order. There are several ways to make sure your top customers are aware of your new offering. E-mail, regular mail and phone calls from their sales representative are definitely in order.

Pre-Show Mailing Increases Traffic

Many find the pre-show mailing increases their booth traffic by announcing why it’s important to visit

E-mail is one way to reach attendees to invite to your trade show exhibit

the booth. For example, “don’t miss the newest technique to improve…” or by providing an added incentive (Bring this card for an extra discount, free gift, special presentation).

This can be sent 2-4 weeks in advance to the attendee list. Then follow up again the week before the show with a quick reminder via phone or e-mail. Your salespeople should also call their clients and key prospects to invite them to stop by.

If you are going to be hosting a hospitality area then a more formal invitation may be in order. You want to make sure they know where you are and when they should be coming by. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve gotten notices for a show hospitality area AFTER the show. That’s why pre-planning is so important. You don’t want any of your efforts to go to waste.

How Inviting is Your Trade Show Booth?

Branded Shirts for sales staff

Trade Show Booth with Branded Sales Staff

The next area is the actual trade show displays experience. We mentioned before that you need to make sure your trade marketing maintains the look and feel of your corporate marketing. However, you  want to make sure your trade show display is inviting or for people to stop by.

At the recent show we attended.one company placed a logoed table throw and a few samples and catalogs on the table. They were done. They then promptly sat down BEHIND the table to wait for people to stop by. In my personal opinion that is the worst thing you can do.

If people even slowed down slightly as they were walking the trade show floor my team was in front of our booth engaging them in conversation and taking them to our booth.

Different Exhibit Designs Fit Most Any Budget

There are many different styles of trade show exhibits and the investment you make may depend on the number of shows you attend annually. They can be extremely interactive with computer/TV monitors, rotating ceiling banners, custom carpeting, custom shelving, private meeting areas and more. We had a chess theme for one client’s marketing. So we designed their booth to look like a giant chess set. The floor carpet was made to look like a chess board and the booth backdrop the pieces. It was a big success in standing out.

When developing your exhibit design it is important to think about the flow. Does it invite people into see your new products or discuss services? Is there a natural flow throughout the booth to see a presentation, have discussions, play a game or gather materials?

Custom Trade Show Displays Help You Stand Out

If you are designing a new trade show exhibit that will require custom construction we recommend a

Backlit elements draws attention to a booth

minimum of 8-10 weeks for production. If you are going to use one of the many standard back-drop booth options (customized to your look and theme) it’s best to order all your materials at least 3 weeks prior to your show.

We  spent the last few days working on multiple stand-up banner displays for a client that they have to ship overnight because they waited to the last minute, literally. We had been pleading with them for 2 weeks to get moving and now they will pay the price for overnight freight charges.

As part of your trade show marketing plan we recommend that you utilize social media during the show to alert those in attendance as well as not in attendance what is going on at your booth.

For example, do you have a game for an daily prizes or do you have special food offerings, a chair massage or smartphone charging stations. If so, make sure your social media is kept up to date and invite people to stop by regularly.

Pre Trade Show Meeting with Sales Staff Increases Success

Before the show, have a pre-show meeting with your sales staff to brief them on the goals you expect

Meeting with the team prior to the show helps to keep your team on track

each to achieve. Are they presenting a united front (in a uniform – embroidered shirt)? Is everyone familiar with the sales tools – brochures, key benefits, contact sheets and trade show giveaways?

Do you have several levels  or promotional products? One for just stopping by, another for listening to your pitch, a third for your key prospects and clients? How is everyone collecting the leads? Casual looker, warm lead and hot leads are three good categories. By making sure you understand their interest you can coordinate your follow-up more efficiently.

At our recent show, when someone was interested in an item our sales team actually took a picture  and then emailed it to them. Many people said they didn’t have their business cards with them (really? who comes to a show without them) so this was just another way for us to capture their contact information.

After you finalize the materials you need for the show, your next step will be the follow up after the show. You should have a communications plan developed and all follow up collateral finalized before the show.

Develop Scripts for Quick, Consistent Follow-up

Start by developing several follow-up scripts and correspondence templates for your salespeople – from the very general (thanks for stopping by the booth) to the more specific (don’t forget to take advantage of your discount) including video, e-brochures and hard collateral materials that will be needed for the sales efforts following the show.

Use your social media to expand your message beyond the trade show venue. For example you may tweet: “just received amazing feedback at the CES Show about our introduction of our hot new product” and include an image or video.

Follow-up within 7 Days

When the show is over, it is vital to follow up within 7 days with your planned correspondence. Your

Mapping out your follow up with the team is crucial

salespeople should be calling all hot leads within a few days to set up a meeting and close the deal. Personally that should be done with the first 2-3 days. Hot leads deserve a phone call. But if you have so many that it will be difficult on a timely basis then send an e-mail thanking them for their interest. Just indicate they will receive a call in a specified period of time to schedule a meeting.

Same goes for your warm/qualified leads. They should be contacted on a timely basis with either an e-mail or phone call. If it’s going to take a week or two for a phone call, definitely send them an e-mail right away.

Don’t Ignore Any Leads from Trade Show

After a recent show a person who appeared to be a “warm” lead  received our standard “thank you for stopping by our booth” e-mail. When they received it, they called us to set up a meeting. They were “hotter” than we thought. As you can see, timely communication is paramount to the long-term success of any show experience.

An assistant can immediately send the e-mails and catalog requests for the general casual booth follow-up. They can also make sure all the leads are added to your contact management system. This is crucial for future follow-up and ongoing business development efforts.

As you can see, there are a number of steps to make sure your show is a success well beyond just showing up. If you work your plan, then you will see increased sales success.

Danette Gossett

Danette brings more than 30 years of experience developing advertising campaigns, direct marketing programs and sales promotions to her clients. Prior to starting her companies, she worked for New York advertising agencies including Saatchi & Saatchi & Lowe Marschalk.

Her corporate marketing experience included National Advertising Director for Avis Rent a Car Systems, Inc., and Director of Marketing Services for Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. Read More