10 Elements to a Successful Tradeshow

A successful Tradeshow involves more than a booth, a chair, and a person to sit there. Here are 10 key elements to ensure a successful tradeshow.

1. Know your audience

A successful Tradeshow involves more than a booth, a chair, and a person to sit there. Be sure you are targeting the right market audience for your product or service. If you are a food wholesaler selling to restaurants, don't participate in a show that is for the general public. However, if you are a caterer, a tradeshow geared toward weddings could a great choice. If it is unclear, ask the organizer who they are targeting the show to - what magazines they are advertising in, and what social media key words are they may be using?

2. Plan in advance

It’s important to start planning early to make sure everything runs smooth. Inform your employees of the dates so they can plan accordingly since the hours may be different than normal business hours. Are there items that need to be ordered in advance to allow for delivery time? You should inform your customers and prospects about your tradeshow 4 to 6 weeks ahead of time. Send out personal invitations for them to attend. Make sure to include your booth number so attendees can easily find you. Be active on social media and create teasers. You shouldn’t expect the shows management to drive all the business to your booth. With proper pre-show promotions, you can definitely increase your tradeshow traffic.

3. Develop a strategy

The show must be a part of a well thought out marketing plan. Don't just wing it. Make sure you know the competition because they will probably be there. Know the floor plan and traffic flow. It may help in deciding the best booth location. Create a call to action, offer incentives for people to visit your booth by creating a contest or raffle. Tradeshows can be difficult to measure return on investment sometimes so develop a follow up system. Don't rely on just one contact with the prospect to sell your product. Be prepared to schedule free estimates afterwards or a follow up meeting.

4. Train your staff

Train your salespeople and make sure they know the product. Some of your employees may be used to dealing with customers, but others may not. Role playing ahead of time is a good way to train your staff, so they’ll know how to present the company in the best light. Choose a few key points and stay on message in the brief time you will spend with each prospect. Trade shows can run long hours so make sure you have adequate help to allow for breaks. The staff should present themselves in a friendly and knowledgeable way, even if they are part-timers, friends or relatives filling in.

5. Make a list of supplies

Every business will have their own necessities, but no matter what show you attend, there will always be a standard list of supplies you will need. Be sure to find out if the basics are included, such as a table, a chair, and electricity. Your list should include plenty of business cards. Believe it or not, many people do overlook this and end up writing their name on a napkin or someone else’s literature. Have brochures and sales flyers and be sure they include coupons or other incentives so they will be kept. A logoed tablecloth is a plus for a professional appearance. A fishbowl so prospects can drop in their business card. Pen and paper to jot down notes. And a most have on your list – duct tape. Something will always happen that nothing but duct tape will fix. Keep an on-going list of these needs and continually add to it for your next show.  

6. Attract attention at the show

You want to create an open and inviting exhibit with that “wow factor” that attracts attention and draws people to your booth. Have an oversized logo of your company that will be clearly visible from a distance. Use a tent, banners and signage when needed. If possible, set aside an area where visitors can speak to a company representative comfortably. There will be a lot of attractions competing for the attention of the guests, so you want to increase the likelihood that they will stop by your booth.  Post photos before, during and after the show. Create contests, raffles or prepare a live demonstration of your product is appropriate.

7. Know proper etiquette 

Be approachable and ready to handle questions. Don't talk on your phone, eat, drink, smoke or read at your booth. If you seem busy or unattentive, prospects won't approach you – potentially losing a sale. Wear logoed apparel so you look like you part of a team.  Be sure to use the prospect's name. They will most likely have on a name badge. People love to hear their name. And smile and look like you are happy to be there.  If it is a slow part of the day, use that time to meet other vendors. It's a great way to network and also pick up a few good ideas you may be able to incorporate into your booth next time.

8. Qualify the prospects

Ask questions to identify their needs and time frame. Not everyone you meet at a tradeshow will be a good fit for your product or service. That is why qualifying the prospect is important. Instead of asking if they are looking to buy a widget today – which is a yes or no question –, ask what brought them to the show today.  Ask open ended questions to get the conversation going. Always be polite even if they are “just looking”.  They could end up being a great referral source.

9. Track your leads

During the show, write down notes about the prospect and rate them. After the show, follow up on the leads and take appropriate actions based on your ratings of them. Following up on trade show leads is crucial, as these leads can have a higher conversion rate vs other lead sources. You’ve already spent a lot of time and money to be at the show, don’t let it end there.

10. Most important – use promotional products

While they serve many marketing needs, ad specialties are also a great way to attract people to your booth. Promotional products with your logo on them are almost expected at tradeshows but be sure to use them correctly. You want to make sure you receive a return on your investment. Don't place your items near the aisle so people can easily walk by and take one. Place them a little further away so they have to approach you and you can engage in conversation with them. But remember, just because you gave someone a travel mug or pen doesn't guarantee you a sale. Promotional items are a tool to get them to your booth and then you can educate them about yourself and the benefits of working with your company. It is also a means of getting them to remember you after the show. When using ad specialties, also be sure to choose the right product for your audience. A sewing kit would be a great item for an estate planner marketing to women but would not go over well for an insurance company marketing to truckers. Likewise, calendars are best given out in November or December, but not at an August tradeshow.

Successful marketing takes time and planning. Marketing should not be thought of as a cost but as an investment. Businesses are very competitive so you need to keep your name in front of your prospects at all times. And promotional products are a cost effective way to do that. It's not whether “can you afford to advertise”… it's “can you afford not to!”

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