7 Secrets to the Best Trade Show Ever

So you’ve got floor space reserved at a trade show. Good for you! When done right, trade shows are an excellent way to get attention from consumers.  They’re also a fantastic way to strike up alliances with brands who have complimentary products and your type of consumer in common.

Some companies think of trade shows as an expense attend to defend their turf from new competition. Others see trade shows as investments and these are the companies that end up building real relationships on the floor.

Don’t just buy floor space and expect miracles. In order to make your trade show experience an investment, set measurable objectives before the event and stick to them.

One of the worst things your business can experience is traveling into a new city with all of the necessary product, equipment and manpower for a weekend of next-to-no-sales, and then having to pack it all up and go home in deflated spirits. In an effort to save you that nightmare, here are a few of the best kept secrets to trade show success.

#1 Prepare Your Staff

The primary thing your customer will take away from your booth is surprisingly not your product or the experience, but the interactions they had with your staff. Even the most experienced or dynamic staff needs training before each trade show they attend.  Make sure your staff understands and agrees with the trade show objectives before attending and offer refreshers on both goals and manners once there. Some things to refresh your staff on would be internet access, venue rules, and timing.

As always, excellent customer service is of utmost importance (you don’t want any staffer giving a negative view of your brand) but you will also need to prepare them for the unique schedule and high demand they will be facing for the duration of the show. It takes a lot of energy to be “on” for such long days, pulling customers into the booth with smiles and offers, but the element of congeniality and servanthood are imperative to trade show success.

I remember one particular fitness trade show I attended of a few years back. I went up to the booth for Arctic Zero, which was giving out ice cream samples. I asked for a particular flavor and the staffer shrugged his shoulders. “We’re out of that one.” I was just about to walk away when he said, “Let me check our coolers in the back. Hold on a second.” In a few minutes he came back with a whole pint of my desired flavor. “Here you go,” he said. “Sorry about that! Enjoy.”

I have been an Arctic Zero fan ever since, and hey, I’m writing about them now.

#2 Market and Connect Before the Show

Market yourself pre-show and discover where the magic really happens.

Many companies reach out to attendees beforehand. To really have an advantage, you should reach out 4 - 6 weeks before the show. In addition to current attendees, gather email addresses and phone numbers of past attendees, since many of them will be attending again.  Another option is to have a special sale in place to draw them. If your best clients are not already going to the show, buy them a ticket.  What better way to impress a client and to nearly guarantee an automatic ROI than by getting them into one of the hottest industry events of the year!

"People have this idea that a successful trade show is one where you have 10,000 people walking past your booth," says Malcom Gilvar, vice president of sales for the Trade Group, a trade show design and consulting service. "But that can be a barrier to your success. Define who you want to come to your exhibit and target them specifically. If people did nothing but that, it would be an amazingly successful event."

Fill up appointment slots with attendees before the show starts so that you have a mass of people already making their way through the show directly to your booth. Forget about quantity and focus on quality.

If you make it about networking and not sales, you can score by making contacts and sales. Develop an eager, listening ear and be quick to ask about what they do and how you can enhance their life or business.

#3 Create a Stellar First Impression and Experience

Creative trade show booth ideas can give you a huge edge at any event. Not all companies have a big budget, but one thing that should never be left to chance is your trade show exhibit’s design. It costs you way more to appear hasty, thrown-together and under-budget than it does to look professional. Professional booth elements include back drops, banners, pop up banners, banner stands, branded table covers, TVs playing branded videos or presentations.

Let your customer interact with your product. Monster.com engages its trade show audiences by creating a booth entirely out of touch screens. "They don't have to wait for a guided demo," says Phil Cavanaugh, Monster.com's vice president of events. "They can approach our product right away."

For more limited budgets, try a few iPads to simulate the same interaction.

Do everything you can to make your exhibit stand out. This article has a list of fabulously creative ideas you can utilize such as hosting a Photo Booth or game, holding a giveaway, drawing people with food and employing guerrilla marketing strategies. 

#4 Be Hospitable (And Ask for Emails!) 

One of the first things people notice when they walk into your home is the aroma, so treat the exhibit like your home. Give a warm welcome with things everyone likes. Entice people into your booth (and keep them there!) with hot coffee/ tea, an abundance of comfortable seating, and freshly-baked cookies. Even lighting a cinnamon-scented candle helps people feel welcome. Give your guests a little bit of generosity and they might just give some back, like an email address.

Email addresses are essential for your follow-up process. They are equal to the value of sales. Although in your sales process you probably already have a format for collecting emails, make sure that you are getting emails from people who do not make purchases from you as well. They could always be future customers.

Have an iPad at hand for your intrigued potential customer to insert their email in for upcoming specials or sales. Another way to do this is to hold a drawing and have them drop in a business card.

Inform your customer about upcoming specials, smile and ask for their email. It’s as simple as that. Chances are, with a cookie or a cup of coffee in hand, they’re probably going to say yes.

#5 Give Purposeful Freebies

To some people, freebies are a waste of money, and to others it's a valid reminder of your brand. In order to appeal to most people, make sure your freebie serves a purpose.  While people enjoy walking away from your booth with something tangible to hold onto, the days of appreciating stress-balls are long gone.

Think carefully about how your giveaway item represents your product or brand. Give people something they’ll actually use and that will remind them of your brand in the meantime. Among many ideas for freebies people find practical are key chains, bottle openers or corkscrews, coupon codes, free wrapped baked treats, travel-sized toiletries, and mini sports-bottles.

#6 Tricks of the Trade

Your industry’s trade shows have exhibitors with the same target audience as you, so why not trade leads and contact information?

This is one of the best trade show booth tips in terms of ROI. You can instantly double your sales opportunities. On a side note, be careful not to trade contacts with direct competition, as many competitors battling for the same business can turn people off to the product or service. Rather, join arms with brands who sell different products and services that share the same target market.

#7 A Fast Follow-Up

Follow up with email and personal leads soon after the show. The longer you wait the more likely they will forget who you are and what you said.  With thousands of people interacting in a very short timeframe, it’s tough for both you and your consumer to remember names and products after the show.

Don’t be afraid of reaching out too quickly. Wait 24 hours after the show and then follow up with potential prospects. Waiting too long dissolves the connection.

You couldn’t be more wrong if you think your job’s over when the show’s over. Take advantage of the dwindling crowds and move around; talk with prospective brand alliances and potential clients or customers. If you stay engaged long past the end of the trade show, you prove to customers that you are a company committed to the trade show, the industry and to serving them however you can with your business. 

Need help with your company's marketing strategy or plans for growth? Contact 10twelve today!