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5 Steps to Trade Show Success

Reprinted by permission of the St. Louis Small Business Monthly,  as originally printed in Vol. 20, Issue IX, October 2007

by Michael Flavin

Trade shows are an investment of both time and money for companies of any size. Many exhibitors search for ways to increase the return on their trade show investment. When was the last time you or your company measured is results from trade shows? Not recently? Never? Don’t worry! There are many ways to increase effectiveness from trade show exhibiting and they all begin with a plan.

1. Find the right show

How do you know if your trade show will be successful? That depends on what you are measuring.  The first step to achieving better results from trade shows is to find a show, then set measurable and attainable objectives.

There are many ways to find shows and decide whether or not your target market will be at the event. All it takes is a little research. Call the show organizer and ask for statistics from previous shows such as number of exhibitors, total number of attendees, costs, etc.

2. Make a strategy

Now, decide what it is that you want to achieve. The measure of achievement should be based on your goals. Do you want to make sales at trade shows to measure your return on investment of just gain leads for your database to measure your return on objectives? These are the core ideals to identify so that you can begin measuring your results.

3. It’s about the people

According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (, 85% of the success at trade shows depends on the booth staffers. The size of the exhibit, the literature and the promotions are all secondary. If a staffer leaves a poor impression with a prospect, no key chain or coffee cup will turn that impression around. Therefore, it is important to train all staffers about your expectations as to what they should accomplish at a trade show. They need to learn how to qualify prospects in a short amount of time. If an attendee does not fit your criteria as a potential client, quickly and politely dismiss him or her. When a prospect does fit your criteria, the staffer needs to know what to do next – set an appointment, send literature, schedule a conference call, etc.

4. Promotions need to be memorable

How many key chains or pens have you picked up at a trade show and where are they now? They probably ended up in a trash can at the hotel and that means the promotion was not effective. A promotion should be a memorable accent to your message, but not be overwhelming. Pre-show mailings or e-mail campaigns can tie into promotions at the show to remind attendees to stop by your exhibit. Purchasing the attendee list prior to the show to select your top percentage of prospects is another great investment. Don’t forget to contact your current clients that will also be attending.

5. Make a follow-up system

CEIR has found that 93% of leads generated at shows are not followed up on. How can you prevent this from happening at your company? It again starts with pre-show planning. Create a plan for following through on leads. It is important to determine how the information will be distributed, to whom it is distributed and how that information will be used to advance the company’s overall goals. It is important to create a follow-through plan to utilize this new information and follow-up within a week before the contact at the show loses its effectiveness.

Trade shows require planning prior to, during and after the event. The only way to ensure a higher return on your trade show investment is to plan all stages of the show. Selecting the best show to exhibit at is the first step. Booth staff training is a must for companies at all levels. Proper follow-up should be part of the staff training. Through a few focused steps, you can increase your return on investment!

© 2009 Michael Flavin
No portion of this article shall be reproduced without expressed written consent.

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