Making the most out of exhibitions and trade shows

“If you are going to survive in business, show business or any business, then you have to be bold.” – Rebecca Ferguson


It is essential to have a good “system” when you are attending exhibitions and trade shows, especially ensuring an efficient follow-ups system.  It just takes a little pre-thought and planning as you would any marketing campaign.  So here’s are our top-ten tips on how to get the best return from exhibiting at a trade show:

1. Establish your ambitions and metrics

As soon as you book your stand at a trade show or exhibition, sit down and work out exactly what it is you want to achieve from the event. Are you simply aiming to increase your brand awareness? Do you want to generate new leads? Do you want to launch a new service or product? Do you want to walk away with a list of names and email addresses of people that are interested in your company for you to follow-up, or do you want people to sign-up to a service on the day? Working this out first means you can put a clear marketing strategy in place for the event and this clarity of strategy is what’s essential.

Also, take a look at our article on the Sales Funnel and see how attending exhibitions and trade shows can feed into this.

2. Market the event yourself

The more people who visit the exhibitions and trade shows you attend, the more potential prospects. Once you have made a commitment to attend an event you should use your own networks to promote it. Send an email to your client base letting them know that the event is happening with a link to the booking page for tickets. Ask the event organisers if they can send you some flyers and posters to put in your reception area – if they don’t have any then produce your own! Use social media, build up an awareness and anticipation for the event.  It is your responsibility to ensure that you are attending a busy exhibition.

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3. Give prospects a reason to visit you

In the run-up to the event, give people a reason to visit you on your stand. Post out vouchers for people to claim a free bottle of wine if they present the voucher (filled-in with their contact details) to the stand on the day – or to be entered into a prize draw for the latest tech-gadget. Use this pre-promotion as an excuse to direct-mail some target clients with a postcard inviting them down to your stand to claim their benefit.

4. Prepare an efficient and fail-safe procedure for gathering contacts on the day

Trade shows have natural surge times (usually mid-morning, and again after lunch – often following seminars too) where you can get swamped with people on your stand. Because of this, you need to plan exactly how you are going to collect people’s contact details on the day.

Many organisers of exhibitions and trade shows are now offering electronic means to collect data, such as scanning a visitor’s badge to collect their contact details as a text file onto a laptop. If this is offered then make use of it – either by collecting the scanned data direct into a spreadsheet, or if there is an Internet connection plug the scanner straight into your company’s CRM system, marked for following up the next day.

Make sure that if you do collect data electronically that you also have a good old-fashioned paper and pen back-up method for those inevitable IT emergencies or drop in wi-fi!

5. Get inspiration by visiting other trade shows

Simply walking around trade shows yourself as a “punter” will give you lots of ideas of what works and what doesn’t. Note which stands really get your attention and why; which would you stop and talk to and which would you walk past without even noticing? What gimmicks, competitions and displays work? What information do you pick up, and more importantly what do you keep after the show? How are the staff presented, what put you off how people manned their stand and what made you want to talk to someone? Take a notebook (or use your smartphone to video / photograph ideas) and see which of these ideas you can use on your own stand.

6. Design a stand that instantly tells people what you do

People are not going to stop and read a paragraph of information on your stand just to find out what you do – they are potentially going to walk past a hundred stalls at some larger trade shows so the visual design of your stand needs to give people a reason to stop and talk to you.

Get a printed backdrop, or at the very least a series of banner stands. Make sure your company name, logo and what you do is clear and obvious and use photographs and single words or short sentences to present your features and benefits. Remember, the goal of your stand is to grab the attention of someone passing who may actually have an interest in your services so that they SLOW DOWN, therefore pre-selecting themselves as interested. Once they have stopped it’s the job of your staff to start a conversation and give them more information.

Work out where people are going to be stationed, and design your stand so that important information won’t be hidden by a member of your staff standing in front of it.

7. Promotional material

What are people going to take away from your stand? You might want a pile of leaflets that the “just browsing” can pick up and take, and then some more substantial marketing packs or brochures for people who have a genuine interest in what you have to offer. Remember, it’s better to overestimate how much company literature you will need on the day, rather than run-out half way through the afternoon. If space is tight on the stand, keep a spare box of brochures in the back of your car in case you need to re-stock.

Always try to get something in return if anyone asks to take a leaflet or brochure. Don’t be afraid of being a little bit cheeky and saying “of course you can take one, I’ll even let you take one for free if I can scan your badge / have your business card.”.

8. Gimmicks and promotions at exhibitions and trade shows

Gimmicks and promotions can be a great way to get people to notice your stand. Use a magician to gather a crowd and perform tricks specifically tailored to your product or service; run a prize-draw for people to drop their business cards in a box (giving you names and numbers to follow-up on); have a game of skill on your stand, again, tied into your business – for example if you are an IT company instead of pin the tail on the donkey, have a “pin the mouse on the computer” competition with the closest result of the day winning a notebook computer.

Some companies will give away food or bottles of water during the day – this can be a great idea but you need to check with the organisers that this is going to be OK. If you are giving away free refreshments it means the food court is losing business, you will soon be asked to stop!

Remember that whatever you do, these gimmicks simply get someone to stop at your stand. Don’t let them walk away afterwards without getting their details or having a conversation with them. You can have a promotional event so successful that everyone is crowded around your stand watching, and the people who actually have an interest in your service don’t get to talk to anyone from your company. So also have a strategy to “move people on” too!

9. Manning your stand

The people on the stand will provide that important first impression of your company – and what reception a potential new client receives can make the difference between them asking for more information or just passing by. Your staff need to be knowledgeable and “on-message” about your product or service. Give them a uniform for the day, such as embroidered shirts, printed t-shirts or fleeces with your company logo on. At the very least impose a dress code – if your company colour is red, buy red ties for the staff on your stand.

Train your people on what is expected of them, don’t just ask them to turn up. Explain the goals of the day to them: do you want them to collect business cards, get people to sign-up for an email newsletter or simply hand a leaflet to everyone that passes? If the person is not involved in the day-to-day running of the business, their role may simply be to have an initial chat with people passing by, and then pass those with a real interest onto yourself for a more in-depth conversation.

Ban mobile phones, and make sure people have breaks where they can grab something to eat and drink as you really don’t want them doing this on the stand. Only supply a table or chairs if you need potential customers to fill out lengthy paperwork. The people passing your stand will be on their feet so you want your staff up and on their feet also to engage them. There is nothing more unapproachable than a person sat behind a desk playing on their phone.

10. The follow up

During the day you should be filtering contacts as you collect their details. Have one pile for “hot” contacts that need to be followed up immediately and in person, and another for people who only had a passing interest or just dropped their card in a prize draw. For the hot contacts, make sure you include notes on the conversation you had, what service they were interested in and what you promised to follow-up with. You can then prioritise these and with a bit of luck get them booked in for a proper follow-up meeting.

For the “passing interest” contacts, have a follow-up email pre-written and planned before the event so that you can send it the very next working day while they have a chance of remembering you.  Use a system such as MailChimp so that these new contacts get put into your marketing funnel. Also remember to include an “unsubscribe” link, so that anyone who really doesn’t have an interest in your company, but just wanted the chance to win an iPad, can remove themselves easily from your marketing.

If you are running a competition then this gives you a reason to contact everyone with who the winner was – already have a branded email written and ready to go, with links through to your website that you can just drop the winner’s name in and press send.

Finally, make sure you take photos on the day and post the best of these on your company’s blog or social networking pages under the heading “look what you missed – make sure you visit us at the next one!”. This will also give you some images that can be used in the run up to the next event.

Exhibiting is a time consuming and costly business – as with all marketing activity, you should ensure you approach this with an overall strategy in mind which ties into the other marketing activity of the business.  Exhibitions can be a costly waste of investment if approached badly.

Blunt thinking on exhibitions and trade shows from Yorkshire Powerhouse
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Yorkshire Powerhouse Limited is a company registered in England & Wales No. 10237925.
Registered address: Unit 14 New Mills Brougham Road, Marsden, Huddersfield, England, HD7 6AZ