10 Tips to CRUSH Your Next Trade Show & Exhibit Like A Rockstar

The distinction between digital business practices and traditional ones is disappearing at a faster rate than ever before.

With topics like “digital transformation”, “machine learning”, and “augmented reality” increasingly finding their way to your inbox and water cooler conversations, it’s hard not to raise a brow to how your own business is keeping up with these shifts.

As our world becomes more and more connected, I find it fascinating to see how much of business is now done through screens, but do you know what I find even more fascinating?

Regardless of how many logos your technology stack encompasses, how seemingly efficient your sales cycle has become, or how automated your messaging is….

Buyers appreciate genuine face-to-face interactions more than ever! As these kinds of interactions become rarer, the companies who are still able to do this well, noticeably stand out amongst the crowd.

When done right, these touchpoints are tremendously impactful because they immediately showcase your brand and values to potential customers, while also allowing you to build authentic, long-term relationships with leaders in your industry.

Trade shows tend to be one of the best ways to create these experiences, however, between time away from the office and money invested in attendance and travel, they also tend to take up lot of resources.

It’s a substantial investment and may seem like quite the gamble if you’re presenting a product, service, or your company for the first time. 

That’s why with hundreds of trade show attendances and exhibitions between the members of our team here at Imprint Genius, we’ve compiled a list of our Top 10 Tips to help you maximize your trade show experience, and you can return to the office as a trade show rockstar:

1.  Set your goals

The first thing you need to do is assess what you’re aiming to accomplish at your trade show. Are you trying to bring in new business from the people at the show, or stir up press and impressions for your brand?

Discuss the objectives with your team as they could vary widely. Everything you do at the show needs to point back to these goals.

If lead capture is your game, then you may want to consider having some actual games at your booth that require a badge scan or form-fill to play. More on that later.

You likely have specific lead targets your team is expected to come back with for the trade show to even be profitable.

Roll up your sleeves and pretend you’re in that first retail sales job you had in college. Everybody that walks up to your booth is an opportunity for a conversation that will help you achieve that goal.

Sometimes your goal is to chat up existing customers in order to create brand awareness and get feedback. Make sure you let the attendees do most of the talking, but ask probing questions. Be sure to showcase anything new coming from your company to encourage retention.

Kill two birds with one stone. Consider secondary objectives. While you’re engaging with attendees, pay attention to what your competition is doing at their booths. What kind of promo and swag do they have? What’s their booth like? Go up and talk to them! They don’t bite and probably don’t mind talking shop about what’s been working for them.

2. Choose the right trade show

It might seem obvious, but make sure you think long and hard about which trade shows you’re going to attend. This is a big investment and you want to make sure the show is a good fit.

This comes back to your objective too. If you’re trying to generate new business, go to the trade shows where your target market is. Keep in mind, these shows may have nothing to do with your company’s industry. On the other hand, if you’re trying to learn about up-and-coming trends in your industry and do some competitor analysis, then that’s a totally different show.

Smaller regional shows will cost less and be intimate, while larger shows will get you more reach. Ideally, you want to find a good balance of both.

Remember, ROI is going to be top-of-mind, so you’ll want to go to where the most high-value target prospects are. The stakes will be higher at expensive, high-volume shows.

Learn from the past. If your company attended a show last year and it was a bust, you should probably skip it this year.

3. Plan ahead

Know your deadlines. You should have a trade show calendar mapped out for the entire year. Sign up for email alerts with each show so you can immediately update those “TBA” dates to the actual event dates as soon as they are announced and get started EARLY.

Super close up on a calendar. If you look close enough, it’s basically already Friday.

We get requests every week for rush orders on promo that customers need for a trade show that’s a week away! We do our best to pull it off for you, but try to order all your promo and booth supplies at least a month in advance. 

Communicate with the primary contacts for the show as early as is allowed so you can schedule delivery of your materials and secure a good spot for your booth.

Learn the layout of the space. Try to find a spot that’s open and where traffic is expected to be higher so people are more likely to feel comfortable poking around for a bit on their way to their destination.

Know your booth set up and dimensions. The size of your booth will likely determine which spaces are available to you.

Make sure your team knows how to put the booth together in advance! Avoid embarrassing horror stories about missing parts or a late start at the event because it turned out the instructions were in Japanese. Familiarize yourself with the set up and break down process for a smooth start and finish. 

Also, book your hotel reservations months in advance. Rooms fill up fast and go up in price near the event as time goes on. Don’t end up having to commute in traffic and deal with parking because you waited too long.

4. Pre-Sell The Show!

Chances are that some of your customers are going to be at this show so start generating buzz about your exhibition early!

Look up or generate a list of every current customer that can be attributed to the same show last year. They’ll probably be there again. Call them up and let them know where your booth will be.

Send off email and social media communications to your lead list and put your booth location on your website. Announce giveaways you’ll have, any speaking or breakout sessions your employees will be leading, and new products you’ll be demoing. Get the word out using as many channels as possible.

5. Train Up Your Team

Have a game plan. If the goal is lead gen, make sure you’ve had a huddle with the team about sales strategy. The way you approach people at a show should have your objectives in mind. At the show, exchange ideas with your team when you start to notice patterns, so you can all adjust to what works best in real time.

Also, it may not be the most popular topic, but make your trade show ground rules clear. Stay off your phones! Any moment you’re scrolling through social media is a moment you’re not making eye contact with potential customers.

It’s true that a day at a trade show can be exhausting and let’s be honest– sometimes boring, but you have to keep your eye on the prize and maintain endurance. Encourage your team to interact with each other and the attendees instead of their devices.

Also, sitting should be avoided as much as possible. It might sound harsh, but it looks disengaged and can turn people off. Standing allows you to immediately come up to someone at their level and dive right into conversation. As a tradeoff, try to be flexible when team members need breaks and reward them with drinks and good food after the show.

You should also be familiar with your lead capture process. How is a conversion measured? Are you scanning badges? Are people filling out a form on a tablet to request more information or sign up for a giveaway?

If your company uses marketing automation software, the form-fill should be able to immediately load someone into your database under a list for trade show leads and trigger an email drip campaign a few days after the event.

6. Be a Speaker

If the trade show is related to your industry, jump at the opportunity to have a leader on your team sign up for a speaking role.

Not only is this an excellent way to establish credibility and authority, but it’s also a great chance to cross promote your booth during your session, and gives you something to talk about with your audience when they swing by the booth later.

How the audience would feel while you’re serving up those fire insights.

At the beginning of your talk, let the audience know that they can visit your website to get the slide deck and give them the URL.

This is a good lead nurturing tactic. It will reduce distractions like taking pictures of slides with their phones or making notes, and consequently make them more reliant on your website to review the information. You should include another CTA on the landing page for the slide deck that moves them further along in the customer lifecycle.

7. Attract attention

Be loud! Include music, drones, games, magicians–whatever it takes. Your booth needs to have movement. You’ve got a lot of competition. These days booth activities, promo, and design are truly an art.

You need to put a lot of thought into how you’re going to differentiate yourself. It needs to be enough to spark curiosity and make people stop to investigate.

If you have the equipment, one cool tactic is to set up a couple of chairs for interviews in front of a camera. Interview some of the speakers from the trade show. This will be sure to grab the attention of people strolling by and provide you with an excellent, authority-establishing content marketing opportunity for later.

Try to reach out to arrange interviews with the speakers ahead of time, but if that’s not possible, put someone in charge of approaching them about it after their sessions. Assuming they don’t have a flight to catch, speakers are usually happy to participate in an effort to promote themselves more.

Booth design matters. You need to have a vibrant, eye-catching exhibit to stand out from the crowd. A simple Google search of “trade show booth design” will provide you with a lot of ideas for what to shoot for.

Here are some elements to consider:

  1. Lively graphics
  2. Appealing lighting focused on important areas
  3. Logo/branding placement
  4. Monitors with looping videos
  5. Whimsical Shapes
  6. High-quality promo items

8. Generate Leads With High-Quality Swag

The quality of your trade show promotional items is a direct reflection of your company’s brand. If people stopping by your booth have nothing but cheap pens to pick up, at best, they’ll immediately forget you but could stand to leave thinking less of you forever!

It’s worth the investment. Some attendees live and die by the swag they find at trade shows and bring it back to share with everyone at the office. These are opportunities to not only associate value with your brand, but have it become a daily part of many people’s lives.

This also means the products have to last. If they break a week after the trade show, that will have a similarly negative impact on your brand as if it had broken right there at the show.

On the contrary, if the swag is more valuable than usual, people will take time to explore it at your booth rather than simply pocketing it and walking off like many people do.

This opens up room for engaging with them. Additionally, if the product lasts, that equates to more impressions of your brand over time and a positive association with the quality of the product. If you need ideas, check out some of the high-quality promo items at Imprint Genius.

Contests and giveaways of high-quality products are also a great lead generation tactic and create engaging booth activities to draw a crowd. Get people to sign up for a drawing in exchange for scanning their badge or a form-fill on your tablet.

I’ve seen people bring a glass lockbox with a bunch of keys in it. One of them opens the safe with the prize. Something visual like that tempts people into trying their luck. Others might use a pinwheel with different prizes on each space. Putt putt golf where a hole-in-one wins a prize can work. Get creative!

9. Follow Up – FAST

According to InsideSales.com, 50% of buyers choose the vendor that responds first. The popular convention is to wait a few days or even weeks to let attendees settle in after the show. Don’t fall for it! The early bird gets the worm.

As time goes on, people start to forget who they talked to at the trade show, so rapport immediately starts to diminish.

As a rule of thumb, I try to at least email the people I met that day within 24 hours of meeting them – whether it’s that night before I go to bed, or the next morning before breakfast. This is the way to win.

Just following up with that Jerry, that awesome guy from the bar who’s really good at Facebook Ads.

If you captured all your leads using the scanner, it would be wise to review the data and clean it up if necessary, while keeping expediency in mind. Not all scanners output information the same way.

Did it come out in all caps? If you use any dynamic variables in your messaging or billing, this could create a poor experience where you risk someone receiving a sales email or future billing statement with their name in all caps.

Are there duplicates in your data? Scanner guns aren’t perfect and neither are humans. Double scans are common, so be sure to de-dupe the list to avoid the risk of a lead getting the same call from two different sales reps. This is also crucial to keeping your trade show reporting accurate.

Cleaning issues like this shouldn’t take too long. There are typically formulas that your data analyst can apply to expedite the process.

10. Debrief Your Team

Finally, as soon as you get back, schedule a meeting with the trade show team to openly discuss ideas and strategies that worked or didn’t work at the event.

This will be key to inspiring the right path to take at the next event. Trade shows are an exceedingly beneficial learning experience for your team and company.

To sum it up, trade shows are a remarkably powerful way to connect with your potential customers directly, but to do it well, you have to consider some strategic elements.

Define your objectives for the show beforehand and assure the sales strategy always points to them.

Once you’ve done that, you should consider which trade show would be the most likely to help you achieve those objectives. Try to find the best balance of budget, reach, and target market.

Plan ahead. Get everything you need for the show ready well in advance to avoid last minute confusion. Make sure to promote your exhibit as much as you can leading up to the event.

Ensure your team knows the sales strategy they will need to execute, follows trade show etiquette, and is focused on conversions if lead generation is the goal.

Speak at the event if possible. This is a great way to establish authority and cross promote.

Make sure your booth is grabbing people’s attention with engaging activities, beautiful design, and the best quality promotional items.

When you get back, clean your list, follow up as soon as possible, and huddle with your team to discuss lessons learned from the trade show.

Follow these tips and your next trade show should be just the beginning of a whole new way to build relationships with people who love what you’re offering.

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