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Tradeshow Success Secrets from a Tradeshow Veteran

Posted by Tom LarsenMar 19, 2014 Marketing, Organization, Planning 4

Look at the top person in any live performance field like entertainers or athletes. Now envision what that person must do every day to stay in condition to be successful. Every one of them works for “me, incorporated” which means they need to constantly work to enhance their reputation to increase their income. We only see the few moments or hours they are “on”, but, that is far, far from the extent of their preparation to be ready to be “on” at any given time.

The trade show is the commercial equivalent of live performance. For consumer products, trade shows are often a hefty piece of the annual marketing spend. There is no substitute for taking your showroom on the road and setting it up to be seen by attendees who’s job title is “buyer”. When you have 60 different conversations each day for 3 or 4 days, it is a grueling schedule.

Having performed in well over 100 shows, there is a very short list of things that make a Show experience terrific or outstanding, that will put you at the top of your game, that surprisingly few exhibitors discuss or follow. To be a peak performer in this environment is to embrace all 8 of my Rules for Tradeshow Success.

Every company has a design idea about what they can do to get the people in the aisle to look at their booth, walk in and interact. For the thousands of dollars you will be spending on shows, let me take a very quick moment to provide my 8 Rules for Tradeshow Success that you can do to make yourself unique in the sea of “competitors”. Once you have committed to following these 8 Rules, THEN spend the tens of thousands of dollars on your space, the exhibit, drayage, shipping, furniture, floor covering, electricity, apps, hotels, food, transportation and whatever else you’re doing, Miss any of these 8 Rules and you may very well waste every penny.

Before the Show:

1.  Send an invitation to anyone you might know before the show. – Email is free. Email everyone at least twice prior to the show. Send them a thoughtful “looking forward to seeing you” or “please stop by”. An invitation to visit for a thoughtful purpose is far more valuable than a promotional message.

2.  Have a strategy for why you are at the show and know how to achieve it. – Show up to tell a story. Know the story and tell it all the time. Tell the why. Even if you go to the same show every year and are only showing your newest products, tell people why they exist and why they should care. Don’t just lead people in and ask them “what do you think”.

3.  Don’t expect a show to be only about “orders”. – Shows are one more opportunity for relationship progression. Know what you want to achieve in advance. If Big Opportunity buyer is in your booth, they are unlikely to pull out a Purchase Order, but, that does not make their visit a failure. Make the time valuable for both of you by learning about them and their business and sharing about your business.

At the Show:

4.  Be rested and eat well, every day. – This is so often overlooked. Staying out late because you’re in Las Vegas will cost you the next day. Skipping breakfast or drinking dinner will only make you less sharp. You can’t afford to be any less sharp than the person in the last booth the buyer visited.

5.  Show up on time and stay until the end. – The time pressed buyers (the busy ones that you want to meet) are there at the door before the start and stay on the floor until the end. That means you want to be there when they are. You want to be just as fresh about your product as they are about their business and what they are interested in discussing.

6.  Take notes. – Come back home with a clear awareness of what each contact discussed and what the next step is. Write on the cards. Take a notepad. Do something that indicates you will follow through. It is not the buyer’s responsibility to contact you if you want their business. It’s yours.

7.  Qualify everyone you meet so you can focus on the ones that matter. – Know the types of attendees and how to know who is who. The “buyer” from Big Opportunity, but, they are only the assistant to the assistant in the wrong department, or worse for you, work in a store. Learn what you can and move them on.

After the Show:

8.  Absolutely, no matter what, make sure everyone you made a commitment to contact gets contacted. – By the end of the 72 hours after a show, make sure every contact you have has received an email “thank you” and you’ve set a time frame for meaningful followup on whatever you discussed. If it’s just send a catalog, then do it. If it’s going to take a week, tell them.

Face time with buyers is the most valuable opportunity you can ever achieve. Do absolutely everything to maximize your chances of having lots of  highly meaningful engagements at every show by following these simple Tradeshow Success rules.

  • Thank you Tom, some truly great points here!
    I especially relate with points 6) and 7). Taking notes is the most essential part of the show because everything else depends on it. With poorly taken notes you will not be able to do a fast & efficient follow-up, which means no extra business which leads to event failure.
    You will want to take complete and clear notes containing name, position, territory, leads quality (cold? warm? hot?), a few words about what has been discussed and the next steps and a few tags and pictures to keep a clear overview. I strongly recommend against pen&paper solutions that tend to delay the follow-up and add a layer of human error. I strongly encourage to also give up “writing on business cards”: that is never precise and leads to more confusion than solutions.
    Taking detailed notes is the key but is completely worthless if not followed by a proper follow-through plan. Contact each lead within 48h after the exhibition and push them one step further down your sales funnel.
    I wish you all great success on your next event!

    • Great comments. I don’t think I would quibble over whatever note taking method is most likely to get the very highest comprehension and response after the show. The notes are generally for the writer of the notes so whether they write them, type them on their phone or tablet or speak them into a recorder, the end goal is to have them and make use of them.

      • Yes and no, tomlarsen.
        It is really for you, as the one taking the notes, to see what you are most comfortable with.
        Yet, it is also essential to be able to follow up quickly, and to achieve that you definitely need to avoid unnecessary tasks. Taking digital notes, sending direct emails saves hours of post event work that soows down the follow up.

  • Your point is well taken, digital efforts can save time. As to keeping notes digitally, whatever works best for you is what I would think you choose. As for followups, I have found that there is a lot of volume of emails going to attendees after a trade show. I’m not always excited to have my emails treated with the same disdain as those of everyone else. I often use regular mail to enhance the contact and show “above and beyond” responsiveness. I’ve been know to take a stack of postcards and stamps to a show and send postcards the same day as the meeting at the show. The attendee returns to work to find a postcard from me. It becomes remarkable and memorable.

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