Trade Show Booth Activation

I used to think the trade show season was from late September to late November; then February to May… but in recent years, that idea has been blown out of the water. I have been delivering sessions since January and it doesn’t stop until past the middle of June. These are keynote addresses, breakout sessions, and panel moderating for everything from the Canadian Association of Funeral Directors to Festivals and Events Ontario, the Alberta Association of Agricultural Societies to the Ontario Business Improvement Areas annual conference, the Canadian Association of Exposition Managers (those who run trade shows and conferences) to the Association of Fundraising Professionals, FFWD – Canadian Marketing and Advertising Week to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference, to name a few. The conference /trade show season truly has shifted to 12 months a year!

With so much activity at trade shows, how can those sponsoring or those who have booths get better ROI for their investments? How can they “do better?” Several of the sessions I have delivered recently have focused on this. Let me share six steps to success at conferences and trade shows.

1. It is critical to know your audience. Are the people visiting your trade show booth buyers or champions /influencers? Often, the folks at trade shows don’t have the power or authority to buy. They are influencers. They might be more powerful than the buyers (such as elected officials who don’t buy goods and services for their constituents, but influence the administration and departmental staff regarding purchasing opportunities) but they are not going to buy your product from the booth or sign a big deal. It is critical to know who is at the show (influencers or buyers) before you set sales expectations.

2. Often, the best relationship building takes place, and serious buyers and influencers stick around, during sessions or while the open bar is underway. These are the people who come and chat when it is “quiet.” They know they will have your attention and get the information they need without you looking at the next lead walking past. In my world, some of the best interactions take place when everyone else is at the “open bar and free food” function or attending sessions.

3. Know your objective. Is it to sell and close product (go back to step one) or start building a relationship? If it is to close a product sale, know the timelines and pricing, and be prepared to negotiate. If the goal is to book meetings (which is what most B2B trade shows are versus consumer shows), then know the steps to get there. Work toward a meeting versus selling the product. We did some work for a software company that was forever handing out our test programs of their product on CDs and flash drives. Hey, not even the biggest software geek is going to take that home and review it-let alone go to the office and do so. When we transferred their objective to “booking meetings,” their ultimate sales cycle was shortened, and they had success they could measure and attribute to the trade show.

4. Know that, typically, people are walking the aisles for one of four reasons. Those in the first group are doing research on a product they think they may buy in the future. These are the folks you need to help and support. The second group includes those who know they need a certain product and are comparison shopping . They are there to find the right supplier with the right product. They are closer to the end of the buying cycle and you need to differentiate yourself from the others at the show. Group three includes people who are already using the product-yours or a competitor’s-and looking to switch vendors. They are spending this time to find the right supplier and product. The fourth group includes the strollers and trollers. They are not sure what they need or want and may or may not have a budget for your product. You need to be cautious with these folks and ask specific questions to determine if they are worth the time to chat with.

5. Differentiate yourself. Your booth needs to stand out from all the others. This can be done by having a WOW display or a catchy sign (Need more money on the bottom line? Talk to us. Profits guaranteed). Or it can be by having great giveaways and promotional branded products that make you stand out such as we use at conferences and events that we have supplied from Promotion Resource Group (PRG) in Oakville. At one recent conference we sponsored, we promoted people taking selfies and tweeting them out. We gave away a prize worth over $1500 for the best selfie. PRG helped us with this activation. They came up with the selfie idea (that ran a ton of traffic through our Twitter handle and hashtag) and we handed out branded selfie sticks to every delegate to make it even easier for them to take selfies. Another differentiator is having a 30-second elevator pitch. Say something conveying that you are there to help them and how you are different from your competition.

6. Follow up. For every business card or lead …follow up. Go back to your hotel room that night and email them. Say how nice it was to meet them and that you look forward to the meeting you set (if you did) or you hope to see them again tomorrow at the show… or ask when you can get together for as meeting (if you did not close one at the booth). Try to follow up within 24 hours. Make an impression. Make an impact. As in step 5, differentiate yourself because none of your competition will be getting back to them that quickly!

There are many other tips and ideas shared in the sessions, but hopefully these six will get you started toward making more money and better ROI on your investment at your next conference trade show. If you have some tips or success stories, please share on LinkedIn, Twitter, or our blog.

These are just one person’s thoughts. Yours are welcomed as well. Please add your thoughts or comments below. Thank you for reading and your feedback.


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  1. Another fabulous delivery of great information. I’d like to add that these same thoughts should be the drivers for all your marketing and sales communications and strategy. Yes you have to know your business but equally important is knowing how you can engage with potential customers and help them. Thanks Brent!

    • Thanks Kathy! Really good point about all marketing!


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