Trade Shows: From Hoopla to Hooray!

Anyone who has walked or exhibited a trade show knows how crazy they can be. From the financial investment, to the whirlwind of meeting, greeting, walking and talking, to the pure and utter exhaustion at the end; it’s no wonder some question the benefit of attending trade shows.

I’m here to argue that trade shows can be an extremely worthwhile investment if they are planned for, executed, and followed up on well.

Through the years, I have participated in trade shows both as an attendee and as an exhibitor including: SupplySide West, Natural Health Expo West and Expo East, BuildEx, Canadian Health Food Association, New York Suppliers of Cosmetic Chemists, and BC Food Processors Association Food Pro West.  And when executed well, these shows have always resulted in new business.

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Here are my tips for making sure you get the most bang for your buck out of your trade show investment:

1. Plan Ahead

This seems like an obvious tip, but it’s one that a lot of organizations fail to do well. While team members often know what trade shows they are participating in and the logistics around those shows, they fail to identify exactly who it is they’re hoping to meet.

Ask Yourself: Who are the top prospects (companies or individuals) you want to meet at the show? If you’re walking the show, that exhibitor list should be your new best friend. Study it. Quickly identify those prospects you’re already aware of, and research some of the other companies to see if there might be some other great prospects attending.

Once you know who you’d like to meet, reach out in advance. If your budget allows, I recommend reaching out with a fun and memorable pre-show campaign. (And no, you don’t have to blow the bank doing this. We have created the most “WOW” factor campaigns on tight budgets.)

When you’re reaching out, try to lock down a specific time so you can be ready and on-point when you’re finally face-to-face with your prospect.

2.  Know What Your Next Step Will Be Before You Get There

Once you’ve identified all of the amazing people you’re going to meet at the show, know your long-term plan. What do you want to share at the trade show? What do you want to learn at the trade show? And what is your ask coming out of the trade show? Are you looking for a post-show call or meeting? An intro to the decision maker? Whatever it is, lock it down at the show. Even if your prospects don’t have their calendars with them, set a tentative date and time and confirm after the show.   


3.  Don’t Trust Your Memory

“That show was great!”

“I talked to so many great people!”

“I’m definitely getting business out of that show!”

These are examples of things I have heard when sales team members walk out of trade shows. Buzzing from all of the great conversations and proud of themselves for representing their company well, they often feel really positive about what has transpired during the show.

And then they sleep.

The next day, sifting through their loot bags of business cards, product samples, and marketing materials, the details around the people and the conversations they’ve had start to become a big, jumbled blur. Sure, they might remember a couple of key people or companies - but the details that lead to an impactful follow-up have often fallen to the wayside.

That is why I can’t stress the importance of taking notes during the show - immediately following the awesome conversation you’ve just had. Capture exactly what made that conversation so awesome. Take note of anything personal that your prospect shared; anything funny that occurred; a problem they might have confided in you. Great stuff - but also easily forgettable for you both due to the sheer numbers of awesome conversations you’re both having. So even if you’re feeling good and thinking that you have it all committed to memory, do yourself a favour and make sure you capture it. (Hint: the dictation or voice recording functions on your smartphone can really help with this!)

4. A Beautiful Finish

So, if you’ve following the tips above, you have:

  1. Clearly identified and had meaningful conversations with everyone you wanted to see at the trade show.

  2. Agreed to a “next step” with your prospect and set a day and time for when that next step will take place.

  3. Taken note of all of the details that made your conversation so wonderful.

Now it’s time for the beautiful finish. If you haven’t already done so, send the calendar meeting for whatever next step date and time you had agreed to, along with a note referencing the details you gained during your interaction. Make it personal; send links to articles or products that tied into what you had been speaking about. Share how much you enjoyed your conversation and that you’re looking forward to the agreed upon next step.

By following these tips, your trade show experience is bound to go from Hoopla to Hooray.