Trade Shows – The Big Picture

This is part 2 of the series “Maximizing Trade Shows.”

Too many people go to trade shows not knowing exactly what they hope to accomplish.

“We always have a booth at this show.”

This is THE show for our industry.”

“Our competition always has a big booth there, so we need to have one, too.”

So you go with one (or all) of the above motivations, you set up a booth, you stand on your feet and smile for 3 days straight, and you go home, taking whatever is given to you, and creatively manufacturing effective excuses for what wasn’t.
And then you don’t worry about it again until next year.

Like any business venture, it works best when you start with the end goal and then fill in the details of how to get there with your tactics. Put another way, don’t lead a tactic-driven business. As it relates to trade shows, realize that a trade show is a tactic, not an end-goal. It’s a cause, not an effect. So figure out ahead of time just how you can leverage all a trade show offers to help move you closer to your end goal.

Some questions/ideas to get you thinking:

  1. How many prospects do you want to walk away with? “Meeting new customers” is usually the top goal for anyone working a trade show. And so it should be. So don’t go into one just “hoping for a lot.” Set a number that will drive you for the whole show. There’s no magic formula on how to figure this out, but I’ve noticed that, for shows that have 5k – 10k in total attendance, getting at least 100 leads should not be a problem. For larger shows, maybe up to 200.
  2. How many prospects do you want to walk away with today? Let’s say you have a goal of 100 leads at a 3 day show, but on day 1, you generate 50. Rather than slack off the last two days, reassess what’s possible and set daily goals. Working a trade show booth can get VERY boring if you don’t have something motivating you at all times, so break your goals down by days, even hours.
  3. Is this show a good fit? Before you even register for a show, force yourself to look at your company’s end goals, and then determine if this specific show will help you get there or not. Could there be another show (or opportunity) that could help you get there quicker/more effectively that makes better use of your resources? Don’t ever just go to a show – make it make sense.
  4. Do you have the resources to optimize the show? Too many people think they can just set up shop in a 10′ x 10′ booth and everything else will take care of itself. Not true. Before you commit to a show, figure out if you have the time, cash and ability to give it proper pre-show and post-show attention, plus the resources to leverage the right opportunities at the show. Your booth cost is normally just a fraction of what you should spend.
  5. How (and when) will you recoup your cost? Hopefully, you’re in business to make money. With that assumption, how do you plan to take every dollar you spend on the trade show (from booth setup, to travel and lodging, to meals) and get more than a dollar in return? How long are you willing to wait before that return takes place? Be sure you’re comfortable with your cash flow situation before jumping into a trade show, and that you are fairly confident that it will generate some business. Otherwise, why bother?
  6. What can you learn? The main purpose of any trade show is this: bring together as many influential people in a certain niche and celebrate that niche over 2-4 days. Knowing this, what can you learn while you’re there? Got specific questions about a certain aspect of your business? I bet you can find an answer at the show, so write down what you want to take away, and then go get it.
  7. Who can you meet? Everyone who’s everyone in your industry will be there, right? Most shows publish a list of exhibitors and even guests prior to the show. Look through it, and identify the people/companies you want to make contact with. Networking is everything, and usually the big take-backs from a trade show are a product of networking.
  8. How will you determine success? Taking all of the above ideas, and some of your own, go into a trade show and have the critical success factors laid out BEFORE the show begins. Make sure everyone has the list in front of them so you’re all marching to the same beat. Then, stick to it and assess the show afterwards based on that criteria. Yes, you’ll have plenty of other things to discuss that you never considered. But at the end of the day, a trade show’s success can only be measured by you.

Related links and resources:

3 responses to “Trade Shows – The Big Picture

  1. Thanks for adding us as a resource!

  2. No problem – you obviously know a lot more about them than I do. I’ll probably be referencing you more as I finish out the series.

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