Trade shows - Where do I Start?

Did you ever go to a trade show and wonder: “what am I doing here?” I do all the time and I attend lots of them as part of my job. All the booths look the same - 3 x 3-meters, nice open design, small table, a few chairs, small desk at the edge and the obligatory fishbowl for cards. And let’s not forget a very uninspired person sitting at the table staring at their phone.

Then you have the edge of the booth standers, who just watch people walking by and sometimes smile. You make eye contact and smile back and they hand you a brochure, which you politely decline. Contact ceased. Potential sale lost! Alternatively, they launch at you and before you know it, start spewing their sales pitch at high speed – leaving you unable to understand what they are saying, politely nodding and searching for a getaway!

So, are trade shows really worth your time and energy?

Despite my recent comments - Yes! The above is a great example of what not to do but if you implement the right strategies they can be very profitable. You can turn the experience into a revenue boosting opportunity, not just an exercise in who can collect the most business cards.

Where do you start?

A wise man told me "let's start at the end" (John Blaskey). When I work with a company, my first questions usually are: “What was your goal?” and “What did you set out to achieve?” Answers usually range from getting more money to covering costs.

That latter always puzzles me - why would you spend $1 to make $1? But I have a 100% guaranteed full proof solution for those companies - don’t go! Why spend the money, time and effort only to recoup your losses? Ok, jokes aside, but here is where I see problems starting.

Let’s do a reality check and start with:

  • What is your business plan?
  • In the plan, what is your sales target?

Then, set a goal that ties into your sales plan and work from there.

Now you need to know what your customers are worth.

Not the one-off sale, but a one-year customer life value. How much is that customer worth if you can sell to him over a year?

Let me give you an example:


So, with a goal set of $100,000 and a customer value of $10,000, you would need to get 2,000 people passing your booth. To achieve that, the exhibition itself needs to have double that number of visitors attending. If it only projects to have 2,000 visitors, you might want to adjust your numbers accordingly.

When choosing an event, evaluate:

  • the number of attendees last year
  • the trends for the past few years
  • predictions for this year

This will help with your decision to attend or not.

Next, Identify your target audience:

  • Who are they?
  • Will they be at the event?

If they are not attending, why go? And don’t just set up a stand because your competitors do - are they going to buy from you? Is anyone going to penalize you for not showing up? I don’t think so. In my opinion, if it’s not worth going, don’t.

On the other hand, if the numbers look good - how are you going to attract the attention of the 2,000 passers-by? What are you going to do to stand out?

Remember, this is a trade SHOW – not a shop.

Next time I will discuss engagement strategies and how to collect data from the trade show efficiently.

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