On With The Show

Make the most of your next trade show.

When i think about the last trade show I attended, I'm reminded of those "Where's Waldo?" cartoons--where there are so many people and so much going on that you'd have trouble finding poor Waldo even if you had a map and a bloodhound.

Trade show sponsors are good at marketing their shows to a wide range of exhibitors. But because there are so many exhibitors, you risk not being able to realize a payoff for what is likely an expensive venture. Booth space, display equipment, products, giveaways, transportation, personnel, etc., can really add up. These events offer incomparable marketing opportunities, but they won't get you anywhere if you don't plan ahead.

So before you jump on to the trade show bandwagon, here are a few things to ask yourself:

  • Have I set specific goals for participating in a trade show? If you aren't exactly sure why you want to exhibit at a trade show, don't. Ask yourself the following questions: What kinds of people are your best customers or prospects? What do you want to accomplish at the show? Be specific about what has to happen (such as how many new leads you need to get, what amount of sales you must generate, and how many connections with certain types of buyers you'll have to make) to make the show worthwhile.
  • Have I chosen the right show for my needs and goals? If your goal is to seek as many opportunities as possible to introduce a new product, then perhaps any show will do. But the smartest entrepreneurs streamline their goals so they don't waste their resources. In other words, by seeking shows where the audience truly fits your "best customer" profile, you'll get a lot more mileage out of your trade show dollars. Consider your distribution area, for instance. If you distribute primarily in a local market, a national show may not be the wisest choice for you.
  • Have I done adequate pre-show marketing? Where do you begin? At the very least, mail a flier or postcard to prospects, current customers and past show attendees. Good show organizers should be able to provide you with a mailing list. Consider going a step further and mailing a coupon, a ticket or even a parking pass to key prospects or visitors. Make it worth their while to stop by your booth.

You can also personally call key individuals to remind them that the date of the show is approaching or to extend invitations to receptions or hospitality activities.

  • How should I get ready for the show? Research on trade show behavior indicates the number-one thing attendees look for at a show is knowledgeable, professional people tending the booth. A trained staff is critical to the success of your trade show experience.

Many employees think working at a trade show falls somewhere between jury duty and walking the plank. The wise employer, therefore, sells the experience as an opportunity for professional growth. Let your workers know how important this effort is and what's expected of them. Know the kind of personality a staffer should have, and do some in-depth training on how to manage booth traffic, greet people, generate and qualify leads, and present a positive first impression. Remember, people who are reliable, knowledgeable, friendly, professional and energetic are crucial to a successful return on your trade show investment.

With a little preparation and training, a trade show can be one of your best marketing tools.


Leann Anderson is the owner of Anderson Business Resources, a Greeley, Colorado, company specializing in customer service, marketing and business etiquette. E-mail her at landerson@ctos.com

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This article was originally published in the August 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: On With The Show.

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