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6 Critical Trade Show Mistakes to Avoid If you don't get the most out of your trade show it may be nothing more than a waste of your time and money.

By Charles Dugan

entrepreneur daily

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J-C&D. Pratt | Getty Images

Love them or hate them, trade shows are where you discover new clients. Each show takes a lot of time, effort and money, so you need to know that you are going to come away from it gaining new business. You are good at your business, but you might not be a trade show expert. But, if you don't get the most out of your trade show it may be nothing more than a waste of your time and money. Here are six critical trade show mistakes that can cripple your success.

Before the show

Much of your trade show success (or failure) is determined by what you do to prepare for the big day. Avoid these pre-show pitfalls.

1. A poor display
Your trade show booth is your first impression. It should be fun, vibrant and effectively tell people what your business is all about. This isn't the place to skimp on the budget. A display that isn't vibrant, isn't clear about who you are and what you do, and doesn't invite people to come in for a closer look is a trade show killer. Of course, don't make the rookie mistake of putting a table between you and your prospective clients, either. That's just a barrier that will make it too easy for them to walk right on by you.

Related: 10 Questions to Ask When Preparing for a Trade Show

2. No social media
It's 2017 and social media is your best friend. If you aren't promoting your business on social media, linking it to the trade show's own social media accounts and interacting with your potential clients, you're in trouble. Why? Because your competition is. They're building a following and letting their fans know just when and where to find them. Oh yeah, they're also defining themselves as experts in the industry. If they are the experts, what does that make you?

3. No defined goal
If you go to a trade show thinking, "This is great. I'll get my name out there!" you're not wrong, but you're also not going to have any way of measuring its success. What will make the show a true winner for you? Do you need to find 40 new leads or simply five really solid leads? Do you need to network with people in your industry or connect to potential new employees? According to a study by Exhibitor Media Group, only 35 percent of trade show exhibitors measure the portion of trade show leads that end in a closed sale. Determine exactly what you want to accomplish and then develop a plan for making that happen and how to quantify your results. Even if you don't reach your goal, at least you know that you need to improve something to have more success next time.

Related: 7 Ways to Get the Most Out of Exhibiting at a Trade Show

During the show

You've done your prep work. Great! Now it's show time. Don't make these two classic mistakes if you want to have a great show.

4. Wrong person in the booth
Here's another place where it doesn't pay to skimp. Many business owners hire interns or temp workers to man their booths. How hard is it to stand there and hand out cards, right? Well, not very, but that's not what you want to be happening.

The individuals that are in your booth represent your company and your ability. They should be able to answer questions competently and, preferably, even set appointments and negotiate for you. Face-to-face marketing allows you and your team to meet clients in person and develop relationships. You're wasting that opportunity if your clients are speaking with temporary staffers that don't know your business.

Related: 4 Ways to Get Noticed at a Crowded Trade Show

5. Ambushing attendees
No one likes to walk by a trade show table only to have the booth attendant pop out and force them into conversation. While you can't be completely passive, you don't want to bully people into hearing your pitch, either. A study by the Center for Exposition Industry Research found that 59 percent of trade show visitors want interactive demonstrations. This means you need to create a reason for people to come to you. Are you willing to give things away? If so, great. Make sure you are giving something away that people really want. Everyone has enough cheap key chains. Also, have a game of some type. People would rather win a prize than just have something handed to them. Plus, while they stop to play, you have a little extra time to talk to them. Everyone wins.

Related: Sales Success Secrets for Your Next Trade Show

After the show

The show is done! Now you can pack it all up and relax until the next one, right? Nope. The worst mistake most businesses make comes after the show is over.

6. No following up
You spent good money on that display. You gave away merchandise and candy. You even gave up your own Saturday to attend the show and generate a fistful of new leads. Now, if those leads go into a drawer or a computer file, you've wasted all of it. Once the show is over, it's time to follow up on those leads. A survey conducted by Salesforce at major trade shows found that 80 percent of exhibitors failed to follow up on leads. Don't wait too long. While you have their information and they still remember your conversation is the time to reconnect and nurture those leads into legitimate customers. This is why you were there in the first place.

Trade shows are a great opportunity to get your business name out there and find customers who can eventually become long-term clients. By avoiding these common mistakes, you'll make your business stand out from the crowd and keep your table busy, and profitable, at every trade show.

Charles Dugan


Charles Dugan is the president and owner of American Image Displays, designers and distributors of trade show display equipment. He is a 20-plus year trade show veteran and consultant. He lives in Seattle, Wash.

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