Trade Shows 101

October 7, 1998

Greg Townsend
20840 Chase Street
Winnetka, CA 91306-1207

Dear Mr. Townsend:

The following is in response to your request for information regarding the story “Trade Shows 101.”

Q1.  How do you determine goals and objectives for trade show participation?

A1.  Through your own company executive planning session determine what areas of marketing are needed to expand or improve current business operations.  First and foremost do not jump into selecting a trade show simply  because you heard it is a hot show or all of your competitors will be there, so you should be there too.  Do not respond out of pressure that if you believe your company doesn’t participate somehow people will talk negatively about your absence.  Know where your company is headed.  Develop and follow your company’s marketing business plan.  The outreach goals of this plan should adequately address Trade Show Marketing and the anticiapted activity desired from particiapting in shows.

Q2.  How do you select trade shows that address these goals and objectives?

A2.  Participate because your research revealed the trade show’s projected attendees have an interest that matches the goals and objectives similar to that of your company.  A potential show should have some type of year-round network or customer referral base.  And above all, the show should have a great image and be distinctive within your respective industry or business community.  Make sure the location of the show coincides with your prospective customer’s region or target market location.

Q3.  What should you do before the trade show to ensure success of your participation?

A3.  Plan and budget.  Obtain form the trade show manager how many people, hours for the show, special events and all other demographics related to the potential attendees targeted for the show.  Assess your company resources available to work the show.  Set a financial budget and stick to it.  Set a human resource work schedule in place to assure the best use exhibit showtime.

A complete budget of time and materials should include at least the following ten items;

  1. Space rental fee (program ad, banner display, etc.)
  2. Exhibit display (literature handouts, giveaways, etc.)
  3. Signage (banners, badges, signs)
  4. Set up and dismantle cost for exhibit materials
  5. Transportation of equipment/Lodging
  6. Staff/Labor (training, uniforms)
  7. Utilities / Cleaning
  8. Security of equipment
  9. Special events (workshops, banquets, hospitality, celebrity promotion, etc…)
  10. Lead management (computer software, data entry, etc.)

Q4.  What kind of booth/display should you have and why?

A4.  First let’s state why have an exhibit.  You want to have an exhibit display to expressively communicates that your company performs well and is ready to answer questions.  The visitors who walk pass need to see a space that expresses confidence.  Because you want people to stop at your space.  Therefore you should have a space that is unique and attractive enough to want to make your prospective customers stop by.  It should fit the framework of your company image.

Q5.  What kind of signage should you have and why?

A5.  You have about 7 seconds to gain the attention of visitors walking pass your exhibit.  It’s similar to a billboard sign that you pass when driving on the highway.  As you approach the sign if the print size seems fair and legible you will begin to read it, if there appears to be an attractive coloring on the sign you will become intrigued and if the sign suggests a benefit you will attempt to determine who the it will benefit or help and want to know more.  That someone could either be you or someone else you that know first hand could benefit from the information.  Therefore everyone who reads your sign(s) is a potential customer if the sign is developed mindful of what you want them to remember about your company.

Your signage is critical to your success as an effective exhibitor.  That is why it is a separate line item in the budget.  I recently attended a show here in Los Angeles where an internationally known company paid multi-thousands of dollars for there ceiling sign that weighs 1,500 pounds.  This is an example of how successful companies understand the importance of anchoring the name of their company in the minds of prospective and curent customers.  There are three main points you want your sign to definitively state.  The points should be creatively designed and have appeal to the people walking by;

# 1.  It must state who you are.  (company name and logo recognition is the anchor)

# 2.  It must clearly & quickly define what it is that your company does or has to offer.

# 3.  It must state a benefit on how your company can help.  (Clue: faster, better, richer, thinner)

Blue and yellow are great combinations for background and lettering.  Red can sometimes repeal the subliminal mind so be careful when using bright red.  Neutral colors are inviting.  Position the sign(s) so it can be seen on four sides.  The aisle in front and back, as well positioning the sign to be seen at eye level as you approach from left or right directions.

Q6.  What kind of materials should you distribute at booths?

A6.  Literature distribution can be a very costly budget item unless you take care in planning.  First make sure you know who (type of customer) you would like to receive your marketing material.  Do not simply have a table where visitors can take one without you first gaining some information about the visitor.  Engage in conservation and ask questions on what the visitor may be seeking.  Ideally, all they will need from you is a business card and the literature is for truly interested visitors who express an interest to review the material later.  You should have a plan to follow-up with literature by mail or personal visit where the material can be better appreciated.  Most marketing material picked-up at trade shows is rarely reviewed and is normally thrown away to avoid clutter.  A price list is good becuase it works to make comparisons thereby giving some shelf life with your company name and location.

Literature distribution starts with your company’s marketing plan and at the show is handled through effective lead management.

Q7.  Are promotional items useful at promoting, or just an unnecessary expense?

A7.  Promotional items work well when there are a couple of things that come together.  First, the visitor receiving the promotional item should have to do something to receive the item, i.e. answer your questions regarding their interest in your product.  Second, the promotional item has your company name imprinted for recognition and the promotional item itself has life after the show (quality).  Ideally the item should be expressive and have a related value to what your company does.  For example if you sell books then a quality book mark promotional item matches and gives an associative value to get the prospective customer to think of your company at the right time.

The overall concept with promotional items is to get a return for your investment.

Q8.  What are the do’s and don’ts of manning a trade show booth (dress, demeanor, eating at booth, sitting as opposed to standing, etc.?)

A8.  The do’s and don’ts should match how you normally run your business.  Hopefully you practice the same good habits at your home office as you practice when in public.

The Do’s: know your product, exhibit space and show; be honest, confident, enthusiastic and well groomed; keep your booth tidy; and finally, treat all visitors equally.  Overall, maintain a positive clean and professional image and engage in conversation.  Be proactive

Don’t eat, drink or smoke in your space; don’t sit or look preoccupied; don’t leave your both unattended; don’t knock the competition; and don’t take up your peers time during the show..

Q9.  What should you do to ensure that you will attract and identify qualified leads rather than lookyloos?

A9.  There is no such thing as looyloo at a trade show.  Because it takes a special effort to attend a convention center, hotel or similar venue, everyone walking through has a predetermine interest for being there.  And if they take the time to stop, be assured that they or someone they know is interested in your product.  Ask questions and listen.  With good training of your exhibit staffers your questions will reveal their interest and get the leads you need to close the high number of deals that you set in goals.

Use a good lead sheet that records the name, address, telephone, fax and best time to call the prospect.  Determine how often they use your product and the application for using the product.  This will determine how hot a lead you have.  If they do not use the product, find out if they know of someone close to them that may use the product for a referral.  Always keep in mind that your business should be in place to help and give an important service and fill a need that people are seeking.

A multi-part lead sheet works well so that your shipping, marketing and data base management personnel can receive the same info quickly to take the appropriate action.  You want to keep your contacts active so they can remember the conversation and maintain the high emotion to act on the contact.

Q10.  How can you politely and tactfully weed out and discourage lookyloos who come to your booth anyway?

A10.  Ask questions of people who you meet at your space.  Engage them in who, what, when, where and why.  This will quickly get you a feel of their needs and desires.  Express a warm thank you for there time.  As part of your training you should already know how many minutes you can spend with prospects to reach your quantity goals. Group demonstrations help to weed out those who are not interested because you have now engaged them to listen.  Usually if a person remains to listen to a ten-fifteen minute presentation they are a good prospect.

Q11.  What kind of follow-up is required after the trade show to make sure your investment pays off?

A11.  The main follow-up starts with your staffers’ ability to gain thourough leads.  Good lead management is essential to a follow-up on prospective customers.  Keep the follow-up fresh.  Offer more than what they were able to get at the show.  You want them to take action on coming to your store, office or showroom.  If you can make an appointment to meet them at their location that is also good.  Either way, the timing should occur within the first week following the show.  Do not let the lead go cold.  Waiting more than a month from the show date is almost like beginning with a cold call and could even result in an embarrassing contact. (the prospect could have moved, divorce, taken ill, etc…)

There are many ways to follow-up, it simply must work to best match the type of company and service you provide.  If the show you attended was out-of-town it is likely that you will have a mailing and tele-marketing plan in place to follow-up.  An e-mail or facsimile plan may be in order.  The main point is to get to the sales-close because the prospect once contacted has given you sound information which shows an earnest interest level on their part.

Q12.  What makes trade show exhibiting successful/?(secrets)

A12.  The secret is to meet your predetermined goals and objectives.  If your expectations are fulfilled then it was a great show.  In general, you want to receive a 6 to 1 return on your financial investment.  That is for every one dollar investment made you should get back six.  This is not absolute but it serves as a gauge as to whether you would want to participate in that particular show again. (providing you do all the things outlined in your plan for good exhbiting and follow-up)

With more than 100,000 companies spending over $13 billion dollars to participate in greater than 10,000 shows in North America annually, there is surely a marketing trade show that will work for your company.  I have found that if you invite the people you want to attend before the show it works to your best benefit.  Letters of invitation, including complementary tickets can make a difference.  Use the marketing show as an opportunity to show new technology, breakthrough products, testimonials of featured clients, special cost savings or any unique feature or benefit is what most companies look forward to displaying at shows.  It’s a great place to practice your “info-mercial” concept that your company may be considering.  If there is a secret its in having fun and making friends.  Be warm, available, professional, impressionable and proactive.  To accomplish this you need to discover, hire and train the people to meet these general trade show marketing principles.

The Los Angeles Black Business Expo and Trade Show offers a half-day effective trade show marketing workshop to each of our exhibitors.  We walk them through the process of exhibiting whether they are new or veterans trade show marketers.  There is always some way to better your presentation and gain the customers that make trade show marketing profitable.


Dean L. Jones, C.P.M.
General Manager