How to Attract Attendees to your Trade Show Booth

Exhibiting at a trade show takes a lot of planning.

It’s trade show season. That time of year when you and other salespeople attend trade shows in hopes of gaining more leads.

Your bags are pack.

You’re ready to go.

But before you hit the road, you need to make sure you have a game plan in place to ensure your trip will be worthwhile.

While there is a debate in some corners on whether vendors should invest in exhibiting at trade shows for not, most companies will attend at least one event each year. There are hundreds of state and regional conferences each year, but unless you are working for a major corporation, most vendors will select at least one or two “must go” big events.

Exhibiting at a trade show is expensive. Besides paying the registration fee, you must consider transportation, hotel, and meal costs. Some trade show sponsors will nickel and time you to death, by forcing you to pay high prices in wi-fi access, rental furniture like chairs and tables, carpeting for your exhibit space, electricity and much more.

So, your goal is this – how do you get more bang for your buck? Or, to put it in another way, how do you ensure that you will attract as many high qualified attendees to your booth to convert them into paying customer later?

Here are some tips to help you –

1). Plan – you can’t wing it when it comes to exhibiting at trade shows. You need to review your plans at least two (2) months in advance. One way of doing this is to create a checklist. The list should include what you should bring (e.g., swag, power strip and extension cords, presentation media, business cards), who should attend, a summary of all expenses, where you will be staying and much more.

2). Target key attendees – if you are lucky, you will receive an attendee list at least a week or so in advance of the trade show. However, not all trade show sponsors provide these lists to exhibitors. And even if they do provide lists, sometimes you must pay extra to acquire the list. If you are fortunate enough to receive an attendee list, review it carefully and determine which attendees you would like to meet at your booth or in a designated area for private meetings.

Attendees are like cattle – you need to make sure you steer them in the right direction to your booth.

3). You don’t have an attendee list, now what? Let’s say the conference sponsors are not providing attendee lists, or the lists are too expensive. No worries. As a skilled sales or marketing professional, you should already know who the key players are in your niche industry. Reach out to them at least two (2) months in advance and see if they are planning to attend the event. Sure, some may fall through the cracks, but hopefully, you will find enough to make your participation at the conference worthwhile.

4). Pre-Show Promotions – there are several ways you can promote your exhibit at the conference. Email campaigns will help. Plugging your attendance on social media, like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook will undoubtedly draw a crowd. And don’t forget using YouTube to get the word out. And depending on your budget, you can send targeted direct marketing pieces to critical prospects. The underlying goal is to create buzz before the show begins. If you wait too late, most attendees will have already been overwhelmed with promotions from your competitors.

5). Flyers or Leaflets – most conference sponsors will give attendees a “goodie” or tote bag filled with conference agendas, trade show maps, and swag. For a fee, you can have your company’s brochure inserted in the bag, or available at or near the registration desk. And finally, you can hire a flyer distribution service to insert your brochures underneath doors at hotels where you feel most attendees will be staying. (I’m unsure if this is legal or not, but I know one of my employers used that tactic effectively at a few conferences).

Exhibit booths should be inviting and open for attendees.

6). Booth display – You need to stand out, but you don’t want to overwhelm attendees with your message. Your goal is to attract people to your booth, have a short conversation, scan their badge or acquire their business card, and determine next steps after the conference. With that said, avoid too many flashy or ostentatious signage. Instead, simplify your message so that when someone walks by your booth, they will immediately understand who you are and what you’re selling.

Also, make your booth inviting. Try to avoid having a table between you and attendees, because it makes it appear that you are setting up a barrier. Instead, go with open spacing and have tables on the side for handouts and swag. Having a monitor on the edge of your display showing a short video (2 minutes tops) will help. You can also use the monitor to provide a brief demonstration of what you are selling.

You must remember that the attention span of most attendees is short. They are dealing with information overload. They have a limited time to visit booths. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone plans their attendance on who they want to meet in advance. So, it’s your job to get their attention quickly and plan next steps.

7). Have someone walk around with a sandwich cardboard sign – yes, it’s tacky, but it works if you want to stand out of the crowd, especially at a significant event. The sign walker could also hand out cards announcing times for upcoming drawings, or special presentations. It wouldn’t hurt to have someone walk around with a funny or eccentric costume, and hand out cards describing your company and showing your exhibit location. Again, the goal is to get people to your booth.

8). Show sponsorships – For a fee, vendors can help sponsor themselves by purchasing Gold, Silver or Bronze sponsorships that will be displayed in conference literature or website. Sponsorships might also include promoting your company’s logo on an attendee name badge holders, lanyards, coffee or lunch break tables/carts, opening reception, outside tote bags, or charging stations for cell phones.

Also, trade show sponsors may receive special treatment, such as earlier access to attendee lists to help promote yourself sooner over your competitors.  Overall, the goal of sponsorships is to enhance your company’s image and brand…and get more sales.

Exhibiting at trade shows can pay off by helping you attract the right prospects who you can convert into sales. Just make sure you do enough planning and preparation to make it valuable experience without breaking your budget.

Credit: Top Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Middle Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

10 things to consider before Exhibiting at a Trade Show

For most major companies, exhibiting at a Trade Show is a no-brainer. With large marketing budgets, they can afford to set up booths.

But when you are a small to mid-size company, exhibiting at a trade show can be a major expense. In fact, just attending one trade show could eat up half of your marketing budget for the entire year.

expenses for trade showsFor example, besides paying a registration fee, you have to consider the following expenses –

  • Airline or travel expenses.
  • Hotel room reservations and food.
  • Shipping fees of your booth and related supplies.
  • Marketing material to display and hand out during the show.
  • Scanner rental fee (for badges worn by attendees).
  • Ground transportation to and from your hotel and the convention center.
  • Designing the exhibit booth.
  • Labor Fees for unpacking and setting up your exhibit booth, and then tearing it down and packing.

According to Smart Trade Shows, the rental fee alone for floor space is about $20.00 per square foot, but the pricing will vary depending on the event, organizer, location, and attendance. So for a 100 square foot booth area, you may be paying about $2,000.

(To help you budget your trade shows, please download the free “Trade Show Budgeting” booklet from Red Cedar PR and Marketing).

So, what should you consider before exhibiting at a trade show?

1). What are your goals?

Most companies attend trade shows to gather new leads, meet with existing customers or launch a new product or service. Others may attend to expand their brand awareness.

There is nothing wrong with those goals, but you need to ask yourself if you can achieve the same objectives without going to a trade show? With so many sophisticated social media and communication tools now at your disposal, attending a trade show at the early stages of your business may not be a good idea. For example, if your website is attracting and converting a lot of prospects into customers, or if you have a good outbound and referral sales campaign, is it really necessary to exhibit at a show? In addition, more companies than ever are conducting webinars and offering free trials.

My suggestion – take a hard look at your budget and your goals before exhibiting.

2). Attend the Trade Show, but don’t Exhibit

Rather than exhibiting at a trade show, consider going as a regular attendee. Odd? Not really. As a regular attendee, you can spend time networking by walking up and down the aisles, and be attending social events and workshops. If you know of key clients that will be at the event, you may want to schedule a lunch or dinner appointment. Plus, by going to the show as a regular attendee, it will give you a firsthand look at whether it may be a good event to exhibit next year.

3). Partner with another company or join a collective

Rather than pay for an entire booth space yourself, why not partner up with another company that is related to your industry but is not a direct competitor. In other words, share the booth space by having two display table and signs. Sometimes, you may join a collective a several companies and share a larger space. However, be careful with this approach – some trade show sponsors may frown upon this, or have very strict rules about who should occupy the space. So read the exhibit contract carefully before partnering up or joining a collective.

4). What are the best trade shows to attend in your industry?

If you have been in your industry for a while, you probably already know this answer, but it doesn’t hurt to dig deeper. In almost every industry that I’ve been in, there is always one or two “must go” trade shows – the ones that are so large and well attended that your phones don’t ring for nearly a week, or if you call your clients or prospects, they are not in the office because they are attending the “big” show.

However, exhibiting at large trade shows can be expensive. So maybe you should consider going to some local or regional events.

5). Does size really matter?

Large attendance at a trade show does not guarantee that you are going to get a lot or the best sales leads. You need to determine the type of prospects who will be attending the show to see if they match your client profile. Sure, the event may attract 10,000 attendees, but if only one percent of that number matches your client profile, is it worth the time and expense of exhibiting at the event? And even if one percent sounds good to you, there is no guarantee that all 100 attendees will even stop by your booth. To help you, some organizations will provide statistics on who normally attend the events, e.g., industry types, geographic locations, business size, etc. Read that information carefully. Ask good questions. Make sure that the attendees are in fact your best prospects.

6). Contact previous exhibitors for their advice

Most organizations will publish a list of previous or current exhibitors on their website. Obviously, this is done to encourage new exhibitors and make them aware, indirectly, that some of their competitors will be attending the event.

My suggestion – call some of the non-competing exhibitors and solicit their advice. Maybe they can offer you some tips on how to be successful or if it’s a good idea to even attend.

traffic at trade shows7). How will the event organizer increase traffic at the exhibit hall?

It’s in the mutual interest of both the event organizers and exhibitors to have good walk through traffic during the trade show. As a result, many organizers will seek out sponsors to provide free lunches and happy hour snacks and drinks throughout the event. However, it doesn’t hurt to ask specifically what the organizers plan to do to encourage high traffic.

8). Contact your clients for their advice

If you know that some of your clients have attended a trade show, contact them and find out if they think it’s worthwhile for you to attend the event. It doesn’t hurt to get the client’s perspective. And while you’re at it, why not obtain pointers from your clients on what they consider to be the best practices of exhibitors, and what they look for when they attend trade shows.

9). Does the event organizer have any advice?

If the event organizer has been sponsoring the trade show for several years, they may provide tips or a Q&A sheet on how to get the most bang for your buck while exhibiting. Of course, their advice is going to be biased because they want you to exhibit at the show; however, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

10). Networking

Will you have an opportunity to network to find clients? While most trade shows have after hour social events, sometimes just going to lunch or attending a workshop related to your product or service could be a great way to network. Review the agenda carefully to seek out the best networking opportunities. Also, keep your eyes and ears open for the exclusive social events with high attendance.

To learn more about how to be effective at trade shows, I recommend that you read How to Get the Most Out of Trade Shows, by Steve Miller.

Also, please check out some of my previous posts on trade shows, including “What to bring during Trade Show,” “Good Questions to Ask during Trade Show,” and “What to do after Exhibiting at a Trade Show.”

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.

What to do after exhibiting at a trade show

You just returned from your first trade show. You are both tired and excited. You have plenty of leads to call. You are anxious to start dialing.

But before you start making any calls, what did you learn from the trade show? What were the key takeaways?

It’s always a good idea to sit down with others who attended the show with you and analyze how well you did, and how you could improve at the next show.

trade show, exhibit boothsHere is a checklist of what you should discuss –

1). Did you obtain the number of leads that you expected? If you have gone to the same trade show in the past, that should be a good measuring stick on how well you did. If you fell short this year compared to last year, what happened? Was attendance down compared to last year? Were you in a bad location? Was your booth too small? Did you have enough people managing the booth this year compared to last year? Could you have done a better job publicizing the event prior to exhibiting at the show?

If this is the first time your company attended the trade show, did it meet your expectations? If not, what do you think happened? Would you attend the same event next year?

Sometimes it’s not the quantity but the quality of the leads that matter. Sure, maybe you had fewer leads than expected or the year before, but if you need a better job this year qualifying your leads, you may actually obtain better sales.

2). Exhibit Booth Location. Were you in a location with good walk-thru traffic? If not, is there a better location that you can select for next year? At most trade shows that I’ve attended, the prime location is always near the front entrance. However, that location is usually expensive. The next best location is at a corner, or near a heavy walk thru areas like the restrooms or food court area. Depending on the number of exhibitors, booth location may not make much of a difference. For example, I’ve attended trade shows where you only had 15 to 20 booths. So no matter where you were located, you would expect prospects to eventually stop by.

3). Exhibit Booth Size. Was your booth large enough to attract more prospects? If not, does it make sense to make the booth larger next year? At larger trade shows were you have 50 or more exhibitors, and 5,000 plus attendees, size does matter. Depending on the length of the trade show, not all attendees are going to have time visiting each booth. So if you have a larger booth, have more displays, and have more literature, you stand a better chance of attending more prospects.

4). Pre Show Publicity. Did you do enough to publicize that your company was exhibiting at the trade show? Did you promote the event well on your website? Did you send out enough emails to your clients and prospects before the show? Did you use social media (e.g., Twitter, Facebook) effectively prior to exhibiting at the show?  If you were lucky enough to obtain the attendee list prior to the show, did you do an effective job publicizing your booth? Would it have been a good idea calling attendees prior to the show?

5). Enough Booth Coverage. Did you have enough people working the booth this year? Did you have too many attendees walk away because there weren’t enough employees managing the booth to help them?

I hope the above checklist will help you in future trade shows. Please let me know if you have any suggestions.