There we were, two marketing warhorses swapping stories over scotch one evening.  The conversation swung to trade shows. My colleague had just returned from a series of shows across North America and, knowing I’m generally a trade show skeptic, rubbed my nose in how successful they’d been.

    Harrumphing, I asked him to enlighten me with the secret to his success.

    “Simple”, he said.  “Just recognize that nowadays trade shows aren’t really about generating leads, they are about closing them.”

    It used to be that trade shows were one of the best ways to get in front of a relevant audience and raise market awareness. Then they got too expensive and were overtaken by digital marketing techniques. Now more and more marketers are exhibiting at trade shows assuming that attendees have already heard about their company.

    The objective isn’t so much to create interest as to deepen an existing impression or relationship already established on-line or through PR. The trade show booth is a showroom for prospects to kick tires and interact with subject matter experts thereby advancing the buying process.

    When a trade show is meant as a lead qualifier rather than a lead generator, you need to think a little differently:

      • Ensure your website, social media and media relations are doing the job of generating prospects in the first place.

      • Use direct marketing to invite prospects to meet subject matter experts at your booth.  Use a specific issue-related theme or an announcement as part of the invitation.

      • Task your sales reps with scheduling booth tours and executive meetings.  Monitor their progress leading up to the event.

      • Your execs will be attending the event, right?  If the trade show isn’t important enough for at least one of your top executives to attend, why would you expect any prospective customers to be there?

      • Demonstrate your products!  It seems obvious but the great advantage that a trade show has over a website is the chance to be hands-on in the presence of a real expert like a product manager or sales engineer.

      • Have an ironclad lead management process. Rent badge scanning equipment – it’s expensive but worth it.

      • Get on the speaking agenda.  Nothing pulls people into the booth like a good presentation during the conference. If you don’t think you have a strong enough topic to propose to the trade show organizers, why are you there at all?

      • Save your money on in-show advertising and sponsorships.  Unless you are a top tier player, the money is better spent on a larger booth, meeting rooms, more staff on site and customer entertainment.  When considering any spending, ask yourself, “will this help move a prospect through the sales cycle?”

      • If in doubt about the value of a trade show, don’t exhibit.  Send salespeople or subject matter experts to network, generate leads and assess the quality of the attendees instead.

    This isn’t an exhaustive guide to great trade shows.  But it does show the mindset needed to plan an event that will move prospective customers through the buying process.  Yes, trade shows are back in vogue, but with a twist – qualifying and closing leads.  Even a trade show skeptic like me has to admit there’s merit in that.


    This article was published more than 1 year ago. Some information may no longer be current.