Trade Show Marketing for Beginners

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Image result for trade show marketing

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a couple of trade shows. I work in sales and trade shows are an excellent opportunity to create leads that will hopefully lead to sales.  It’s also a great way to see how other businesses operate.  My employer (a travel agency) hosted a show that was targeted specifically for travel.  The other show was hosted by the Knoxville (Tennessee) Chamber of Commerce and typically includes over 100 local businesses.  Unfortunately, the show that was being handled by the chamber of commerce had been cancelled because of the coronavirus. So I’m going to use the information from past shows and other sources for this document.  

I’ve tried to lay out this information out in three easy steps…before…during…and after. 

Once you have made the decision to attend a trade show there are a few things you and your organization need to do before the actual show.  

Before the show

The first thing you need to do is prepare.  You should start as early as possible.  Get your team together, decide how many people need to be there and what will their responsibilities be?  You don’t want a bunch of people in the booth just milling about with nothing to do. Make sure to create and order any brochures you may need for the booth.  It’s also very important that everyone who will be representing the company has enough business cards, there are not many things worse than running out of business cards at a trade show.  Also, think about your table and space. This might be the most important aspect of your show. What kind of props or decorations should you have? Do you just have a table or do you have a big booth? What kind of give-aways or promotional items does your organization want to have?  Trade shows can be a big expense for your company so you want to make sure that your team prepares early to ensure that you have a successful show.

 The show that my employer hosted a couple weeks ago was specifically for travel.  It was hosted in the ballroom of a hotel so space was a little limited. We had all the major travel vendors in attendance, i.e., Royal Caribbean, Viking, Trafalgar, etc, about twenty five in all.  Everyone had a nice big table with electricity so they could have slideshows, music, or lights, but the vendor couldn’t put up any awnings or things hanging from the ceiling.  The tables were 8 feet long by 2.5 feet wide. The vendor could pretty much decorate or display however they wanted as long as it didn’t interfere with the trade show traffic or other vendors.  All the travel vendors had the same size space.  Also, during our travel show we had a separate area where the various travel vendors were giving presentations and having question and answer sessions.



The trade show hosted by the chamber is held in a much bigger space but had a lot more rules.  Businesses can choose what kind of booth they want. An organization could choose between a “standard” or “premium” booth.  The standard booth included one standard size table, 2 chairs, 1 6×3 foot sign placed next to the table, no electricity and no wifi. The premium booth would get you the same table and chairs as with a standard booth but also the ability to have a backdrop, freestanding props, and electricity.





Next your team needs to set goals.  What are you trying to accomplish with the trade show?  Will your team be trying to make actual sales or just network?  If you’ll be selling you’ll need a dedicated space for that, a table and chairs, maybe a space that is a little more private.  Keep that in mind because you’ll only have so much space to work with.  

At my employers travel trade show we had most of a whole floor at a hotel.  There was a specific room where the travel vendors set up their tables and then a separate area for the travel agents to sit down with attendees to discuss travel options and actually make sales.  Both the vendor area and sales area were comfortable and inviting.


At the chamber trade show my company focuses on networking and letting other attendees know about all of the services that we provide.  We focus on the sales when we are back in the office. During this show we’ll have a couple people stationed at the booth while the others go out into the exhibit space and network.  Then after a little while we’ll switch and let our other colleagues go have some fun networking. That seems to be what the other attendees focus on as well, making connections, networking, and having fun.  


During the show 

Now it’s the big day! Make sure to get a good night’s sleep the night before, you’ll need it.  Get to the show early to make sure that everything is set up correctly and if not you’ll have some time to fix any issues that may arise.  

How does the booth look?  Take a step back and look at it from the attendees point of view, it should be warm and inviting yet also unique.  First impressions are everything!  Attendees should be able to see your booth from afar and it should be memorable. There will probably be hundreds of booths and yours needs to stand out.  During the show don’t forget to keep the booth well-kept.  Make sure that any stock stays maintained, that everything looks neat and tidy and that there isn’t any trash anywhere. Make sure to have some cool promotional items and giveaways.  These can be small items that will help attendees remember who you are.  And also advertise for you! I thought this article had some good ideas for trade show merch, something other than paper fans and ink pens,

Image result for trade show marketing giveaways






I think that one thing that goes unmentioned a lot of the time are the people who are manning the booth.  The people in the booth should be personable and friendly, they should be able to speak to other people and not stand around with their arms crossed.  Your team members should make sure to make eye contact and speak with visitors.  Be courteous and polite and thank them for visiting. Yes, getting a good night’s sleep is very important. It is also important to stay hydrated and away from the alcohol. Many trade shows give out drink tickets but I think it’s a good idea for employees to stay away from those.  Yes, our team members should have fun at a trade show but they are also there to work. I’ve seen too many people take advantage of those free drinks and make a fool not only of themselves but also of their company and that is a huge liability.   Will your team have a dress code?  Many companies nowadays have branded apparel.  It’s a cheap and easy way to market your company and also look professional.  This is the case with my company, any event we attend we must wear branded apparel.  Remember your team is the face of your organization.  I found the following article about trade show booth etiquette to be really informative and helpful

Lastly…have fun!  If you are having fun and engaging with other attendees you will show how fun your company is, “Hey, come over here and have fun with us!” No one wants to go into a boring booth and talk to boring people.   Again, don’t forget to post on social media.  Take pictures of your team and the attendees who visit your booth and post them with the trade show hashtag.  Show your followers all of the fun you are having, show them some of the things that are going on in your booth and also at the show, engage with your social media.Image result for trade show fun


After the show

You made it! You had a successful show and now it’s time to debrief.  Get your team together and discuss the show. What were the strengths?  What were the weaknesses? How can your team improve to have a better show next year?  When my team and I debriefed after our travel show this year we came up with a few things that worked really well and some that didn’t.  We really liked the area where the agents set up their space to meet with clients, it was inviting and made the attendees feel comfortable.  We had some confusion when attendees arrived, however.  They were to register before the show and then check in when they arrived.  The check in table was in an out of the way place which led to attendees wandering around and looking lost.  Not really a good impression.  

Think back to what your goals were and measure your results, think about your ROI.  Did they include making sales? If so, was that goal accomplished?  If your team was at the show last year how do this years results compare to last year? Was the goal to network and generate leads? How did that go?  Our travel show was actually very successful considering what is currently going on in the world.  During the four hours that the event was going on we had nearly 300 attendees, made 25 future appointments, and made 6 on the spot bookings.  This is a little down from last year, because of the virus issue, but we knew that going in and were prepared for it. 

Also, in the debriefing I like to discuss things such as the table and promotional items.  Was the table laid out in an effective way? Was there something that was inhibiting or getting in the way?  Could there be something we didn’t have this year that we can use next year?  How were the promotional items received?  Was there something that was a big hit and something else that fell flat?  If so, you’ll want to note that for when you are ordering items for the next trade show.  You don’t want to end up with a 1000 paper fans when it 10 degrees outside.

Lastly, follow up with the people you met, make phone calls and send thank you notes.  I recommend doing this in the first week after the show. In the past at the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce show my team tries to get a business card from every business who is present.  When we get back to the office we split the cards between us and start making connections and building relationships.  Many people either wait too long to follow up or don’t even follow up at all.  Following up is a huge opportunity to build a relationship and hopefully turn a lead into a sale. Also, don’t forget to post on social media. Post a thank you and maybe tag some of the people and organizations that you networked with.  

Trade shows can be very important for your company, it can be one of the best ways to make a deal. It is a great way to meet new people and hopefully build your business.  Your companies success at the trade show can be measured by how much effort you put into it.  Trade shows are big investment and important to your business.  Make it worth it.

Authored by Shannon Gibson



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