10 Critical Steps to Trade Show Success (2020 Update)

Exhibiting at a trade show is a crucial part of your overall marketing plan, not just a way to make some quick sales. Your presence will reinforce your company’s brand recognition and define its position in the marketplace. Trade shows offer you the opportunity to garner positive publicity, generate leads, discover new suppliers and find out what your competitors are doing. A trade show filled with your ideal customers is the perfect place to network and learn about the latest developments in your industry.

To make your trade show planning a success, take the time to do some advance preparation and follow these 10 Steps.

1 Identify Your Trade Show Goals

1. Define your Trade Show Goals

Setting clear objectives can help you determine if the trade show was a success. Identifying your goals will also help you calculate your Return on Investment (ROI) when the show is over. Standard trade show goals include showcasing your company’s best differentiator, introducing new product lines, building customer relationships and gaining valuable exposure to new prospects. Setting goals ahead of time will help make every decision you make after this point infinitely easier.


2 Choose The Right Trade Show

2. Choose the Right Trade Show

Contrary to what you may believe, selecting the trade show that will best suit your company is not so easy. There are thousands of shows held annually, and you will want to choose one that draws enough vendors and customers for your products and services. Consider the geographic location of the show and the time of year it is scheduled. Find out about companies in your industry that plan to attend, and factor in costs for travel and transporting exhibition materials. After making your decision, sign up early so you can snag a good location for your booth.


3 Set A Trade Show Budget

3. Set a Realistic  Show Budget

Trade shows present a myriad of opportunities for overspending, so it is a good idea to set a budget right up front to avoid the pitfalls. Your exhibit space at the trade show usually represents about a quarter of the total trade show budget, excluding personnel. Be sure to figure in the cost of building and transporting the exhibit, lighting, signage, printed materials and promotional items as well as travel expenses.


4 Create A Tradeshow Checklist

4. Create a Trade Show Checklist

Successfully participating in a trade show involves a ridiculous amount moving parts, and you need to coordinate them well in advance. Working with a checklist will ensure you stay on track. Train the staff and make travel arrangements several months ahead of time, and touch base with customers, prospects, and distributors to inform them of the show dates early on so they can plan accordingly. Order printed materials like posters, logo shopping bags, direct mail postcards and promotional materials beforehand, and assemble information packets in advance. Allow plenty of time to build and transport the exhibit. If remembering the exhaustive list of tasks seems too daunting, and you want to save some time, I know where you can buy a sweet Trade Show Checklist that will make you a trade show Rockstar!  (Spoiler: It’s mine. I love shameless plugs)


5 Attract Attention To Your Booth

5. Attract Attention at the show

You will want to create an open and inviting exhibit with that “wow factor” that attracts attention and draws people to your booth. Prepare an oversized logo of your company that will be clearly visible from a distance, and use bold colors and curves in the design of the trade show booth. Incorporate a strategically placed lighting truss to add drama and impress customers. If possible, set aside an area where visitors can speak to a company representative comfortably. Building a remarkable exhibit can be expensive, but keep in mind that you can use it again at future trade shows to amortize your initial cost.


Plan A Trade Show 6 Train Your Trade Show Staff 1

6. Train your Booth Staff

Sales people in your organization may be used to dealing with customers, but others may need practice. Role playing ahead of time is a good way to train your staff so they’ll know how to present the company in the best light, generate leads and close sales. Think about the message you would like to send to the potential customers who stop at your booth. Choose a few key points and stay on message in the brief time your staff will spend with each customer and prospect.


Plan A Trade Show 7 Strength In Booth Staff Numbers 1

7. Strength in Numbers

Trade shows run long hours during the day and into the night, which is to your advantage. Make sure you have adequate help at the booth so that you can allow your staff to take much-needed breaks every so often. Booth staff should present themselves as friendly and knowledgeable about your products, even if they are part-timers, friends or relatives filling in for permanent staff.


8 Target Your Tradeshow Marketing

8. Target your Show Marketing

Marketing efforts for a trade show start well before the show date. Make appointments with existing customers and prospects ahead of time, and promote your exhibit booth by direct mail, email, phone calls, and reminders in advance of the show. Once your customers step into the trade show, many distractions are competing for their attention. Sweeten the deal by distributing discount cards or other promotions before the show to increase the likelihood that they will stop by at your booth to see you.


9 Promote Your Tradeshow

9. Everybody loves Free Stuff

Promotional concepts for your trade show booth range from simple giveaways like pens printed with your logo, shirts, and mugs, to over-the-top attention-getting gimmicks like money blowing machines. Sometimes tried and true ideas are best. If you decide on promotional giveaways, the idea is to pick something useful that has staying power, like a calendar that the customer will use after the show. Or, if your business warrants a more expensive item, try an LED flashlight or a portable phone charger kit.


10 Track Your Tradeshow Leads

10. Track your Trade Show Leads

Try preparing a simple lead card with checkoff boxes for the most important qualifying questions and space for notes to use at the trade show. The information generated will be crucial when following up on leads. Make sure all the lead cards are kept in a safe place so they do not get lost in the excitement of the show.


After the trade show, compare your original list of goals you created in Step 1 with your accomplishments, and take the time to analyze your ROI so you can plan for the future. You may be surprised at how successful the show was in building customer relationships, generating leads and obtaining exposure for your company and product lines.

An Infographic for your sharing pleasure!

10 Steps To Trade Show Success Infographic

An animated Gif for your sharing pleasure!

Trade Show Animated Gif

5 thoughts on “10 Critical Steps to Trade Show Success (2020 Update)”

  1. Hello Rick,
    Love your list! At myfairtool we provide a free solution that follows exactly your suggestions: budget, plan, capture leads, follow-up. We just add one more step – monitor. We help exhibitors actually visualize their results – cost per lead, total income, total expenses, number of conversions, etc.
    Only a proper Return On Investment calculation can tell you whether joining an event was worth your time and sweat.
    Thanks for the great list!

  2. Pingback: The Definitive Guide to Trade Show Marketing (2020)

  3. It makes sense to attract people to your booth at a trade show by adding a “wow factor” that will draw attention. In my opinion, a good “wow factor” to add to your booth would be some sort of entertainment. A good example of this could be an artist that does live cartoons while you work the crowd.

  4. Thanks for sharing this valuable knowledge! This can be an invaluable content for both newcomers and seasoned exhibitors. And I couldn’t agree more on your advice for success at trade shows! Your emphasis on thorough preparation, engaging booth design, and meaningful connections resonates with my own experiences.

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