Top 10 Tips of a Successful Exhibitor


1. Set Goals

Too often people have no idea why they are exhibiting. They don’t know why they are on the stand, what the business is hoping to achieve or how “success” will be measured. You MUST know why you are there and “Branding” doesn’t count unless you have a strategy on how to measure any shift in brand awareness.

When asked why you are exhibiting, it is too easy to say “our competition is here”, “we did it last year”, “it’s our industry show”, “if we don’t do it, our competition will” or “it feels like the right thing to do”. These are not valid reasons. They are contributing factors but not reason enough alone.

Like all goals, your exhibiting goals have to be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time sensitive. How many sales, how many leads, what level of increase in brand awareness, how many people at new product launch, what level of customer feedback, what kind of customer research, how many join the loyalty program.

Once you know why you are exhibiting, make sure everyone on the stand knows the goal, that way they can work towards it.

2. Pre Market

When you talk about Exhibiting, most people get all excited about how sexy the booth will look and what else will be at the show. Hardly anyone takes the opportunity to do the pre-marketing work prior to the show.

Don’t depend on the show organiser to bring in the crowds. Do your own marketing to your prospects, existing customers, target market and loyal fans to get them to the show. Consider a private function for your high worth clients to say thank you and have them bring an industry friend.

Use the fact you are exhibiting as a focus of additional marketing. Consider a billboard near the exhibition hall or the airport (if people will be flying in for it). Maybe a joint venture advert with the exhibition organiser. What can you do to let others know that you own this space?

Whatever you do, don’t just wait for people to turn up on the day. Be proactive to get your target market to your stand and to the show. Typically the organiser will give you free tickets as part of your fee to exhibit. Be certain to use them to their best advantage.

3. Booth Set Up

Don’t forget the booth is not about you. You think it is, your marketing department will insist it is, but it’s not. It is about your customer and your prospect. What will they want? What do you want them to do? Make sure you set it up so it is EASY for them to do what you want them to.

If you have signage make sure it is at eye height or above. If you put it low, one person in front of it blocks it for everyone.

If you want them to put their business card in a bowl, put the sign next to the bowl and make it easy to read.

If you have a show discount, have signage to let them know. A sign saying, “Ask me about the show discount” gets them engaging in a conversation. A sign saying, “50% off” gets them salivating. What do you want them to do?

By the way, it is ok to change the booth around. If what you have got is not working, move it. People from the morning session or the day before won’t remember and it may just be the boost to your show that you need.

4. Plan for the Worst

In business (and in life) a motto for success is “Expect the best and plan for the worst”. As an exhibitor, this is your motto to live by. Plan on couriers not arriving, luggage being lost, signs falling down, your location changing and you won’t be disappointed.

At an international show, an exhibitor’s portable and easy-to-build stand did not arrive until noon of the third and final day of the show. Forklifts have pierced expensive machinery just as the show was being set up.

A trade show training colleague arrived at a trade show only to be told his exhibit had been moved as they had secured a high paying sponsor and they were now in his spot. He had done a load of pre-show marketing and was no longer at the stand number he had told his clients.

Deal with this by taking a deep breath and being prepared. Have a tool kit of gaffer tape, packing tape, scissors, Velcro, pins, and anything else you think you may need. Carry some key posters and brochures with you on your carry-on luggage so that in a worst case you can stick some posters up in the booth space and engage with people.

Disasters occur on a regular basis in the exhibition world. What counts most is your ability to engage with people and satisfy their needs with your products and services. Not your booth, your location, your freebies, your branding or any other item. Make sure you can keep your cool and deliver when all around you is going to hell.
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5. Have Pick Up Lines

Exhibiting at a Trade Show, Expo, Market or Conference is exactly like speed dating. You are at a place surrounded by people who want what you’ve got. They are nervous, hesitant, shy and scared of making the wrong move to the wrong potential partner. You need to get their attention, attract them to what you’ve got and engage them into a lifelong, mutually beneficial relationship.

One thing that has proven itself for centuries is the well delivered pick up line. Make sure you have some. Naturally different ones work on and for different people. Find one that works for you and use it.

Make sure it is about the prospect and not about you. The reality is no-one cares about you; they are focussed on their own needs. Find out what the majority of your prospects are after and make it about that. Be a bit playful too. Business can be so boring so spice it up with some playful and humorous lines.

If the lines you have are not working, change them. If the ones you used successfully yesterday are not working this morning, change them. Do what it takes to get their attention and then engagement.

6. Have Lead Cards

Collecting business cards is not enough. They are overwhelming and do not give a focus on what you need to do next. Have simple lead cards you can staple to the business card. This lead card can capture some basic but important info. Items like:
  • Priority – are they an A, B or C prospect
  • Interest – what product or service are they interested in
  • Follow-up – what day of the week is best to follow-up with them
  • Budget – do they have a budget set aside for this purchase
  • Reason – what is their main reason to buy
  • Existing – who is their existing supplier

You can have a lot of this information in a checklist format so that a few simple ticks on an A5 sheet will give you valuable information you can use in your follow-up call.

7. Be Present

If you are on the show floor, be on the show floor. Turn off your phone or computer (better still, leave them at home or in the room), focus on the prospect, and work toward achieving your goals. It is too easy to be distracted. Your firm will have spent tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars for your time on the stand. Give those few days everything you’ve got.

Your feet will hurt. Wear your most comfortable shoes and toughen up. It’s only for a few days. DO NOT sit down. You will lose money. People will not approach you, you will start chatting to colleagues and not be present to the reason you are there.

Use the opportunity to market your booth. Have your out of office message on your phone and email tell everyone where you are and to come and visit, otherwise you will get back to them AFTER the show. Your job back at the office will wait and if it can’t have a well-trained back up dealing with it. The show floor is your job for the limited time it is on so give it everything.

If there was one tip of the ten to focus on, this would be it. Be there for your prospects and customers. The rest of the world will wait while you are on the floor.

8. Follow Up

The half-life of interest in you and your product after you exhibit is 2 business days. By that I mean, in 2 days, they are half as interested as they were on the floor. Another 2 business days, they are half as interested again and so on.

What this means for you is book out the 2 days directly after you exhibit. These 2 days are to be used for follow up. Naturally you will have mountains of emails and phone messages. They will wait another two days, your show prospects won’t.

While a bulk email to your visitors may be easy, it is nowhere near as effective and results generating as a phone call. This is where your lead cards pay off big time. It is during the follow-up time that you put your visitors into your standard sales cycle and start the process with your A priority and B priority visitors.

9. Measure

What gets measured gets improved. You also need to measure if your exhibit process was a success. Look back to your original goals, did you achieve them? If not, why not? What level of success have you experienced? What is the return on your investment?

Only by measuring can you establish whether you will exhibit at this particular event again next time. Granted you may need to commit to a couple of shows before you can measure the results but it is essential to measure your exhibiting success.

10. Have Fun

As mentioned earlier, trade shows are speed dating, so have some fun with it.

People would much prefer to do business with people they like. Enjoy your time on the floor. It is an absolute buzz and you will meet some amazing people as you do it.

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