10 Tips for Bringing Your A-Game to Tradeshows

If you’ve ever been to an industry tradeshow, you’ve seen them. Those booths that look like they have an interesting product you’d like to learn more about, but the booth set-up and staff say, “go away, we have more important things to do.”Tradeshows are a high stakes gamble with your precious marketing resources. Where else do you spend $20,000 in 2-3 days and take multiple people out of the office who could be working on other things, with virtually no opportunity to course correct once you’re there? If you’re going to make tradeshows a profitable marketing program, you have to bring you’re A-game or your risk blowing a bunch of money with nothing to show for it.

Here are 10 tips to make your next tradeshow a success:

  1. Have a goal, and hold everyone to it.

In my view, tradeshows aren’t a branding tactic. Sure, there is value in having your brand visible to your prospects attending tradeshows, but at the end of the day, all of our marketing programs at Trada are about generating qualified opportunities that lead to sales.  So before you decide to attend a tradeshow, determine what it’s going to cost you, what your target cost per lead or close is, and then set goals for leads and qualified opportunities for the show. If you don’t think there are enough attendees at the show to meet that goal, skip it.

Everyone working the booth should know what the goals are and be held accountable for meeting them. It will set the tone for everyone working with the booth and keep them focused on the task at hand. Your booth team should track their progress to goals hourly throughout the show to be sure they’re on pace to meet the goal.

  1. Get everyone on your tradeshow team in the loop and on message.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen people in booths next to ours show up late, with no clue about the show’s focus, session topics, show floor hours, etc. At Trada, several days before we leave for a tradeshow, the marketing manager in charge of the show will hold a meeting with everyone who’s attending to review the show logistics (location, floor layout, hours, etc.), goals, key session topics and messaging.

Then, everyone attending is required to practice pitching in a role-play atmosphere. Even those of us who have been with Trada for years need some brushing up on our latest messaging before we go in front of prospective customers. Don’t waste the first 2 hours of the tradeshow freshening up on your pitch in front of real prospects.

  1. Don’t leave anything to chance.

As I said earlier, you’re about to spend tens of thousands of dollars in a couple days when you choose to exhibit at a tradeshow. Now is not the time to assume everything will “work out fine”. Track all of your packages to be sure they get to the show as expected. Pack extension cords and extra light bulbs for your booth. If you need an internet connection, make sure you have a back-up plan in case it goes down – load your product demo locally to a laptop, or have a PowerPoint demo version ready to go in case you need it. Nothing is worse than being on the show floor when you realize a key part of your presence didn’t make it or isn’t working properly. Expect the best, but plan for the worst.

  1. Ditch the director’s chairs.

I don’t let my team order chairs for our booth. Ever. The reason is simple – when you get tired (and you will), you’ll sit down. And when you sit down, you’ll relax and disengage. The next thing you know, you’ll be sitting in the back of the booth watching prospects glance at your booth and walk on by. Not everyone will march right into your booth and engage with you. It’s your responsibility to engage them. You can’t do that sitting in the back of your booth.

And with the money you save by not renting chairs, you can buy everyone a pair of Dr. Sholes!

  1. No phones, no texting, no emailing, no exceptions.

Remember when I said if you sit down you disengage? 10x that disengagement when mobile phones are involved. Nothing says, “go away!” like someone in a booth who’s on the phone, texting, or checking their email. I know it’s challenging to keep up with work going on at the office when you’re on the show floor, but you may as well stay home if you’re just going to work from the booth, because you certainly aren’t going to have good conversations with interested prospects.

And if you absolutely have to take a call, leave the booth entirely and talk somewhere else so you don’t reflect poorly on passersby.

  1. Skip the padded carpet.

I know lots of exhibitors put a premium on paying for the super-cushy carpet padding, thinking that it’ll: a) attract more people to their booth who are looking for a soft place to stand and b) make life a little more comfy for their booth team.

In my experience, the people who come by your booth for a cushy spot to stand aren’t qualified prospects, so you’re wasting time chit-chatting with someone who’s probably never going to buy from you. And if your booth team is doing their job, they’ll be out in the aisle in front of your booth, so they won’t get to enjoy its cushy goodness anyway.

  1. Take your demo mobile with an iPad.

Shortly after iPads were launched, we bought a couple to bring to tradeshows and it fundamentally changed the way we did product demos in the booth. No longer did we have to take up space in the booth with tables, monitors and laptops. No longer did we have to interrupt our conversation with a prospect to drag them into the booth to see our demo. We were able to demo from wherever we were standing in a very natural way, and could pass the iPads around seamlessly to other team members in the booth. And we could take our demo with us wherever we went – on the show floor, to sessions, to lunch, etc. The form factor of an iPad is ideal for showing off your product. If you haven’t integrated an iPad or other tablet into your tradeshow repertoire, give it a try.

  1. Save partying for the last day of the tradeshow.

We’ve all either experienced it ourselves or seen people walking onto the show floor the second day after the big sponsored parties dragging, droopy eyed and hung over. You’re definitely not bringing you’re A-game in this state, and it will show in your performance in the booth.

I think going out to parties in conjunction with tradeshows are a great way to meet others in the industry, and can be great team building too. But remember that you’re there to generate qualified leads, so keep the partying in check and get a good night’s sleep. You’re gonna need it to be ready for the next day! If you want to go nuts while you’re in a new city, save it for when the show is over.

  1. Be on and engaged at all times

I don’t prohibit phones, chairs and padded carpet in the booth because I want to make it as uncomfortable as possible for me and my teammates working the booth. I do it because they all detract from the task at hand, which is getting everyone at the show excited about what we have to offer. Trada is an amazing company! I want everyone there to learn about us. The best way to do that is to be present and engaged from the minute I step onto the floor in the morning until we wrap up that night. People want to talk to others who are smiling, excited and inviting, and they’ll pass right by you if you don’t look like you’re excited to talk to them.

    1. Route hot leads quickly

I’m always amazed at the number of times I stop by a vendor’s booth that has a solution that fits a need we have, engage in a great conversation, and then don’t hear back from them for weeks after the show. By then I’ve invariably moved onto another project or found an alternate solution. If someone stops by your booth and identifies themselves as a hot lead who is interested in buying right away, don’t let them get cold! We have a 24 hour follow-up SLA on hot leads. That means that each night after the show, someone is responsible for emailing those hot leads to the team back in Boulder to follow-up on. Some people might think this is too aggressive, but we’ve found that striking while the iron is hot yields the best results.

It’s human nature to be attracted to a crowd. The more people you have lingering around your booth to find out what all the excitement is about, the more other people follow suit. Before you know it, you’ll have a swarm of people at your booth and the energy level will go through the roof. Bring you’re A-game to your next tradeshow and be “that booth”! It’s not easy, but once you see the results, you’ll never want to do it any other way.

I’m sure you have your own list of tradeshow dos and don’ts. Share your ideas in the comments section below.

 We’re exhibiting at SMX West! Visit us at booth 319!

One response to “10 Tips for Bringing Your A-Game to Tradeshows”

  1. Anonymous

    Great post. I totally agree with you about the chairs – there’s nothing sadder than walking past a booth where the staff are sitting there grinning, desperate for you to approach them and ask about their business. For your lead generation, do you use the rented scanners or build your own lists by getting people to sign up on the spot?

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