A trade show, also known as a trade fair or exposition, is an event where members of a specific industry gather to showcase their latest products and services. Attendees can range from the general public to prospective buyers and members of the media who are interested in promoting participating businesses.
Attending a trade show as an exhibitor provides several benefits for your business, including the ability to attract new customers, expand your distribution channels, improve brand recognition, increase sales leads and generate revenue.
Additionally, attending a trade show gives you direct access to face-to-face conversations with people within your industry who have gathered in one convenient location. Lastly, if you consider yourself to be an expert in your field, exhibiting at a trade show is also an ideal opportunity for you to share your knowledge by speaking at industry events and seminars.
Given the breadth of work that goes into participating in a trade show, it can get quite intimidating to answer all the questions you ask yourself when you’re organizing your exhibit; what should the focus of your show be? What should your exhibits consist of? Should you buy exhibits or hire exhibition rentals?
Well, we’ve put together a quick checklist for how to set up for your first trade show, just in case you needed a bit of a push. If you’re a veteran, we hope you find something you’ve never seen before, or at least confirm your years of experience.
1. Research the Show
The term “exhibitor” is used to describe the company, brand, or person presenting their product at a trade show. The first step in your trade show journey is research.
- What to look for in a trade show? How big of an audience are you looking for? Are you hoping to connect with buyers at the show, or are you looking for more exposure? How far do you have to travel and what’s that going to cost? Do you need a passport? What will taxes be like if you sell at the show? Will there be other companies from your state or industry attending and competing against you? Which shows will benefit your business most this year, next year, and further out in the future?
- Who will be attending? Make sure there’s potential media coverage. Scope out who else is exhibiting so that there isn’t too much direct competition. Find out what kind of audience tends to attend so that it matches the type of customers or clients you have or want. Also, check out the event organizers’ website and social media accounts for a better idea of how many people attended previous events.
- A booth space that makes sense for your budget and goals. Will it be indoors or outside? Where will it be located among other booths (if possible)? Will it come with tables, chairs, electricity access, etc.? How much marketing collateral can you bring along and display (flyers, books/catalogs/magazines/brochures)? You also need to consider whether exhibiting on behalf of your company would make more sense than having personal branding as part of this experience—you may not want to mix those two up if they don’t align on purpose!
Once all these questions have been answered, then we can move on to planning how best everyone involved should present themselves during an exhibition event.
2. Research Your Competitors
Use your competitors as inspiration for how you want to present. Research their strategy and see what they have done in the past. Look at what they will be doing at the show and what people are saying about them on social media.
Make a note of what’s working for them—and what isn’t. Doing so can help you identify the areas where you can put a better spin on things by using different tools, tactics, or strategies than your competition.
3. Design Your Space, Then Do It Again
Designing your space is an iterative process. You’ll want to start by considering the physical space and the furniture you’ll have access to. Will you have standard tables and chairs, or will you need to provide your own? Are there any spatial considerations (for example, poles in the middle of the room) that you need to workaround?
You should also consider your message and branding for this trade show. Is it a new product launch? A chance for customers to meet with staff in person? Or just general brand awareness?
Make sure that your visual design supports this message. For example, if you’re launching a new product, make sure it’s prominently featured somewhere in your booth space. The design of a trade show exhibit needs to be different than that of a retail store—people are going through fast!
Finally, don’t be afraid to do some research on other booths at previous trade shows for inspiration.
4. Determine Your Message and the Best Way to Convey It
Determine your message. Before you can do this, you will need to define your target audience. What is their pain point? What is your unique selling proposition? Once you are clear on your audience and message, it’s time to figure out how to best convey that message. How long should it be? Will it be a more formal presentation or a simple elevator pitch? What questions should be avoided?
This will become the backbone of the trade show experience for your team. The more prepared and confident you are in this area, the more successful you will be!
5. Exhibitor Training
Start with the basics. Your team needs to know your product inside and out. It’s essential to emphasize its benefits, not just its features or technical specs. Remember that your customers need to see the value in what you’re trying to sell them.
It’s equally important to make sure everyone on your team knows what message you want to be delivered at the trade show, as well as how different visitors should be approached depending on their needs and challenges. Provide a thorough overview of the booth layout and help your team understand how they can best interact with customers as they come through.
Some companies even provide training related to capturing leads, such as when (and how) someone from your team should ask for an email address from a potential customer who shows interest in your product or service.
You can also prepare them for unhappy customers by covering common objections and ways to respond—not only will that prepare them for negative situations, but it will also help them recognize problems with their products during this training process so you can remedy these issues before the show starts.
6. Pre-Show Marketing Plan
There are several ways to advertise your presence at a trade show, and many of them can be completed six months or more in advance. The trade show you’re attending may have a pre-show marketing plan available for purchase as part of their exhibitor package.
These plans will include emails and web ads that will be sent out to the attendees with reminders about where you’re exhibiting before they arrive at the show. Also, if you have an email list of potential customers or leads, it’s important to send out multiple reminders that you’ll be attending the trade show and where you’ll be located within the convention center.
If your trade show does not provide a pre-show marketing plan, you will need to create one to make sure that all of your bases are covered when it comes time for the show itself.
7. Set-Up and Take Down On Time
It’s vital to arrange set up and take down times with the event organizers, read the event manually, and follow all rules and regulations. Being on time is essential—all equipment should be tested and working properly long before the event begins. When it comes to taking down, everything should be removed on time, including all waste and recycling materials.
If you follow these steps (and stay organized), you’ll be sure to set yourself up for a successful trade show experience.
8. Use a Follow-Up Strategy
Part of your pre-trade show planning needs to include a follow-up strategy. You need to be ready to act fast while everyone’s still thinking about the show and eager to meet up with you again. Even if you’re planning on running a contest or sending all your new contacts a gift basket, it should include some kind of in-person follow-up with each person who visited your booth.
You can use whatever contact management system you like for this task, but don’t forget that most trade shows have CRM software available for exhibitors. If you don’t have anything of your own set up yet, this is an ideal time to try out the official CRM for the event. It may not do everything you want it to do long-term, but it will help you get organized quickly and let you see what features are important from one event to another.
Whichever way your choose to organize yourself, make sure everyone who visits your booth gets entered into it! Keep track of what they did there and how interested they seemed in talking more (your booth staff should be able to help with this).
The goal is at least one meaningful follow-up email within 48 hours after the show ends—but if possible, chat with them while they’re still at the show! Don’t just add them as a contact because they said “maybe we’ll call” when you gave them a business card—they probably won’t unless something catches their eye right away.
The first trade show is the most challenging for many reasons. But if you’re prepared, it can also be the most rewarding. If you have never attended a trade show before, it would be a good idea to visit one or two on your own and see how they operate, as well as how your competitors are working their booths if they are exhibiting at the same event.
Once you’ve done some initial research on the show itself, figure out what your message is and how best to communicate that to attendees of various types. In many cases, graphic panels will work well; in others, perhaps a flat-screen monitor that plays a video loop might be more appropriate.
Conduct thorough training sessions with all of your booth staff before the start of the event. This should include setting up and taking down your booth space, but it must go beyond this! Staff should know everything there is to know about products and services being promoted at this particular event. If staff members don’t have ample knowledge on these topics, they will not do well when visitors enter their space – even with an awesome display!
In addition to knowing what sets your company apart from its competitors and understanding products and services in great detail; effective training sessions will also ensure that everyone understands “the pitch” so they can make smooth transitions between various product areas without losing sight of exactly why customers should buy from you!