Will your Trade Show be a Triumph or a Tragedy?


Ever presided over a trade show participation that turns out to be a tragedy when you hoped it would be a triumph? It would not be an uncommon occurrence.  There are so many details to worry about, sometimes you can loose your perspective. Where do you direct your effort and how do you make the most of it overall?

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Your Trade Show Purpose

Clearly, every company participating in a trade show has their own objectives and work accordingly. Some are happy to simply wave the corporate flag and do a PR exercise, whilst on the other extreme, some are selling off-the-booth, as hard as they can. Most however, exhibit at a trade show hoping to recruit new prospects, who they will then follow- up in the hope of making a sale further down the track, or perhaps gaining a steady customer who will continue to do business for a long time.


It is often said that participating in a trade show will bring out the best and the worst of your business. Its best abilities and worst failures. Trade shows are like a business Petri-dish, a temporary laboratory where all the potential business gremlins duke it out. It all happens in a very small space, in a very short time. You meet many people. They often appear enthusiastic and keen. Thy ask all kinds of “buying signal” type questions that get you excited. Then they vanish.


Clear Process

Any business worth it’s salt will have a well defined sales process designed to move sales opportunities along a path that will culminate in a sale. It all starts by qualifying the opportunity according to predefined criteria. Selling to unqualified prospects is a waste of time and effort. This is a fundamental principle of sales. Trade show visitors often look, sound, even perhaps smell qualified, but may not be. You see, a considerable proportion of trade show visitors are really just browsing with no intent to ever buy.They ask questions and want details. They look keen, they sound promising. The conversations you have are short and sharp. They give their details, you promise to follow up…..  Qualified? Well, didn’t quite get there so to be on the safe side – we’ll just follow them up. Seen this movie before?


Many exhibitors at Australian trade shows are small to medium businesses. They don’t have big teams or big budgets.  The guys who plan the stand, build the stand and man it. They are there for the entire show. They then take everything down, pack it up and go home with their enquiry sheets and business cards. They are beat. It’s a big effort. But the real work has not really begun.


The Follow-up

The “real work” is all about how you follow up and who you follow up.  Typically there are lot’s of “leads”; more, many more than you normally get in a similar time period. Following up is time and effort consuming. Uncoordinated or badly planned follow-up will have your sales team haphazardly chasing lots of red-herrings simply because the follow-up process is not properly worked out, coordinated or properly resourced and many of the “leads” are poorly qualified to begin with.


If you look at where the planning and effort goes in preparation for trade show participation, most of it is organising and preparing the exhibit. Getting the latest products and equipment organised and coordinating a myriad of details. It’s typically a big rush. The follow-up planning is left for later.


Here’s how it should work:

  1. Start your trade show planning by planning the follow-up first. To be effective, your follow-up will require thoroughness and solid implementation. If you take too long to follow up on a genuine buyer, you may find that you are too late. They will have returned to their normal routine and may have lost interest.
  2. Design your exhibition strategy such that it understands and dovetails with the follow up strategy. You will be able to get away with less booth effort and less cost.
  3. Devise a reliable classification system that will identify the A, B and C opportunities that your follow-up system will systematically deal with.
  4. Start following up on the day the enquiry was made at the show. Nothing impresses a trade show visitor more than receiving your first follow-up the very next day. You will stand out.
  5. When you follow up, never use the words “follow up”.


Don’t over invest in the exhibiting part of the trade show at the expense of the follow-up. Balance your efforts carefully so that you can shine when you get in contact with those trade show prospects after the show.  A good follow-up process will be well organised and coordinated. It will understand the buyers journey and engage the prospect. The bonus you get when you implement a good follow-up process for a trade show, is that you get a good process to use all year round. Your trade show Petri-dish prototype develops into a fully fledged treatment; a tonic for you sales effort.


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