6 Steps to Maximize Your Trade Show Experience

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We've been to a lot of trade shows, expos, and conferences recently. Each time we do better than the time before, and it's because we're constantly trying to improve the experience - our experience and the experience of everyone around us.

Every time we go, we learn something new and figure out how to implement that into what we're already doing.

The following is what we've learned throughout this process. If these events are part of your strategy, like they are for us, you need to walk through each of these six steps to maximize your trade show experience.

1. Know Your Purpose

Too many people register for trade shows without first asking themselves important questions.

Vendors tend to follow the general idea that if their company gains exposure and creates conversations by being there, it's worth it. This isn't necessarily wrong, but it's not clearly defined. And when has anyone ever succeeded with unclear goals?

Know who's going to be there. Know what you want. Know what you’re going to do.

Clarify your reason for being there, and even your plan of action, before you register. Solidify your priorities and goals as a company, and apply them to this event.

Then you've got to quantify your goals. How many new customers should you obtain from this one event, and how many people do you need to speak with to do that?

Should you be trying to partner with other vendors? How many connections do you need to make?

Before deciding to attend a trade show, know your purpose for going and know what goals you ought to accomplish. If it makes sense (common and financial), then register. If it doesn't, don't waste your time!

2. Let Everyone Know

If you’ve completed step one and decided to register for a trade show, then it’s time to let everyone know you’re going.

You should have at least one person, if not an entire team, dedicated to letting the appropriate communities know where you’ll be and when.

Continually update various social media channels. Ask others to interview your group, and share those interviews with appropriate publishers.

Create a buzz around your attendance. Connect with other vendors and attendees beforehand to maximize the trade show itself.

Who knows, you may be able to accomplish everything you want before the trade show even starts.

3. Engage Attendees

If you’ve heeded the first two steps, you now have clear goals for the event, and people are looking forward to seeing you.

Now you need to engage those walking around to obtain X number of leads that will turn into Y number of sales.

Think of attendees as kids in a freshly stocked Toys-R-Us (unless all the attendees paid attention to this article). Whimsical and excited, most see a cornucopia of goods in front of them without any framework as to what they want.

Just like children, they will flock to the first thing that catches their attention.

How do you stand out like the hottest new toy?

Related: 4 Forms of Engagement Marketing to Grow Your Business

Bring in your own carpet, and choose a color that pops with the center's floor (which can probably be found on Google Images) - maybe turquoise or lavender, maybe red or gold, maybe lime green or teal.

Make sure you have some kind of lighting to brighten up your space. A brighter space stands out and grabs attention. It also temporarily heightens brain function, allowing for a more consuming conversation.

Make your space approachable and comfortable for everyone walking by. Giving someone a comfortable seat when they’re tired from walking around is a great way to start conversations.

After you've got an awesome space, what's keeping you from reaching out to engage with people? You don't have to wait for people to come to you. You can go get them! Walk out of the booth - a little, a lot, all over the place.

Spark conversations that will grab attendees' attention, and cause them to want to be in your booth. Like fishing, if you can real attendees into your booth, you'll eat well.

4. Give Them Something to Remember You

Congratulations on making it through step three. But what happens after attendees leave your booth? A sure-fire way to make people remember you is by giving out free items.

Be careful. Choose an item that both accurately represents what you do and will appeal to your clientele.

If you work in home construction or renovation, maybe give out branded coasters. If you work in cosmetics, maybe give out free samples with your logo. If you work in IT, maybe give out phone cases. Surprisingly, T-Shirts have worked well for us.

When you give out an item, you want to make sure it will both be used by your target audience, and remind them of what you do.

Whatever you choose, beware of individuals looking around for all the free stuff. When you find yourself in conversation with these “trick-or-treaters" (and you will) be sure to keep the conversation short.

Like relationships, don’t waste your time when someone else is sincerely interested in you.

5. Close Business & Make Money

Having succeeded at the previous four steps, it’s time for you to make money. Your goal for a trade show is likely to bring in more customers and make sales.

In an ideal situation, that means closing the deal in side the booth, not necessarily leaving with a list of two hundred leads.

If you can close sales on-site, by all means do so. As an expert in what you do, it ought to be easy enough for you to ask for the sale once you've got them on the hook.

With everyone who approaches your booth, discuss the issue at hand - the issue your service solves. Walk with individuals through what they are already doing. Learn what their pains are.

Ask if they could see the service you offer benefiting them or solving the problems they've just shared with you.

If they like what you do, and they're able to make business purchasing decisions, many will commit on the spot.

If there's some factor keeping them from buying right then, ask them how they would like you to follow-up with them, and when.

Make it a priority to reach out in the way they specify, at the exact time they specify (if applicable). Some people never answer phone calls. Some only email. Some only text. Find out how your lead prefers to communicate before they leave your booth.

Otherwise, you'll never reach them.

6. Follow-Up

If you’ve followed the first five steps, then you’re ready for what is arguably the most important, and one of the most overlooked, aspects of acquiring new business - closing leads after the event.

Get their business card, have them text you, get them on an email drip campaign, do whatever you can. The important thing is that you don't lose touch with anyone interested, even if they weren't able to purchase at that particular moment.

Trade show vendors often neglect to differentiate their leads appropriately. Crucial to closing business is knowing who is ready to buy.

Sort your leads accordingly. E.g., A-Leads are decision makers who recognize their need for your service, have the budget for it, and are ready to talk implementation; B-Leads are those very interested who lack one of the characteristics of A-Leads; C-Leads are people you came in contact with who were simply polite enough to seem genuinely interested (“trick-or-treaters” tend to fall into this category).  

Start with A-Leads, and reach out the following business day to close (or at least get a timeline) through the communication means that attendee prefers.

Having followed these simple steps, you will now have maximized your trade show experience, and its ROI! You're now ready to repeat these steps in planning for your next show. Congrats!

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