Making Trade Shows Your Business’ Strength

Trade Shows and Small BusinessFourth quarter is not only one of the biggest retail sales seasons, but also has the greatest number of trade shows. According to Pricewaterhouse Coopers, there are 284,600 trade shows, conferences and conventions in the U.S.

Trade Shows and Small BusinessFourth quarter is not only one of the biggest retail sales seasons, but also has the greatest number of trade shows. According to Pricewaterhouse Coopers, there are 284,600 trade shows, conferences and conventions in the U.S. each year bringing in over 87 million attendees.  Learn the inside scoop on trade show success and what to avoid.



  1. Plan Ahead – Attending a trade show isn’t just about showing up. Half the battle is picking the right show for your business needs.  Start by looking for shows online that fit your target audience and industry.  Trade associations are a great first stop.  Associations can offer connections, key note speaking opportunities, marketing and insight into both customer needs and new technologies on the horizon. 


    Once you compile your initial trade show wish list, it’s time to hone it and talk budgets.  First, know that trade shows are expensive.  Even attending shows in your local market can run from several thousand to tens of thousands. Once you put some miles into the mix and add costs such as drayage to ship your trade show materials, equipment, airfare, hotel costs and food, you can be looking at substantially more. Secondly, remember that trade shows are about two main things: getting customers and creating buzz about a new product or service in order to, you guessed it, get more customers.  If you review your list, weigh the pros and cons, and discover that attending won’t help you achieve goals 1 and 2, then participation in the show is probably not a good business decision.  The wiser choice is going to the show as a registered attendee.  Visiting first allows you to better understand the show, make connections and see what your competition is doing (and spending). Then next year you’ll be better prepared for the larger expense of exhibiting your business.

  2. Market your participation. Trade shows are a big investment for business owners. One of the biggest benefits of attending is that you’ll typically receive an email and/or contact list of registrants. If your business has a marketing campaign to promote your products, then make sure that your pre-show marketing communications follow that same campaign in look and feel.  If possible, be sure that the trade show booth, collateral materials and giveaways all correspond. Don’t forget to put your booth number and a way to contact booth attendees at the show. Providing an incentive item such as an iPad is another great way to attract attendees to stop by and leave a business card. A tight theme helps to carry your message across multiple channels and, if done effectively, stays top of mind long after the attendees have left the show.

  3. Be interactive. Always, always, always bring your best and tested products to demonstrate. Provide opportunities for attendees to interact with your product – that’s why they are there! The more interactive your booth is with attendees, the more time you have to talk with them and learn their pain points, giving you the opportunity to show them how your product can be the answer to all of their business needs.

  4. Show Day(s) Survival – Trade show days are long, often hot and exhausting. In order to maintain the high level of show energy you’ll need to interact with attendees, sell your products and stay enthusiastic, it’s important to be prepared. 


    Wear comfortable shoes and bring a second pair to switch into during the day.


    Bring and drink lots of water. Talking is dehydrating and hard work for the vocal chords. Like any other set of muscles, it’s important to exercise your vocal chords before the show and do some light vocal warm-ups before you hit the show floor. Nurse Jon has a few great vocal exercises worth reviewing.


    Don’t forget to eat – healthy! It’s easy to find junk food at a trade show. It’s more challenging to find food that will actually sustain you through two or three days of trade show marathoning.  Carry granola bars, nuts or other power foods with you and try to schedule time away from the booth to recharge.

  5. Make appointments. Trade shows are a great way to make appointments with key clients or prospects.  If the show floor is too hectic to have an in-depth conversation, rent space in an adjacent conference room.

  6. Elevator Pitch – Sales experts say that every marketer should have a 60-second sales pitch they can give – that’s the same amount of time one typically spends in an elevator waiting for the right floor. Are you able to quickly relay your business’ key products and benefits? There’s limited time to capture the attention of trade show attendees, introduce yourself and pitch your product. Don’t wait until you’re at the show to write it. Start writing back at the office, read it for your co-workers and hone the message until it soars.

  7. Follow-up. Once the show is over is no time to quickly move on to the next item on your to-do list and forget the show.  Rather, book time in your calendar to do post-show wrap-up with your marketing team. Call those prospects who expressed interest, schedule meetings to meet attendees in person and thank those attendees for their time by sending personalized thank you notes.  While it may feel time consuming, these niceties and follow-up tools are the most essential part of your trade show attendance.  You went to the show to make contacts, now it’s time to work those business cards and do the sales ‘grunt’ work in order to provide them with the additional information and demonstrations they requested.

There are a ton of great opportunities to make contacts, sell products and keep your business front of mind before, during and after a trade show.  If your business invested in trade show participation, be sure to get the most bang for your investment dollars by utilizing every possible opportunity to connect with attendees.

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Please be advised that, based on current IRS rules and standards, any advice contained herein is not intended to be used, nor can it be used, for the avoidance of any tax penalty that the IRS may assess related to this matter. Any information contained in this article, whether viewed or subsequently printed, cannot be relied upon as qualified tax and accounting advice. Any information contained in this article does not fall under the guidelines of IRS Circular 230


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