12 Things I Wish I Knew...

...Before Starting Trade Shows

Once you’re thrown into the whirlwind world of trade shows, the learning curve is steep. It’s like being thrown into the deep end of the pool – you either sink or you swim. Either way, there’s a lot of flailing! And although there is nothing like hands-on experience to teach you how to maneuver the trade show life, there are a few things I wish I’d known before I started. Here they are:

1. YOUR TRADE SHOW STAFF’S EAGERNESS WILL WANE

When trade show season rolls around, everyone will have their opinions about the booth and the colors and the design. They’ll clamor to be heard with ideas swirling around in their heads. But as the show comes and goes, that same staff will grow sluggish in tracking leads from the show. Of course, the entire reason FOR the show is to garner leads and sales, which you’ll need to remind your staff of. If they don’t do the work following the show, they won’t be going to a show next year.  

2. DRAYAGE IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE WAY

Drayage rates have increased dramatically in recent years, possibly because so many exhibitors have switched to lightweight booth designs like Skyline’s. So, in order to offset the lower weight of the exhibits, drayage charges have been upped per pound. If you still design old-fashioned, heavier exhibits, the drayage costs can be a real punch in the gut. It will cost as much to move your exhibit across the convention center as it does to move it across the country.

3. IT’S HARD TO TAKE YOUR VERY FIRST LEAD AT A SHOW

We all remember that first time we worked a trade show booth and were in a nervous sweat about taking leads. Maybe you blew it several times before you got it right. Maybe you were a natural. Either way, you were probably a nervous wreck trying to successfully qualify leads in those early days. Remember, though, that the folks who visit your booth have actually PAID to come to the show and shop solutions to their companies’ current issues. You might have the answers to their problems. For that reason, make sure your staff practices the process of engage, qualify, present, and close to ensure they are comfortable taking leads.

4. TEST YOUR CONTENT FOR YOUR AV

It sounds obvious, but test your content with your monitor/ laptop prior to the exhibit shipping to the show.  This means the content needs to be done 3-4 weeks prior to the show if you are shipping “advance to warehouse.”  The number of issues that arise from different resolutions, ratios and the unforeseen is immense.  Save yourself stress and heartache… test your content at before the exhibit ships.

Mueller Video Bar

5. TRADE SHOWS ARE LESS GLAMOUR AND MORE WORK THAN THEY APPEAR

From the outside, event marketing looks alluring – jetting off to tropical locations or metropolitan cities, enjoying the best hotels and restaurants on the company tab, hob-knobbing with the top execs. From the inside, however, it’s a lot of  good old-fashioned hard work. The hours are long, the details are innumerable, the stress level is high, the physical labor is exhausting, and the road can be a lonely place away from friends, family, and the comforts of home.

6. YOU HAVE TO DO MORE THAN SHOW UP

A trade show newbie might think that just because they’ve accessed space in an event hall for a few days, they are going to walk away with pockets crammed full of leads and sales from the weekend. Nothing could be further from the truth. While your presence gives you ACCESS to a ripe bunch of attendees, YOU have to do the picking. You have to train the booth staff, design your displays, attract prospects, and qualify leads.

7. YOU HAVE TO CREATE MOMENTUM

It would be nice if you could just sail in and ride someone else’s coattails and hard work, but SURPRISE! You can’t. You have to constantly revisit the list of shows your company attends. Are they still worth attending? Are your competitors still doing those shows? Is there a market still there? Has your client base moved away from the market you’ve been targeting? Are there newer, fresher shows that would cater to your client base more successfully? 

8. STAFFING AT THE SHOW IS CRITICAL

The number one reason an attendee will remember your company is because your exhibit staff is prepared and understands their role.  We need to have hourly goals for each staffer and make sure they know what is expected of them.  Train your staff and you will get better results.  If you wing it, your results will suffer.

9. PLANNING IS CRUCIAL IN EVERY WAY

I guess it’s not IMPOSSIBLE, but it’s very hard to plan too much or too far in advance for a trade show. The earlier you map out the details of your shows, the more likely you are to avoid late fees, rush charges, and last minute purchases. Planning is a budget-saver! You’ll also be able to make smarter decisions about what you NEED to order (electrical, leads machine, carpet, etc.) and what you can probably skip (plumbing, signage, security). Keeping a detailed calendar and various lists nearby (and a thick stack of Post-It Notes) will keep you organized and on top of your show plans.

10. TRADE SHOW LABOR IS MORE EXPENSIVE THAN YOU THINK!

I remember the first time I discovered how much it would cost to hire someone else to set up my booth, hook up lights, and hang the signage. It was astronomical. And if you need labor on a Sunday, be ready to sell your kidneys or something. The union rules in most venues require you to pay a steep labor wage. To minimize these costs, you can design displays that are easier to set up, you can try to schedule setup for straight-time labor, or you can hire dependable contractors. Often, Exhibitor Appointed Contractors are worth it because they work hard to earn your repeat business. They can count on you, so you can count on them.

11. YOUR TRADE SHOW EXHIBIT IS MOST DAMAGED IN THE 10 MINUTES AFTER THE SHOW CLOSES

When the trade show ends with an announcement over the loudspeakers, everyone breathes a collective sigh of relief. Whew! The work is done! Let’s party! But no, the work is not done. That exhibit has to be torn down and packed away carefully. If you’ve got booth staff who are in a hurry to get to the hotel or the bar or the Uber lot, they might be tempted to cram it into the case, breaking and damaging it in the process. To close that expensive window of time, get a more durable display, better packaging, or more reliable staff.

12. 79% OF TRADE SHOW LEADS ARE NOT FOLLOWED UP ON

Despite the long, tireless hours of hard work and the demanding travel schedule, trade show still don’t get followed up on. The easiest ways to increase follow up is to make sure the leads that are taken are qualified.  That provides incentive for sales people to follow up.  Also, provide a bit of accountability after the show.  Do a 10% sample follow up on leads 3 weeks after the event and report the results internally to everyone involved with the show.  Do this by name and it really has some power to change behavior.

So, what do you think? Are these 12 things that you wished you had known before you started? Maybe you feel compelled to share this article with your newer staffers before their first trade show. It just might open their eyes to the reality and the wonder of event marketing!

Island Designs

 This article is inspired by "10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Exhibiting at Trade Shows"
by Mike Thimmesch and first appeared at www.skyline.com

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