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Do Trade Shows Really Get Qualified Leads?

For many businesses – from macro to enterprise – trade shows are a critical component of marketing success and a time-honored tradition among business-to-business (B2B) marketers. Trade shows provide companies with unique selling opportunities.  According to an industry report by Exhibit Surveys Inc., 85 percent of trade show participants can make, or influence the buying decision; 63 percent will buy within 12 months; and 42 percent of attendees are interested and want to be at the event.

But no matter what statistics show, trade shows allow companies to make face-to-face, direct sales pitches to prospective buyers who come to them. Trade shows offer one of the tried and true opportunities to build relationships – something every business can use more of today.  Research has proven the quality of sales leads that come from trade shows continues to rank among the most qualified and trade show marketing has proven to be resilient over time and in spite of an economic recession because of the value of face-to-face meetings with clients, prospects and key business partners.

In order to create a successful and effective trade show marketing effort, businesses need to strategically evaluate, plan, execute and measure results. These sure-fire steps will help you and your company achieve trade show success!



Find the right show. With thousands of trade shows help across the world each year, finding the show or shows that will best meet your business goals and marketing objectives is the first step. Do your research. Make a master list. Narrow the list. Analyze the numbers. Just as you evaluate traditional or online paid media, look at demographics (gender, age, occupation, income and buying influence, for example) and geographics. Ask questions of the organizers about their credentials, sponsors, budget, past show trends and prior exhibitors and sponsors. What is the traffic density, or number of attendees per 100 square feet? How many exhibitors participate?

Make the selection. Once you have worked through this process and developed a short list, determine what portion of your marketing budget will be dedicated to trade shows. A 2010 study by Goldstein Group Communications reported that B2B marketers allocate 17% of their budget on trade show marketing. Then, calculate which shows will offer the best ROI potential. Again, base the decision on the data and alignment with company business goals and marketing objectives.


Create a plan. An exhibit plan will prevent, or at the least, minimize chaos and result in a more effective lead generation strategy. The old cliché the devil is in the details certainly applies to trade show execution in which there are hundreds of details. For starters, get the facts organized. Gather the show dates, location, time, deadlines, key contacts, etc. in one accessible place.

Next develop your budget. Set aside funds for the space and the exhibit itself including: hardware, design, graphic, carrying cases, lights and shipping. Don’t forget on-site add-on services such as carpet rental, electric outlets, or audio-visual needs. Allocate funds for promotional give-away items, collateral materials and sales enablement tools. Be sure to include staffing, travel and hotel expenses and lead generation (some shows allow you to pay to get a database of attendees), and follow-up efforts. If one of the show’s goals is to get people into the pipeline and sales funnel, then marketing efforts must continue after the show to further qualify prospects and convert them into buying customers.

When selecting give-away items, there are several things to keep in mind. Does the item reinforce, or compliment the messaging and the company brand? Does the item have marketing permanence? Does it provide a talking point? Can you use it to strike up a conversation with the prospect? Remember these are giveaways, not takeaways and as such, they should serve a strategic purpose.


Focus on why you’ve chosen this particular show. What exactly do you want to accomplish? Is your objective to affect perception? Enhance awareness about our products or services? Educate the audience about your brand and corporate position? Introduce a new capability? Deliver a specific message? Or differentiate yourself in a competitive market place?

Each objective should be specific, quantifiable and measurable. Objectives should also be shared with the team and trade show attendees to ensure everyone is on the same page, working toward the same goal and desired result.

Next determine which tactics will be used to achieve each objective. For example, if a goal is to affect or measure perception, a survey may be an option.


Schedule customer appointments. Every sales representative should arrange pre-scheduled meeting times with customers during the show. Be sure to also slot prospect appointments during this time. Who better than your customers to help close a deal?

Determine roles and responsibilities. Let sales do their job of servicing existing customers and partners and speaking with qualified leads. Let marketing manage the booth traffic and invite attendees to visit the booth. Again, these roles and responsibilities directly tie in to your business goals and marketing objectives. Train your trade show team.

Plan a VIP event. What better time than a trade show to gather like-minded people, a group of prospects, or customers to appreciate? Consider a roundtable breakfast discussion, after hours cocktail reception or special, invite-only product demonstration or presentation? Consider co-sponsoring the event with a local publication (local to the area of the trade show) for enhanced exposure and visibility.

Consider a sponsorship. Sponsorships are also costly, so again do your research and only pursue this option if it is aligned with your business goals and marketing objectives. Sometimes sponsors can negotiate special breakout sessions and/or speaking engagements.

Meet the media. Editors and/or reporters are often at trade shows, especially large industry exhibits. Face time is invaluable and the public relations basis for establishing both trust and credibility, which may result in earned, or on-going media coverage. Determine to the best of your ability which media outlets may cover the event. Send a media advisory that you will be attending and if, applicable, mention any news angles. For example, will unveil a new product, or launch a new brand. If you are successful setting appointments or creating a meet and greet event, make good use of the media’s time by educating them about industry trends. Also, be sure to have a media kit to provide them that ties into the trends, outlines spokespeople and subject matter experts, as well as offers them story angles of interest tailored to their specific audience.

Look for free product coverage. Depending on the show size and location, some media outlets will publish a pre-show guide. See what it takes to get included. Pitch “free,” or earned media coverage and explore advertising opportunities to increase booth traffic.

Find creative ways to reach your audience. A trade show provides a captured, targeted audience. In lieu of a VIP event, there are many other options. Consider having a newspaper, wrapped with your brand, delivered to guest hotel rooms. Or print a restaurant guide or tour tips if the show is not providing them. Hold invite-only product demonstrations in your booth at scheduled times.

Send pre-show save the date announcements, or invitations. Email those customers and prospects to notify them you will be at the show and encourage/incent them to stop by your booth.



Immediately following the show, evaluate your measurable objectives to determine whether or not the show was a success. This will help in several ways. It provides a clear focus for the day of the show. It gives you objective information in making future decisions about what events make the most sense to attend, or in which to participate. It provides you a report for senior executives, and it helps keep the team on track for next steps and follow up objectives.

For example, how many leads did you generate? Of those, how many are qualified? How many are non-qualified? Track your results: Increased sales by x percent, found x number of new potential suppliers, recruited x number of job candidates. Compare this show to pas shows to determine how this one measured up, or establish a baseline to measure against in the future. Distribute a follow up survey to gauge participant perceptions. Build a database of the new contacts.

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