5 Ways to Maximize ROI at Trade Shows

No matter the industry, exhibitors keep the same big mistakes at trade shows. It leaves me shaking my head, thinking “You spent so much money to get this booth, why aren’t you making the most of it?” Your knee-jerk reaction may be “Well Channing, we don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on a fancy booth.” Whatever your budget may be, these are five ways you can maximize your investment.

Give people a reason to come to your booth.

This is the pre-show marketing campaign you create to notify your customers, prospects and all trade show attendees that you will be there and you’ll be doing _________________ on-site. That blank should be filled with the reason for them to stop by beyond simply seeing your beautiful faces in person.

Do you have a give away? Is there a new product or service you are launching at the show? Don’t reveal all the details up front but present a reason for them to write down your name/company/booth number on their list of must-sees at the show. This campaign should be run through email, social media and outreach calls from your sales team to each person’s pipeline.

Don’t let people simply walk by.

This is probably the most common mistake at trade shows. I’ve been able to simply sail by booths constantly without a single person trying to start a conversation with me. This is a huge missed opportunity. While I may not be their target clientele, I may have clients, friends or family who could be.

As an exhibitor, you’ve paid the money to have that space. Make the most of it. Prep your team to be ready to talk to strangers. It’s true that not everyone they talk to may be a target client, but you never know until you say, “hello.” And yes, a simple hello is all it takes to start that conversation.

Once they arrive at your booth, give them a reason to stay.

This is where your excellent conversation starting skills can now fall back on that pre-event marketing campaign. Show your visitors the offer you mentioned during that campaign. Can they enter a drawing for a giveaway or receive a swag item?

Technologies like interactive touch screens, virtual reality headsets or social media walls (an oldie, but a goodie) are a great way to keep people in your booth longer. The longer they are there, the longer you have to get to know them and qualify them as a customer.

Get to know the attendees as people, not just recipients of your sales pitch.

 It’s easy for sales people to fall into the flow of pitching the products, especially at a trade show. And maybe some people will stop by asking for that pitch. Whether they are that direct or not, consumers still make buying decisions based on the people they want to work with. Remind your team of that over and over. The more they focus on getting to know the person in their booth and not just waiting for an opportunity to pitch their product or service, the better they’ll be able to both build brand loyalty and qualify prospects.

Utilize those conversations to move them through your sales funnel

Do not just exchange business cards and let them walk on. Take the time to qualify them as a potential client and start moving them through your sales funnel. The more you learn about their role, company and why they’re attending the show, the faster you can determine if your company could be a good business fit. Ask probing questions to identify the problems they’re having in business to determine if your products or services are the right solution.

If you’ve got a solution to their problem, then great! You’re one step closer to a proposal or contract. If you don’t, or you determine they just aren’t ready to buy yet, then ask for a business card, make a note on it to add them to a marketing nurture campaign, and move onto the next person. This process will save yourself the back and forth that would have ensued via email and phone if you had only taken their card and followed up later.

Photo courtesy of The Vibe Agency


D. Channing Muller is the principal and founder of DCM Communications, a marketing consulting firm based out of Chattanooga, Tennessee. She works primarily with event professionals and business owners to grow and scale their businesses through one-on-one and group coaching. She has over 15 years of experience in the communications industry, serving in top roles within marketing, magazine and web editorial, advertising and business development for a variety of media, software and PR companies in the United States and internationally. Follow her on Instagram @ChanningMuller.

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