How to boost trade show success

Jan. 1, 2013
Expensive. That's the first thing that comes to my mind when I think about trade shows.

By Chris Griffiths

Expensive. That's the first thing that comes to my mind when I think about trade shows.

That doesn't mean, however, that they can't deliver a wonderful return on investment. The key to success is how hard you are willing to work before you leave home.

It has amazed me over the years how willing many businesses are to spend big bucks travelling to and from and exhibiting at trade shows, with little other than a hope of traffic, orders and success. Sure you book some appointments, but do you pull out all the stops?

A successful trade show can be measured in less quantifiable ways than orders written on site, such as new leads, enhanced customer relationships, brand building, product demoing, and sales training

However, as well as these successes, it never hurts to get a show to pay for itself. I've used some of the following ideas to my great advantage over the years and suggest you consider them:

1. Contact your existing customers (by direct mail, fax, e-mail and telephone) with a personalized message asking if they will be attending the show and requesting a formal appointment time. A call to action needs repetition from several methods to be most effective.

2. Contact the trade show association or organization and request a pre-registered buyer's list for the upcoming show. Then, repeat the first suggestion about contacting customers with an introduction to your key product or service and how it can help run or grow their company. Request a formal appointment time.

3. Offer a free gift with a high retail value that can be acquired by you factory-direct at cost as a reward for showing up on time for a pre-booked appointment.

4. Overcome objections like, "I'm not booking appointments but I'll stop by" with simple logic: "With all of our key staff on site and best products on display, we don't want to run the chance of not being able to speak to you when you drop by. An appointment will guarantee you get our undivided attention."

5. Use an online calendar to make sure no one gets double-booked and independent sales reps, if you have them, can see your availability in real time.

6. Advertise in a daily show magazine if there is one published on site. This is as captive an audience as you are going to get and the most likely chance that a print ad will translate into immediate action.

7. Offer show-only specials.

8. Offer a daily prize in exchange for business cards dropped at your booth.

9. Rent the bar code scanner that some trade shows ffer so you can scan the badges of buyers at your booth to ensure you get the most up to-date customer data. That's your key to post show follow-up.

10. Deliver annual awards for "dealer of the year" or "distributor of the year" so that lesser-performing customers have something to aspire to.

11. Capitalize on celebrity endorsers, if you

have them. Have them come for a picture and autograph signing or a meet-and-greet to draw attention and reward clients.

If this all sounds expensive, it is likely a still a fraction of what you are paying for floor space, flights and accommodations. A lot of it requires sweat equity more than dollars.

I have repeatedly used such tactics to pre-book more than 260 meetings over a four-day show. That kind of result practically guarantees the show's success and return on investment.

An "if we build it, they will come" attitude is no more likely to work at a trade show than it is with a business idea. Exhaust your opportunities to confirm success before you leave home.

Chris Griffiths is the Toronto-based director of fine tune consulting, a boutique management consulting practice. Over the past 20 years, he has started or acquired and exited seven businesses. This article was originally published January 31, 2012 on The Globe and Mail and was republished for Proofs with the author's approval. It can be found at