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5 ways to attract prospects on trade shows — A checklist for startups

Andrej Csizmadia

Andrej Csizmadia

Last modified on November 24, 2021 at 2:27 pm

It’s trade show time. It’s an excellent opportunity to build awareness about your burgeoning brand, drum up leads for new business, and forge relationships that will propel your company forward. You’ve got a nebulous idea of how the event will play out and how to best represent yourself, but here’s the rub: dozens, perhaps even hundreds of other companies will also be in attendance. They likely have similar goals and will be vying for attention just like you. Your challenge will be getting a leg up on this competition. Here are three broad strategies you can employ to boost your chances of attracting prospects when you’re at your next trade show.

Strategy #1: Do some groundwork

Men taking notes about their research

The road to trade show dominance starts well before the show begins. To maximize your chances, make sure that you’re choosing the show that best fits your brand. Using trade show directories can be of great benefit to you in this regard—zeroing in on shows across the country that fit your mold and providing you with the data you need to make an informed decision. Alternatively, if you are the member of a trade association within your industry, you can use them as a resource to learn about shows that may be of interest to you.

The New York Times provides some additional tips on making sure you select the right show. You’ll want to ensure that you’re not wasting your time on shows with limited numbers of potential customers (bigger shows aren’t always better), You’ll want to leverage the assistance of your current customer base (and even competitors) to find out which shows are worth your time, and you’ll also want to take time to get a lay of the land beforehand—all of which leads to our next point.

Once you’ve got your trade show selected, your first order of business should be to do your homework and start feeling out prospects as soon as you know which event you’ll be attending. That homework should come in the form of pre-show research on who will be in attendance. Generally speaking, trade show organizers have detailed intel on past visitors to different events. By reaching out and obtaining this information, you can get a good idea of the audience the trade show you’re going to attend will draw, and craft your pitches, appearance, etc., to create the biggest impact.

We touched earlier on incorporating existing customers into your strategy. This takes on an even greater role when you’re traveling to attend a show that will have numerous attendees. You can get in contact with current clients, encouraging them to come and bring potential leads with them.

Email blasts are one method for accomplishing this goal, as they will simultaneously alert customers that you are going to be in attendance, urge them to come connect with you at the show, and raise your profile by showing that you are serious about your particular industry. You can achieve a similar effect by reaching out on social media, with the added bonus that you can also broadcast to prospects to get them interested. Finally, traditional direct mail is another tactic you can use, one that will add a more personal touch to your company, and give you the chance to provide incentives (such as coupons and the like) that will spur greater interest in your trade show booth.

Strategy #2: Look the part

Smiling man dancing holding small pink dress gif

While at the show, you’ll need to stand out. This applies to both your booth and your personal appearance. For your booth, that means making it appear professional. Good design, clear graphics, excellent lighting, and anything else you can leverage to make passersby take a second glance will be to your benefit here. Interactive elements like display videos, music, and other forms of multimedia content will also go a long way in attracting prospects to your booth.

With all of your booth elements, though, ensure that they are tailored to draw in the prospects that you want. The research you did in your initial phases of trade show planning already granted some insight about your audience, use that to craft your look into a message that speaks to them directly.

Additionally, you’ll want to try to secure positioning for your booth that will maximize the right foot traffic and give you more chances to secure prospects. You’ll also want to balance this about having too big a crowd congesting your booth area. This will vary based on the venue, but some general tips include avoiding areas like entrances, exits, concessions, etc., and instead finding the areas with a good flow of passing traffic that will be more likely to stop and check out what you’re all about.

When it comes to your personal appearance at a trade show, clean and approachable should be your goals. You’ll want to convey that you and your colleagues are professional, and simultaneously, try something that will differentiate you from the run-of-the-mill trade show drone. A fun shirt might help, along with bright colors and an authentic smile that draw attention to the fact that you’re ready to chat.

Strategy #3: Be engaging

While your overall appearance will be key in drawing prospects toward your booth, your demeanor will play a more critical role in how engaging you are at a trade show and how well you can keep them interested. This starts with proper training—on how to open a dialogue without being too aggressive and maintain a conversation, sometimes at length. You’ll also have to be knowledgeable about your purposes for being at the trade show, how your company fits into the industry at large, and be able to convey any pitches you might have for prospects in a clear and concise manner. Inc has an informative article about adopting the right approach at trade shows, which you can view here.

Promotional material, sometimes referred to as “swag,” can also help with engagement and advertising your brand. Examples of “free stuff” you can offer include drinks/snacks, inexpensive product giveaways, and the ever-popular t-shirt (you might even get bonus points for offering up some tips for prospects whose size you might not have in stock, see this article). In the time it takes a prospect to open up a gift bag and check out the contents, you could be delivering your pitch and engaging them on various topics. Just avoid gimmicks and remember to brand your swag effectively so that they’ll remember who you are long after the show has ended.

Strategy #4: Go beyond the pack

There are some bits of trade show advice that might seem like they’ll be a surefire hit, but will end up being a gigantic miss if you implement them sloppily. Take the oft-recommended “raffle,” for instance. Like giving away swag, it’s meant to attract prospects to your booth by providing an incentive. Think about this, though. With a raffle, you’re just drawing random foot traffic to your booth that are interested in that free prize. You have them drop some names in a hat, and then what? Unlike a swag give out, where you have the chance to talk to prospects as you hand them items and learn if they’re worthwhile, you’re just getting hundreds of names on stuff like a raffle with no payoff (in many instances).

A more focused approach would be creating an innovative incentive that will speak to your core of customers. For instance, instead of raffling away a prize, have a few new products to demo and a limited number of slots for people you can provide the demonstration to. You’ll attract the potential customers who are most interested in your product and will have some one-on-one time to pitch them with your best material. Alternatively, you could give a talk at the tradeshow, which, again, would attract those most interested in you work while simultaneously putting the spotlight on you. When your presentation is finished, you’ll no doubt have individuals that want to meet, and a fair share will be prospective clients as well. You can engage them at this point, making an impression and encouraging them to come by your booth to learn more about your organization.

Strategy #5: Do your post-show follow-up

Getting the names and contact information of prospects at the show is great, but it’s all for nothing if you don’t combine it with proper follow-up. Your strategy here should be multi-faceted, taking several avenues to connect with your potential customers based on what you gauge as most appropriate.

You’ll want to follow up with thank you emails and perhaps even material via traditional mail so that they can keep your company and what you might have discussed fresh in their minds. With this bit of follow-up outreach, you can add some personalization by showing you remembered what you talked about with them and then either answering their questions or attempting to schedule a time to meet again and continue the conversation.

You’ll also want to try to connect with your new prospects on social media. Once connected, start by thanking them for their time at the trade show and allude to what you discussed there. You might also try sharing a few photos from the event to spark up a new conversation, jog their memory, and continue pitching them on your ideas.

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Ashley Lipman

Guest Post Author

Ashley Lipman

Ashley is a super-connector with Outreachmama who helps businesses find their audience online through outreach, partnerships, and networking. She frequently writes about the latest advancements in digital marketing and focuses her efforts on developing customized blogger outreach plans depending on the industry and competition.

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