Pulp and Paper Canada

Successful Trade Show Marketing

September 1, 2006  By Pulp & Paper Canada

Trade shows have grown to become the number one business-to-business marketing medium. Why are a growing number of companies marketing themselves at trade shows?

Trade shows have grown to become the number one business-to-business marketing medium. Why are a growing number of companies marketing themselves at trade shows?

Trade shows provide a unique opportunity that cannot be replicated in any other type of venue. The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) revealed the following about exhibitions:


* 88% of attendees have not been seen by a member of your company’s sales staff in the preceding 12 months

* Seven out of ten attendees plan to buy one or more products

* 76% asked for quotes and 26% signed purchase orders (average all shows)

* 72% of show visitors say the show influenced their buying decision

* 87% of attendees will share some of the information obtained at an exhibition

* 64% of attendees tell at least six other people about the event

* 58% attend only the show in which you are exhibiting

* 40% are first-time attendees

* It costs 22% less to contact a potential buyer at a show than it does through traditional field sales calls

While trade shows are worthwhile, they are not easy. To get the most out of trade shows, exhibit marketers set measurable objectives, pick good shows, design effective exhibits, and more. Read on to discover the main elements of a successful trade show marketing program.


The first step in planning your trade show success is to set effective and realistic trade show objectives and measurements for them. Effectively planning your show’s objectives allows the rest of your show to fall into place. Choosing the right measurement tools enables you to draw the correct conclusions following your trade show performance.

The first question to ask is the most basic: Why are you exhibiting? While most go to generate leads and build awareness of their brand or products, many also exhibit to build relationships or introduce new products.

Once you know the reason you are exhibiting, set objectives based on them that you can measure — and then measure and report them. Measurable objectives range from simple lead counts (200 leads at the XYZ Show) to Return On Investment goals (Generate $10 in sales for every $1 spent exhibiting at the XYZ Show).


The average trade show has over 400 exhibitors, so how do you choose the best booth space for you? Most shows give space-picking priority to the exhibitors who have been with them the longest. Yet some studies have found that where you are in the show hall has no effect on the amount of audience you receive to your booth. For every veteran exhibitor that requires a space in the centre of the action, or at the front entrance to the hall, or near their biggest competitor, there are veteran exhibitors who flee from the same locations. All the same, the size of your booth space is a very important decision, where you must weigh the need to stand out from your competitors with a large booth, and yet having enough budget to exhibit at all the worthwhile shows for your company.


Exhibiting can be complex. A large part of that challenge is identifying how much to budget for related services. The easiest way to estimate your overall budget for exhibiting at a show is to take the cost to rent the exhibit space, and multiply it by three. So if renting a 10 foot by 10 foot exhibit at a show costs $2,000, then the overall show costs are usually about $6,000.

The biggest expenditures after booth space is staffer’s travel, hotel, and meal costs, show services such as installation and dismantle, the cost to build or rent your exhibit, and shipping.

A large portion of show services costs is called drayage, which is the cost to bring your exhibit and crates from outside the show hall to your exhibit space. Sometimes it can even be as expensive as the cost to ship your exhibit from your city to the show. The trend for exhibitors is towards lighter weight, more modular exhibits that lower costs like shipping and drayage.

Planning avoids rush charges and lets you figure out how to do the most shows with the fewest exhibit properties.


Why does exhibit design matter? Because a well-designed exhibit is highly effective at cutting through the trade show clutter and getting your message to your target audience. The average trade show attendee will spend seven to eight hours on the floor over a period of two to three days visiting an average of 25-31 exhibits. This leaves five to 15 minutes per visit — just five to 15 minutes to make a lasting impression that will give you an edge over the competition.

Create an exhibit that works as a true marketing tool. Make sure your exhibit graphics say who you are, what you do, and what is your benefit to prospects. When you state those clearly, you’ll bring in more visitors — and more qualified visitors.

Your exhibit is more than a three-dimensional ad. It’s actually a temporary workspace, filled with booth staffers there for hours or days, and visitors there for just a few minutes. Increase productivity by giving them enough space to work in, and by designing around their needs, be it for gathering leads, demonstrating products, meeting with key people, or storing their personal items.


Trade show promotions are the secret weapon of the veteran trade show manager. That’s because when done right, trade show promotions work so well.

Consider these two items:

1. The average trade show has over 400 exhibitors, where the average attendee will visit about 21 exhibits, and that average attendee walks into the show with a list of 75% of the exhibits he/she wants to see. That means you have to get on their dance card before the show.

2. You can boost your trade show lead counts by 33% with trade show promotions — even though they require a much smaller percentage of your budget.

So, trade show promotions are money well spent. Pre-show promotions are the things you do before the show to make attendees want to visit your booth. At-show promotions are the activities and trade show giveaway items you do during the show to bring in more attendees into your exhibit.

Just be sure to pick promotions that bring in your desired target audience, not just anyone at the show. And don’t just give things away — get information about prospects in exchange that will help you qualify and prioritize your leads.


85% of the positive feelings visitors have are due to the staff. Your booth staff is responsible for drawing in your customers, effectively engaging them and creating leads. Because of this, it is important that you select the most effective staffers that your company has to offer. If they are sales people, you have to train them to adapt their selling style to the trade show floor. If they are not salespeople, guess what — they can still do extremely well, given the proper preparation.

Trade show staffing is uncomfortable for almost everyone at first. You will give your booth staffer greater comfort and confidence by training them to understand and follow a four-step booth staffing process:

1. ENGAGE: 30 seconds

Start the process by stopping attendees. Prepare and practice questions that won’t get a yes or no answer.

2. QUALIFY: 2 minutes

Determine if the prospect is worth presenting to … and what to present.

3. PRESENT: 10 minutes

Demo on just the prospect’s needs, not everything you know. Prepare for common objections and questions.

4. CLOSE: 1 minute

Lead card complete? Agree on the next step and go on to the next


Astoundingly, almost 80% of leads generated are never followed, according to the Center For Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR). Rather than sending your hard-fought trade show leads into the abyss, strive to be part of the elite 20% that actually follow up on their leads! We’ve heard horror stories of exhibits pulled out of storage to prepare for a show — only to find the leads from the previous show still packed with the exhibit. What a tragedy!

Rather than just sending a business card from the prospect on to your field sales reps, provide and train your staffers to use a lead card. It’s a half sheet of paper that has check boxes to the most common qualifying questions, and room for notes about what the attendee said in your booth. Your sales reps will be much more likely to follow up on a lead when they know what to say, and that it’s worth the call.

Also, think of your first day back from the show as the last day of the show. Have your lead fulfillment packages prepared ahead of time, so you can send your responses right away.


Once you return from a trade show it is important to measure its success. Why? Because while trade shows are a great marketing medium, you still have to prove the value of your individual program. This information can be used to report to management the effectiveness of the show and to improve exhibit performance for future shows. Success can be measured by simple lead counts, or better yet, by the return on investment, or whatever objectives you set when you started your trade show program.

By tracking your results from show to show, you can make informed decisions about which shows to continue, expand, contract, or cut. And when you are armed with data proving the value of your overall trade show program, you can maintain — and even expand — your trade show marketing efforts. *

Michael Thimmesch is the Director of Marketing Communications for Skyline Exhibits. You can access more than 100 tips on how to improve your trade shows at www.skyline.com/tradeshowtips. Skyline is North America’s leading designer and builder of portable and modular exhibits for trade shows and events.

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