5 “hacks” to maximize your Tradeshow ROI: how to get more and better-qualified sales meetings

Going to a tradeshow is a big investment in people, time, and money. Some companies spend from $25-50K to send a team of 2-3 representatives, and others spend upwards of $250K… for a single event! (including employee time, event tickets, travel, hotel stays, setting up a booth, booth graphics, giveaway prints, and video)
So how can you maximize the ROI of such a big investment? We interviewed tradeshow experts and asked for some of their best “hacks”…

1. Get the most out of your booth

Your booth is a big investment, so you want to get the most mileage out of it.  Here’s how to increase engagement with visitors:

  • Video: Increasingly ranked as the #1 must-have for increasing engagement.  You need 30-60 seconds with 2-3 key attention-grabbing messages, dynamic visuals that tie in with the rest of your booth and marketing collateral.  For more free advice, especially for B2B videos, message Board Studios Inc.
  • Services: To stand out, offer something unique like massages (see Restin Chairs), speed caricatures, women’s foldable flats (can’t beat comfort!), or photo booths (don’t take pictures with your visitors, let them take pictures with their colleagues or friends that they’ll want to keep).
  • Giveaways: Stay away from SWAG (the S doesn’t stand for “stuff” anymore;).  Better options include a hand sanitizer or a good-quality water bottle.  A great idea: free UPS shipping and boxes for attendees to ship back SWAG and marketing materials so they don’t have to lug them around – they’ll be so thankful!
  • Smells: The most successful smells are fresh hot popcorn and fresh-baked cookies.  Avoid a cotton candy maker because they make too much noise.
  • Step & Repeat: Invest in a great-looking backdrop that repeats your logo and can be re-used for photo ops and multiple events.  Everything you need to know here.
  • AppleTV: A $99 AppleTV device lets you mirror the content of your iPad on a TV for a more dynamic presentation.

2. How to engage visitors

Statistics show that out of every 100 visitors at a trade show, only 10 are qualified to purchase.  And of those 10 visitors, only 3 have an immediate need to buy.

  • Opening: Never start with “May I help you?” because they’ll just say “no thanks” and walk away.  Instead, try “How are you enjoying the show?” or “What’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen in the show so far?”  This will start a discussion about their purpose for attending the show.
  • Be genuinely curious: Ask them what they do, and a great follow-up is “oh, how do you do that?”  A later follow-up can be “What [business concern] keeps you up at night?”  This is not the time to go for the hard sell but rather to build rapport and ideally trust.  Become a networker for others: can you make any introductions to help their business?
  • Elevator pitch: You need a quick 30-second pitch that grabs their attention and intrigues them or creates a desire for your product.  Consider using the AIDA approach (Attention -> Interest -> Desire -> Action or Problem -> Solution -> Benefits -> Reason to Believe).
  • Qualifying: If there’s a perceived direct need for your product/service, pose some open-ended questions (start with: how, why, what) to determine the visitor’s budget authority, ability to influence purchasing decisions, and the roles of employees who are involved in the decision-making process.
  • Dis-qualifying: Politely disengage with unqualified visitors as quickly as possible.  Thank them for stopping by and give them a card to follow up after the show with any questions.

3. Get free media coverage

Most events have reporters from major media outlets in attendance… here’s how to get their attention:

  • Plan to announce big news at the event (don’t waste a product launch on a Press Release nobody will read).
  • Ask the event organizers for a media list.
  • Identify a handful of reporters and target them very methodically – no spray and pray approach will work here.
  • Follow the reporters on Twitter and start re-tweeting them (1st contact) – this should be done about 30 days before the event, to start building a relationship or at least familiarizing them with your name and business.
  • Email the reporters and offer them an interview at the event, especially if you’re a) planning a product launch, b) can give them exclusive coverage, or c) have a great story to tell (2nd contact).
  • Follow the reporters’ Twitter accounts throughout the event (use a tool like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite to monitor hashtags and keywords in real time), re-tweet them and reply 1-2 times to their posts (3rd contact).

4. Great apps for tradeshows

These apps will increase engagement, make your booth appear more dynamic and high-tech, and help you collect invaluable feedback or contact information for follow-ups.

  • FatStax: Powerful sales tool, can host all your marketing materials and help your sales people easily navigate through them while showcasing your company’s products to prospects.
  • Quick Tap Survey: Conduct surveys on your tablet, get feedback, qualify leads, and collect contact information (perhaps in exchange for a 10% discount or $10 off coupon?).
  • OnSpot Social or Kiosk Pro: Give your visitors a kiosk experience, share information about your company and products, and collect contact and other information from prospects.
  • CamCard or BCR Pro: scan and sync business cards of people you meet, and take notes.

5. Follow up with prospects

This is often overlooked.  You’re tired after an event but don’t drop the ball on this one.  This is where you can make your mark and stand out from the tradeshow noise.

  • Wait a few days or even a couple of weeks to avoid getting lumped into the post-tradeshow deluge of requests.
  • Email them a ‘lead magnet’.  Lead magnets are newsletters, reports, white papers, videos or anything that can generate engagement and capture leads.  Don’t focus on your offering but rather on what your prospects genuinely care about.  The most valuable follow-up would be to introduce them to a contact in your network that can further their business.
  • Instead of writing a long email about what makes your company special and why they should work with you, include only a teaser sentence and direct them to a video that will intrigue them enough to engage further.  Videos offer great tracking opportunities too (you can see who watched it and for how long!).
  • Don’t waste your call to action on “to learn more…”  Instead, think of another way you can offer value.  For example: “I’d love to show you how we can increase your sales by 20% this year”, or “We just came up with a great product to save you tons of time that I’d like to demo for you.”  But make sure you’re authentic and truthful, or you can permanently damage the relationship by being “click-baity.”

Developing a well-planned tradeshow strategy can pay huge dividends: generate more top line for your company AND lower your overall costs.  Spend some time to plan ahead in order to develop a cohesive message throughout your customer touch points at the event, iron out your pitch, and get some of the small details right that can make a big difference.


Tess is a Business Development Associate at Board Studios Inc, an animation production agency that helps B2B companies simplify and communicate more effectively. She's passionate about B2B business models & marketing, and spends a lot of time working on partnership development, content marketing, and scouring for the best business books for Her blood type is an authentic caffè macchiato.

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