Trade Show Planning: FAQ


As we approach the year’s end and begin helping our clients map out next year’s marketing activities, one aspect we consider is their presence at trade shows. Trade shows and conferences are expensive, so it is important to make the most of the time and dollars that you spend there. Here are some common questions emerge from these discussions, and some tips that can help you maximize trade show ROI:


How many shows should I attend?

We have customers that attend upwards of 12 shows each year and some that attend only a few. While there is no “right” number of shows to attend, the strategy lies in assessing which shows you should continue to attend or leave behind.

Solid, consistent metrics are vital for backing up your decisions. A common variable such as the number of total leads, qualified leads, or quotes can help you evaluate your success from show to show or year to year.

If you find that the trade shows you have been attending are no longer a good fit, it might be time to seek out new ones. Hyper-niche shows, though they often attract a smaller audience, can offer a favorable alternative. We’ll discuss this more in the next section.


How do I decide which shows will have the most value?

Learn from experience

When determining your best-fit trade shows, your past experiences and data are a good place to start. How many qualified leads did you gather at each trade show you attended this year? Did your results at any particular show improve over the previous year? Refer to the metrics you’ve been using to gauge success.

Pinpoint your prospects

If your goal is to generate leads and sales, it is important to seek out shows that attract a high percentage of your target customer base. Exhibit design company Skyline suggests asking show organizers for detailed attendee demographics. Points of influence include:

  • job title
  • industry
  • company size
  • location
  • average annual budget

Percentage is an important word when discussing target audience. A large trade show that attracts a lot of your target customers (along with many others) might be less useful to you than a smaller show that is more heavily focused on those customers’ needs and interests. A combination of wide-reaching shows and highly targeted shows is ideal.

Find a niche

When a trade show’s area of interest is especially focused, the leads you garner, even if few, could end up having greater value to you in the long run. Some specialized trade shows might lead to large projects that last several years and turn a larger profit than would a few smaller projects. Smaller and more technically driven conferences often present a useful learning experience and allow for deeper and more meaningful conversations with prospective customers.


Should I exhibit or walk the show?

If it is your first time at a particular show, we recommend walking to get a feel for the audience and to assess fit. Even if you’re not exhibiting, prior planning can yield important business opportunities, for example reviewing the exhibitors list and scheduling meetings with companies of interest. It can also be worthwhile to walk a trade show that is geared toward your customer’s customers rather than your own; you can visit customers and prospects who are exhibiting while getting a sense of their challenges and goals.


How many people do I send to the show? (And who?)

When answering this question, you’ll need to consider your main objectives for the show. Are you mainly interested in getting the word out about your product? Then sending one person to staff your booth might suffice. Do you want to meet with customers individually or attend technical sessions to learn about emerging technology? You might need a couple more people.

Your goals will also determine whom you choose to send. A sales rep’s combination of technical product knowledge and experience interacting with customers often makes them an ideal delegate at a trade show. However, if you’re looking to do an in-depth demonstration or discuss complex research findings, an engineer, technician, or scientist might be your best bet. If you are sending more than one representative, we recommend sending team members with a variety of skills and specialties.


Download our Trade Show Planner to organize goals and marketing activities for your next event.

Download Trade Show Planner


What should I measure?

We have had people tell us that they judge trade show success based on a gut reaction, that they’ve “felt” that one show was better than another; however, without key performance indicators, you can’t really know if an event was worthwhile. If you have never quantitatively measured trade show success, counting the business cards you collect at shows is a simple way to start. The next step is to choose a variable such as qualified leads or quotes, and keep track of this metric from show to show.

If you’re invested in trade show marketing, incorporating aspects such as cross-promotion and PR, there are some other results you can measure, including:

  • unique traffic to a landing page
  • relevant activity on your website, such as number of white paper downloads, webinar signups, or blog or newsletter subscriptions
  • social media engagement or mentions
  • press release pickups or media interviews

How Should I Follow Up with Leads?

Your follow-up activities should start before you arrive at the show. It is important to plan ahead how you will qualify leads before and/or after the show, and how you will follow up with different types of leads. Three useful follow-up steps are:

  1. Set up email nurture campaigns – A lead nurture or drip campaign is a great way to let hot leads know you will be calling them, or to keep cooler leads engaged. Well-paced, automated emails can guide leads through the sales funnel until they are ready to make a purchase. Send your first email about 10 days after the trade show, and schedule at least two additional emails that offer valuable content to engage your new leads. Learn more about why automated lead nurture is a must for trade show exhibitors.
  2. Call and re-qualify – Hot leads should be passed off to your sales team for follow-up calls. Additionally, if you didn’t get a good sense of a lead’s quality at the show or from their business card, you can re-qualify them over the phone. A mix of phone calls and voicemails is the best way to reach today’s buyer.
  3. Connect on social media – Including your company’s social media links within your follow-up emails is a simple way to further engage prospects. If your sales reps are active on LinkedIn, have them connect with qualified leads after the show. Be sure to customize the invitation to connect; identify where you met them and how and when you’ll contact them in the future.

Just because a prospect is not ready to buy right now doesn’t mean they never will be. With a variety of follow-up tactics, marketing automation technology, and a little patience, you can cultivate that relationship without a exorbitant amount of effort.


Check out our FAQ page for answers to more common marketing questions, or contact us with your own queries. 


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in December 2013 and has been updated to reflect current best practices.