1. Identify your goals. What results do you want to achieve? What action do you want show attendees to take during and after the show? Once you’ve identified this you can begin thinking about what tactics will help you achieve these goals. Some common goals include:

  • Generate qualified sales leads
  • Introduce a new product or service
  • Build brand awareness
  • Enter a new market

2. Promote your booth. Most shows offer some form of pre-show advertising, but you shouldn’t rely on that to drive traffic to your booth. Determine whether you will have some sort of promotional item or show special—but be careful, these often draw a crowd but not necessarily the qualified leads you are looking for. While advertising in the show publication or with the show’s media partners can be effective, consider other options as well.

  • Post a notice on your Web site with the show date, time, location, and your booth number
  • Send an invitation to key customers or prospects on company letterhead and consider sending a few exhibit hall passes
  • Add the show details to your regular advertising, including your booth number
  • Send a press release in your newsletter or eNewsletter to current customers and prospects
  • Purchase a list and send a professional direct mail piece advertising a show special or drawing
  • Call or email current prospects to set up special appointments at the show

3. Plan how you will capture leads. Have a plan in place for capturing leads. Identify ahead of time what information you want to gather; how you will gather it; and, most importantly, how you will use it. If you’re planning to use a scanner/lead retrieval machine, make sure you test it before the show. Or, if your show doesn’t offer this option, consider pre-printing contact cards or having a booklet available for contacts to record their own information in and the salesperson to jot their notes on following their discussion. Don’t use the business card in the goldfish bowl plan! This won’t give you the information you need, or the opportunity to jot notes about your conversation with the person, or other relevant information or key facts. At a minimum, you should try to gather:

  • Contact information (phone, email)
  • Contact's needs/qualification information
  • Preferred follow-up method
  • Notes on the discussion
  • Which salesperson spoke with the customer

Also, determine how you will qualify leads—this will make your post-show follow up more efficient and cost-effective. Setting up a rating system can be an efficient way to rate leads—A is “hot,” contact them within 24 hours; B is “medium,” contact them within 48 hours; C is “cool,” contact them within 72 hours.

4. Determine follow-up tactics. It’s important to follow up with leads within 24 hours of the show, so having a plan in place is imperative. Brainstorm ways to follow up with the contacts you make at the show, and then select the ones which will be most effective for meeting your goals. Consider the best medium and method to contact leads, what additional information you want to provide, and what additional information you want to gather. What action do you want prospects to take? Once your tactics have been identified, have any collateral materials you plan to use developed and produced so you can quickly follow up with your hottest leads. Useful follow-up tactics include:

  • A personal e-mail or letter on company letterhead including additional information the prospect requested
  • Invitation to subscribe to company newsletter or eNewsletter
  • A reminder of the final expiration date for the trade show special offer
  • An update on your Web site thanking visitors and directing them to additional information

5. Prepare your staff. Have a prep meeting with your booth staff to ensure everyone knows the company’s goals for the show, what information they should gather from contacts, and basics such as what they’re expected to wear, what time to arrive, schedules, and key information they should try to impart. Also, assign follow up duties and a schedule for follow up to streamline the process immediately following the show.

A little planning can go a long way to ensuring your trade show is successful. Trade shows can be a large investment in time, money, and resources—so make sure you include these planning steps to help ensure a significant return on your investment. Set your goals for the show, promote your booth, have a plan in place for capturing leads and determine how you will handle those leads, and prepare your staff for an efficient, and effective, trade show.

For help with your trade show, contact AVS Group by calling 608.787.1010 or by emailing

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