How to Make Trade Shows Work for You and Your Customers! Seven Super-Power Tips for Your Super-Power Buyers

by Cindy Hanauer

Cindy HanauerThey’re ba-aaaaak! That’s right. The 2019 trade show season is right around the corner and the retail masses are salivating to see your company and its amazing products! With 500+ trade shows under my belt, I’ve seen my share of the good, bad and ugly- but mostly good!

Each year, companies debate the ROI that trade shows offer, but I believe that exhibiting at a trade show can surpass any marketing or growth technique. Thousands of business deals are done at trade shows every year, and the best trade show booths have the edge. 

While there are many types of trade show formats from large international shows to small regional shows, there are some common elements across the broad footprint of trade events that help elevate its success. Here are my top seven trade show observations and I invite you to share some of your ideas below!  

  1. The Pre-Acquisition

Take advantage of the attendee list to serve as your “flyover” a few weeks before the trade show begins. Most buyers are very schedule-driven, and if an appointment is set in advance…. it gives you a good opportunity to have private, quality time with your customer.  

  1. The Initial Impactgifs

How does a trade show booth stand out from a sea of other trade show booths? Think of your booth as a backdrop, not a brochure. In other words, the product you’re selling should be the “actors” and the booth serve only as the stage. Attendees strolling by should be able to understand exactly what you do and what you’re offering. Are you offering products?  No!  You’re offering solutions!  Be audacious and memorable!

  1. The Breathing Space

Out of everything I’ve observed from trade shows throughout the years, my biggest suggestion to exhibitors is OPENESS!  A booth’s entrance that is blocked by an 8-foot table, tall displays or a crowd of salespeople standing in the entryway of the booth is a significant barrier. A crowded entryway tells the buyer to “move on along -there’s no room for you here.” Most buyers want to have breathing space…. looking space… and thinking space. Keep your booth open at the front and accessible from multiple sides, if possible. Plan for the visual, but plan more for the engagement.

  1. The Breadcrumbs

How do you want customers to navigate your booth? Sprinkle breadcrumbs! Well, not literally. Create a clear path that allows at least two people to walk side-by-side (salesperson and customer) with a designated “route” to make sure all of your hero items are strategically placed along the path. Be sure to offer a designated meeting space where buyers can sit, rest and plan…. and then, let the sales staff take it from there.  You are a unique company with amazing things to offer—use the “breadcrumb effect” to show this side of your business to the world.              

  1. The Technology

Use modern technology to connect with potential customers. Does the trade show offer an app with important information about your company? Be sure to use it to engage customers!  Is there a social media page?  Don’t forget to post all the latest action using your company hashtag!  What about technology inside the booth? There’s nothing better to use as a backdrop than a silent video or streaming slideshow of your facility, people, farm or product attributes.  What about a video game where attendees can “face-off” and blow off some steam?  Using email to follow up on leads during the tradeshow creates a better chance that an important buyer will stop at the booth later to check back in. Yes, technology is your friend when hundreds of competitors are in the same building vying for the same attention. 


  1. The Swag Bag

Make sure your freebie serves a two-way purpose: Engagement and Usability. 

Pens get stored in a drawer. Cups, mugs and notepads may get stacked up until the next garage sale. Consider how often your giveaway product will be touched, and thus how often your logo will be seen after the show. Phone chargers, refrigerator magnets, sports bottles, coasters, lip balm, portable chargers and mini flashlights seem to be the most popular. Of course, you can never go wrong with bottled water and chocolates in the booth to refuel your customers!  Chocolate! There, I said it.

  1. The Dialogue

A good trade show provides you with feedback from the best focus group available -your customers!  Ask your customers these questions, “What are your needs”?  “What are your biggest challenges?”  “Can you assess our product line?”  Not only do these questions break the ice, but they also provide a platform for future dialogue after the show.  “Hey, Jan!  Thank-you for the advice you provided at _____.  We took your advice and wanted to show you what we came up with…….”

You’ve just made a very powerful connection by asking questions instead of trying to give all the answers! 

Without a doubt, trade show preparations can be daunting for the entire team. Have fun with it! Use a buyer’s favorite words: “Exclusive!”  “New!”  “Just for you!”  “Never been seen before!”  Take an opportunity to be a volunteer speaker, so your customers can see and hear your expertise, firsthand. After all, trade shows leads are like milk. They have a short shelf life, so don’t waste a second of opportunity!


Follow-up Questions

  • What’s at the top of your list to guarantee a successful trade show?
  • Do you believe trade shows provide a good ROI for your company? Why?  Why not?
  • I’ve shared my top tips for exhibitors. What are some of your top tips for buyers?

Share your thoughts belows!

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1 Comment

Mauricio Gleiser on Monday 09/30/2019 at 11:51AM wrote:

Coming from a highly experienced Pro, All tips were very valuable.
Chocolate hit me hard since I am a convinced "addict". At Proflora # 112 you shall find 70% Chocó region (with an accent) single origin, from the highest rainfall moist forest .See you

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the opinions of this organization.