Trade Show Planning – The BDA 10 - "Before the Show"

By: Jim Hawkins

Great! You’ve finally got the approval to attend a Trade Show. Now what? Trade shows can either be a very expensive excuse to get out of the office for a few days, lug around heavy display cases, party too much and sleep too little, and get flat feet standing around on concrete all day long, OR it can energize your company’s Sales program immediately, and for many months to come. How do you ensure it’s “Door Number 2”, and not a wasted opportunity? PLANNING! A major trade show requires considerable advance preparation and, if you aren't ready, can present a logistical nightmare. You must develop a solid plan and monitor your progress vigilantly.
Now, let’s be brutally honest - when it comes to planning, someone from your Sales Department may not be the best choice – much like you don’t use a hammer to drive in a screw (at least I hope you don’t…). Top Salespeople are prized for their people-skills, and their ability to SELL, but when it comes to longer term planning and attention to detail, they come up short. Do the entire company a favor and put your most anal-retentive (that’s a good thing!), details-oriented person in charge of the planning, under your supervision, of course!
And now (drum roll please), here’s the first of the BDA 10. The ten things to keep in mind Before your Trade Show.

Before the Show

1. Select “your” Trade Show carefully.

Participating in a trade show requires a major investment of time, money, and resources. Be tough in your evaluation of a show's “worthiness”. Are the attendees likely customers for your business? Better one small, focused show, than a “monster” Trade Show that doesn’t fit your profile.

2. Before all else fails, read the manual.

Before you go too much further, make sure you have the Trade Show's manual (usually mailed to you by the show’s organizers right after registering for your booth, but it can sometimes be found on-line. Be sure to ask.) Everything you need to know about the show should be there, including registration information and forms, schedules and floor plans, booth specifications, invitations for potential speakers, etc., etc.

3. Identify your goals.

What exactly do you want to accomplish at this Trade Show? Do you want to gain exposure to potential customers who might be interested in your products, increase visibility, or see what the competition is up to? Concrete goals are important to determine the ROI of the Trade Show to your business.

4. Define measurements of success – your “Trade Show ROI”.

Determine a way to measure each goal’s (see #3, above) success, as specifically as possible. Plan on handing out 1000 promotional flyers, make contact with at least 100 prospects, and take a key client out to lunch. These ROI benchmarks will help you decide whether the show was worth the expense, and whether you should attend next year.

5. Put your Trade Show plan in writing.

The plan should include a detailed schedule, a full list of preparation tasks, and an individual assigned for each task. Never leave anything to chance, or “we’ll catch that later…”.

6. Spread the word - Let people know about your Trade Show participation.

Advertise well before the Trade Show! Use tag lines such as: "see us at Booth 1234 at the 2006 World’s Biggest Trade Show" in news releases and other communications (even unrelated communications) leading up to the Trade Show. Put the Trade Show logo on your corporate website under “Coming Events”. Invite prospects (and current customers) to stop by the booth, or set up appointments between them and your Trade Show personnel. Do a pre-show e-mail blitz.

7. Order all Trade Show supplies early, including brochures and giveaways.

Take care of any marketing material updates or redesigns early. Don't run the risk of having nothing to hand out! Design clear forms (to eliminate guesswork) for filling out prospect information. Consider giveaways to generate attention and a bit of excitement. These don't have to be expensive - pens with your web address and a catchy slogan can be just as effective. Be creative with something specific to your industry. Think of something that someone did at a previous Trade Show that impressed you, and then steal it!

8. Home Sweet Home - Design an open, inviting booth.

Invite attendees to come in to “your home” with an open booth design, with no obstructing tables or displays. Maximize "walking around" space by mounting brochure displays on walls. Use interesting graphics to catch peoples’ eyes. Your logo should be big enough to be seen from a good distance. For demos, laptops and flat-screen monitors are space-efficient. Think about providing comfortable chairs to encourage prospects to linger (space permitting). (Hint: Splurge a bit and order that carpet underlay – your feet and back will thank you for it).

9. Create a unique identity for your Trade Show personnel.

Decide on the dress code for your people. Matching vests, Golf shirts, or even boutonnieres will make your representatives easily identifiable. To avoid that “rumbled uniform” look by the third day of the show, make sure everyone has spare shirts.

10. Train your Trade Show personnel before each show.

Your people need to know what is expected of them. They need to be briefed on all new features and offerings. They must know how to run the demos and presentations, and they should know some basic trouble shooting. Nothing looks more unprofessional then demos that don't work, and supposed “experts” fumbling for an answer.

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Jim Hawkins works at Windward Software, developers of Point of Sale software, and, among other things, is responsible for organizing Trade Show attendance. While he doesn’t actually attend many, he does love to tell people what to do.

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