Given unrealistic expectations against a modest budget, marketing leaders are routinely tasked with making tradeoffs on what stays and goes in their annual budget. In a highly digitized world, trade shows might seem like the ancient way to do things, but they remain one of the best forums for exposure to customers. Increase your success rate with trade shows through more thoughtful planning which aligns sales and marketing to common goals and objectives.

If you have been to a trade show in the last 2-3 years, you know that trade show booths are becoming more and more spectacular. As a spectator just a few weeks ago, I attended one of the largest medical trade shows in the country. I was in awe of the sheer volume of booths and the breathtaking displays from some of the larger competitors in the space. There were thousands of booths and tens of thousands of people walking around; the whole trade show felt like a blur.


What was also clear to see was the disparity of booths between the large competitors who had large sales and marketing/budgets. They were able to dominate the space and the awareness within the trade show.


There are unrealistic expectations already bestowed upon sales and marketing leadership for 2019 and a budget which is not growing. The question remains for companies of all sizes, is a trade show worth any of my time or budget?


The answer is simple; yes, they are worth it. They provide:

  • One of the few forums where you have prequalified leads all in one place
  • A change to gain new customers and build relationships with existing ones
  • An opportunity to be around and in front of the buying decision teams for your customers
  • A chance to gain intelligence on the market and your competitors


You may be asking yourself if that is the case, why do I keep coming back from trade shows unfulfilled? One way to prepare is by evaluating your capabilities.


Download the Trade Show Checklist here.

The answer can be a multitude of things, but it usually involves three main factors:

  1. Pre-Show Goals (Sales and Marketing Alignment): Sales and Marketing must be on the same page for the show to work. What are your goals for the show and how well prepared is your team on the ground for success?
  2. Pre-Show Planning (Customer Involvement): Do your customers know you will be there? Will potential target customers know you will be there?
  3. Post-Show Campaign (Outreach): You have names and leads, what are you doing about it?


Somewhere within these three areas, there is a breakdown of communication, alignment, or a well thought out plan which ensures success.


So how can you ensure success in your next trade show?


Pre-Show Goals


Whether this is your biggest trade show of the year or it is a small regional event, your game plan has to be the same. This game plan comes from sales and marketing agreeing on the following:

  • Why are you going to this show?
    • This question is overlooked more often than not. Do you have a new launch for a product? Is there a competitor you want to gain more information from? Or are you here just because the competition is? No answer is necessarily the wrong one but being able to answer this question can help with resourcing and general strategy.
  • What are your goals?
    • Goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, results-oriented, and time-bound). Often, ROI is not clear from a trade show because there weren’t clear objectives set in the first place. Things like generation of sales, new prospect demand, or brand awareness are common goals. But the key is to make these goals SMART and make them easy to measure
  • What does success look like?
    • Success needs to be a simple fill in the blank statement: “You will be successful at this trade show if you____.” Your answer will be the measure that defines if this show was money well spent or not.


Pre-Show Planning


Once there is alignment on the mission, the next step is putting the pieces in place to ensure the goals are met.  On a limited budget, the alignment of sales and marketing becomes crucial. The real work is before the show even starts.


  • Key Customers/Key Target Customers are identified and are either meeting with someone from the company or are actively engaged throughout the show. Once they are identified, there should be activity by email, phone, or direct mail to ensure they are aware of your presence. They will also have the opportunity to connect with someone during a meet and greet.
  • Key events need to be known by the team on the ground. A show is not just about being active during the show; it’s also about what you do outside of the event. It is crucial to ensure your company is engaged in social activities and events outside of the show floor.
  • The People at this show must be the A-Team, the sales/marketing team you want to represent your brand and position in the best light. Putting a well-executed plan in place without the right people to implement can make or break the success of the week. The team on the ground needs to be aware of the objectives, understand the messaging of the company/products, and finally, they need to be well trained to engage with customers and to execute on the goals.


Post-Show Actions


The energy following a trade show both internally and with your customers is electric. They have seen what’s out there, they have heard what companies can do for them, they now want to move quickly. Move with them.


Data has been notoriously dirty following a trade show which can become a nightmare for a CRM system and for the team that is supposed to execute on this data. A plan has to be developed and implemented quickly to deal with this inevitable. The leads should be tagged with a naming convention which is easily trackable through weekly reports. These reports will open up your team to what the tangible ROI of the leads coming through from the show.


A follow-up cadence needs to be within 1-3 business days of the event. Your Sales and Marketing team should be in sync on what this cadence looks like and getting a brief follow-up message out to the people who have visited your booth with a call to action.




With the digital age in full swing, there is high touch marketing constantly flooding customers inboxes with emails and updates. It is rare you get this type of forum with a customer today, especially one that is already prequalified. A trade show also provides you an opportunity to speak to the buying decision makers directly at the same time and place. Trade shows remain the top venue to not only generate demand and fill your pipeline but also to build relationships and expand your companies’ awareness.


The reality is, you cannot just throw money at a trade show and get the ROI you are expecting. An even colder reality is that your budget is tight, so precision and results are needed. A trade show remains one of the best forums for marketers in all industries, but you get in what you put out not just fiscally, but through pure effort. Often the disconnect between Sales and Marketing derails any success. If you are aligned on both perspectives and can execute efficiently, you will undoubtedly secure the benefits at your next trade show.


Download the Trade Show Checklist to ensure you have a successful trade show in 2019.


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Ben Durst

Working with clients to drive sustainable change in their organization and make their number.

Prior to SBI, Ben spent his career in a variety of strategic roles in both consulting and corporate strategy.  He uses a data driven approach to tackling complex business problems while utilizing his diverse industry experience and strategic background.


Ben has worked on a variety of global product strategy projects focused on sales and marketing related initiatives including; branding and market positioning, market entry strategy, market segmentation, and market analysis.  He brings creativity and passion to every engagement coupled with his demonstrated skill sets in data analysis, marketing strategy, and business development. With a diverse background across multiple industries, Ben is able to quickly provide market driven decisions which result in his clients making their number.

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