While social media and web based marketing are terrific, there is nothing quite like a face-to-face interaction with a prospective customer. For many small business owners, the best way to get in front of a lot of potential customers is at a trade show, conference or home show.

During my career I have spent hours, probably days, standing in trade show booths, smiling and selling, listening and learning. Looking back, some shows were extremely productive – filled with meaningful and relevant conversations – and others were a complete waste of time. In most cases, advanced planning made all the difference.

If you read my posts with any regularity, you are probably tired of me telling you not to spend money until you set your goals. But, given the size of an investment in attending a trade show, I am going to say it again. Deciding your goals will help you select the right show and build an appropriate participation plan and measurement system. The most common goals for attending a trade show include: awareness, lead generation and sales. Here are a few trade show tips to help you match objectives with actions for your next show.


If your objective is to simply build awareness for a new product or service then a large booth in a prominent location with great signage is a must. Measuring your results is simple as you track how many people come to your booth. To increase traffic, invest in pre-show promotion and advertising in the show directory.


This is a more selective objective. It is still about quantity, but the emphasis switches to a more qualified conversation. In this case you may want to consider selecting a location near your competitors, especially if  you are not the biggest player in your industry. While that may sound crazy, think about fast food restaurants. There are always several clustered together. Why? It’s where people go when they are hungry. At a trade show, as your competitors attract the right people, you will be close by to chat with them as well.

To make the most out of this type of event have a lead capture tool, raffle, drawing or sign-up form in the booth. When it comes to measuring your success simply count the number of requests for more information the show generated. The effort you put into the front end of this process should be balanced with the time you invest when you return to follow up with all of those prospects.


At some shows it is normal to actually book business at the event. If that is your goal, select a location which is a little quieter so you can have a conversation without shouting. Avoid corners, locations near food stations, bathrooms or registration and gathering areas. Those high traffic locations will be nosier and more distracting. Your booth should include a storage area for sales literature and a table for you to use as you write an order. (Yes I know you will probably use your iPad or tablet to accept the payment, but a table is still nice.)

Even if you want to write lots of orders at the show, you still want to have a follow up plan to pick up the stragglers and the repeat business when you come home.

Want to learn more about trade show planning? Download our free guide today.