Guest Post by Ryan Lovell, Senior Exhibit Consultant for TradeTec Skyline

This is a follow up to “To Exhibit or Not to Exhibit.” In her recent post, Julie conveyed some experiential wisdom in her warning to folks considering going into trade shows. Her advice was if you have to ask, the answer is no. I’ve worked with Julie at two organizations, once reporting directly to her. With no exaggeration and no flattery intended – she’s far and away the sharpest mind I’ve encountered in my 7 years in K-12 sales.

Having said that, I am going to disagree with her advice. My answer is you could be missing serious growth opportunities by not doing trade shows! Not much of what Julie said is wrong – they are expensive and you need to plan or else it could be a major hemorrhage in your sales/marketing budget. The big point I want to make is that when done correctly, trade shows can accelerate aggressive growth like lighter fluid on a camp fire.

Think of the last trade show you went to. There’s evidence of trade shows done the right way, the so-so way, and the “Oh that’s so wrong way.” Like just about anything else in life, there is a way to screw up your trade shows. I came up with 4 types of exhibits I’ve encountered, and the 4th one is the exhibit you’ll want to be.

  • The Varsity Club – This booth is full of seasoned reps and C level executives. They have a huge 50×50 space, some decent displays, and lots of tables and chairs. A lot of the time it looks like they are talking to each other and never will you see them approaching the aisles. These boys have huge books of business, and are content meeting clients and keeping them happy. ROI outlook – customers and brand alone will bring them new business, but they are leaving serious money on the table by having an aggression factor of virtually zero with new prospects.
  • We’re Here Because We Have To Be – They are at the show, but it’s clear in the everything about them that no one wanted to be. The sales staff is either working on a laptop or not really making any effort to work. The display is the very cheapest display possible. You’ll see big no-no’s like food in the booth, graphics that are clearly outdated. You don’t want to be these people. The spending is far less than a serious exhibitor, but the ROI is next to nothing.
  • All The Wrong Reasons – This exhibition has a lot going for it! They have major traffic, good location, a sharp display. But they’re missing in one big way. They’re not attracting the right person. Not every single attendee at the show is your target prospect. This company has everyone stopping by to see the magician, or to win the free iPad. They got it going on, but they are spending precious resources attracting leads that are not useful. The ROI is okay, but the massive amount of wrong leads will frustrate the sales team and eventually they will lose patience sifting through the piles to find the good ones.
  • The Exhibit that has it going on – At every trade show, there are a few exhibits that stand out. There is one that I’ve always admired in K-12. They dressed in orange shirts, and were definitely the coolest kids on the block. This exhibit has a sexy display, smiling, organized staffers, the branding is clear and they get lots of qualified leads. The exhibit is not just a booth, it’s an experience. Experiences get remembered.

So how does a company get to be one of the few exhibitors an attendee remembers?  Here are five non-negotiables you must commit to if you want to use trade shows as an engine for growth.

1.  Ownership

Someone needs to OWN the program, and be rewarded for its success. They should track all metrics for measurement of trade show success, and provide reporting to VP Sales. This doesn’t mean it should be their only responsibility.

2.  Keep Up Appearances

People stop for two reasons – the display and the people. Every square foot you occupy at the show represents you. A sharp exhibit, sharp looking people and a clean booth go a long way. You have only seconds to make an impression to attract an attendee.

Phone conversations, eating, checking emails, etc. are all things that should be done away from the booth. Do not engage in long conversations with colleagues, and do not group together – this is intimidating to an attendee and not inviting. Keep a clean booth – no visible garbage and certainly no eating.

Standing up straight, head up with a smile says that I am interested in you and you’re welcome in our booth. Head down, arms crossed or worse back to the aisle say the opposite. Make sure you’re clothes are ironed and clean. Don’t party too much the night before! (hilarious video)

3.  Use Quotas

Every staffer needs to have quotas for demos, leads, scheduled follow ups, maybe even sales at a trade show. Personally, I recommend sales contests and incentives for each show

4.  Prospect-Qualify-Close!

Since a great trade show program means approaching people in the aisle, there needs to be at least one scripted approach questions. It’s a simple, yet effective way to engage. Ideally it’s an open question such as “What brings you to the exhibit hall today?” or “I noticed you looking at our booth, what caught your eye?”

Not all attendees are a lead.  Ask qualifying questions early and often to assess the value of your lead. Done correctly you can save significant time that otherwise can require multiple calls and emails.

Always be closing. For social sales people – you’re going to run into sales opportunities not JUST on the floor but quite possibly the moment you get on the plane. I’ve met prospects on the plane to a show, at lunches, happy hours, etc. We even closed a sale at Pete’s Piano bar in Austin on a bar napkin to someone we’d only met an hour prior.

5.  Motivate

If you’re running your trade show program right way, sales people should be begging you to go. Why? First because they get great leads, and they are treated well. Spending $200 a night instead of $125 for a hotel can makes a huge difference. Take them to a nice steakhouse. Buy a few rounds to reward their success.

If you can commit to the five items above, and you can stay faithful to them – you can see excellent trade show ROI. My suggestion is to try 3-4 trade shows in year one and track the results carefully. If you choose to stay on the sidelines, sure you’ve avoided risk, but at what cost? I’ll end with a line also borrowed from Shakespeare, a line from King Lear – “Nothing will come of nothing.”


Thanks Ryan!  I agree that this professional approach to trade shows can make a big impact for B2E Sellers!  Readers, if you need assistance in honing your trade show presence, I recommend you reach out to Ryan Lovell here:

Ryan Lovell | Senior Exhibit Consultant | ph. 630.376.1524 | fax. 630.376.1525 |cell.

TradeTec Skyline | 1136 N. Garfield St | Lombard | IL | 60148 |

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