By Jim Begley, Productized LLC
Sometimes doing the ROI on a tradeshow seems a lot like a MasterCard commercial.
“10×10 booth space, $5,000”
“Air travel and 3 night hotel stay, $2,600”
“4 days lost productivity by 2 of your key employees, $8,000”
“238 contacts masquerading as sales leads, priceless”
Priceless? No, I think I see the price, and it is exorbitant. But, if I believe those leads are the only value of the event, I will likely never do another trade show. And that will be a bad decision based on bad information.To get the most value from a trade show, you need to be creative. If you simply show up, work the expo booth and go home, you have left much money and opportunity on the table. My goal will be to present some additional activities you can participate in at a trade show to help increase its value to your company.
Schedule meetings with your clients. I like to use trade shows as meet-up opportunities with my clients. Host a dinner or cocktail hour for 10 of your best clients at the show. Use the time to get to know them or present new ideas to them. If you are on a severe budget, arrange to meet a client each day for lunch at the exhibit hall. Take advantage of the fact that you are face to face with many of your customers all in one place. The cost savings over individual site visits is tremendous. A word of advice, book appointments with your clients” weeks in advance of the show. Schedules are tight for everyone and you do not want to miss an opportunity.
Brush up on your industry knowledge. Trade shows typically have many educational sessions on a particular industry. Take the time to attend some sessions to gain deeper industry knowledge, or even just another viewpoint. It is never too late to learn more about your industry and frequently the session will be covered by your booth fee.
Speak at a session. Do you have a flair for public speaking? Do you have a unique or powerful business case that is relevant to the attendees? Most trade shows actively recruit industry people to present at their sessions. This is an opportunity to deliver your company”s message in a 30 to 60 minute window to your target audience. Don”t try to make this a 30 minute commercial for your company, but use it to present a topic that your company is particularly skilled at or known for. Applications to speak at an event typically occur 90 days or more prior to the event. Be prepared to submit a written agenda and speaker”s biography.
Submit one of your products. Many trade shows offer industry awards to products or companies. They can be anything from a “people”s choice” award to awards given by trade press. Get your products submitted for consideration. Entry is typically free or affordable. An award can be a great source of a free press release or even a logo for use on your product collateral. Even just being listed provides more exposure to your company and your products.
Shop for partners. Walk the show floor and look at other exhibitors. Stop and talk to them. If you see a vendor you are not familiar with, learn what they do. This is a great time to broaden your view of your industry. You may find a company who just entered the market and makes a component that would be a perfect compliment to your products. You may also learn some things about your industry or your competition. You will be amazed how much you can learn in an hour by spending 5 minutes with 10 strangers in your industry.
Learn about your competition. Typically, the majority of your competition should be at the same trade shows. They have literature for the taking, demos for the viewing. Also, what is happening at their booth can provide huge insight into the company. Has the competition scaled down their show presence from last year? Maybe they are facing financial challenges or are about to shift focus. Does the booth seem disorganized and unfocused? Are they showing the same products as last year? All of these indicators can help you build a greater knowledge of you competition. A recommendation, don”t try to play undercover spy. If caught, it can be absolutely embarrassing to your company. Instead, introduce yourself in a friendly manner clearly stating you are from the competition. What is the worst thing they can say about you? “Don”t buy Vendor A”s product, they are all a bunch of nice guys over there.” Yeah, customers hate hearing that.
In summation, look at a trade show a little differently. It is a get together of a cross section of people from your industry sharing ideas and information. It is a time to promote your wares, a time to listen to others, a time to build relationships and a time to learn about the future. If you leave with nothing but those 238 leads, you have cheated yourself out of a great opportunity.

Productized develops software applications for use by commercial software companies. Our major focus areas are products that help companies communicate more effectively with their customers as well as products that help project teams document and communicate the product creation process. Jim can be reached at

1 Comment

  1. Excellent post. I’d suggest that the opening paragraph should really be: “238 contacts masquerading as sales leads, valueless!”

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