When I first started attending trade shows, they were nothing more than an opportunity for people in an industry to get together, have a good time and maybe do some business. Some shows have gotten extremely sophisticated, and others — well, others are still just a mess.

I’m amazed at what I see at shows and often wonder how these people get any business at all doing what they are doing. Here’s a list of common trade show mistakes and how to fix them. Do you see yourself?

  1. Setting up late – while attendees are walking the show.Flight SNAFUs, weather and all kinds of things can impact your schedule — not to mention the crazy party the night before!
    • Get to the show early – the day before if it’s open and set up. You want to be prepared in case packages don’t show up or a booth element brakes.
  2. No objective or theme to the show.Have a REASON to be at the show. Are you launching a product or service? ?Maybe you’re promoting something that’s been on the back burner. You might also be researching a trend or a new opportunity. DECIDE on what you want to get out of your appearance at the show early, so that you can prepare to get the most out of it. A trade show event offers the unique opportunity to have customers, prospects and competitors in one place at the same time. It would cost you THOUSANDS to see them all individually – so ask yourself how you can best take advantage of this opportunity.
    • Set Objectives. Review who’s attending the show; customers, prospects, vendors, competitors, etc.
    • Next decide on what you want to know or learn – Get together with your team and collect what questions or challenges can be answered at the show – then divide the list up and conquer.
  3. Wasting valuable selling time.I can’t believe how much selling time is wasted at a show as sales people mill around the booth or aimlessly wander the show. Then after the show is over, they all go out to dinner together — when everyone should be meeting with customers!
    • Schedule demos. If you have a product or service that has to be seen to be believed – schedule private demonstrations with your target prospects. Call them ahead of time and schedule a time for them to meet you. You can do this at your booth or you can even rent a room at the hotel and have a sort of open house space where prospects aren’t distracted by other suppliers!
    • Lunch and Dinner meetings. Make time to have lunch, cocktails, dinner or other entertainment with customers and prospects. There is something magical that happens when you share a meal or an experience that brings you closer together. This is an opportunity to share your real personality with customers and prospects. People buy from people they like. You want to give them the opportunity to like you.
  4. No pre-show promotion.Your prospects and customers are coming to the show with objectives – maybe a shopping list. Many of them are only there for the day – so you want to make sure that you get on their list of MUST SEE booths or demonstrations.
    • Send a physical mailing. Direct mail is STILL incredibly popular and powerful. Set a theme for your trade show and send a series of 3-dimensional, lumpy mailings that entice and educate your customers into coming to see you at the booth or schedule a demonstration.
    • Send teaser emails. Email your customers a series of teaser emails about what you’ll be exhibiting that they don’t want to miss. Remember to load up the text and copy with current customer frustrations and how you’ll fix them.
  5. Treating EVERYONE like a valuable customer. Not everyone who attends the show is your customer. Be ready by knowing the profile of your ideal customer. That means having a list of 5 – 7 questions that identify whether the person you’re talking to can actually benefit from what you have to offer. If they can’t — then say good bye as fast as possible — without being rude of course.
    • Be discerning and picky. You’re at the show to generate QUALIFIED leads — those would be people who actually want and need what you have to offer. Don’t just throw promotional items and literature at people who will only take it to their hotel room and throw it out. You might as well be burning cash. Only give your valuable stuff and time to qualified prospects. This also means not grabbing EVERYONE’s business card for a drawing – QUALIFY people first – and then take their card and enter them into the drawing. This assures that someone who actually has a chance of being your customer will win.
    • Have a qualification sheet. It’s no big deal to have a cheat sheet ready with your 5 – 7 qualifying questions, You can even have these printed up and distribute them to people who might pass them on to others that might actually fir that profile.
  6. No training before the show. We used to call it “Booth Camp” and everyone hated me for having it – but it was a terrific way to get all these things on the list here out on the table and addressed.
    • MEET. At least 6 months before the show, meet to discuss what your themes will be and what your objectives will be. This will give everyone enough time to plan the graphics, giveaways, etc. And you won’t rush.
    • Practice. A week before the show, have a dress rehearsal. Set up the booth. Give everyone a chance to stand around the booth, etc. Practice makes perfect.
  7. Looking unprofessional by eating, drinking, sitting.All of these things tell potential customers and prospects that you are not interested in talking to them.. You can’t be bothered. It looks so pathetically bad and unprofessional that people will not want to buy from you.
    • Set a schedule. Create a schedule of when people will be at the booth. Create 2 hour shifts where 1-3 people will be at the booth. This way it won’t be so crowded that there’s no room for customers and prospects AND if someone comes looking for a member of your team – you can tell them when they will be there. This will also give everyone ample time to eat, drink, pee, sit and meet with customers when it’s not their turn at the booth.
  8. Not debriefing before and after each day of the show.Not meeting before and after each show day will make you look like a doofus. People will not be prepared, and you will be wasting valuable time and money. Not only that, but you won’t know what adjustments to make that might be necessary to reach your objectives.
    • Meet for breakfast, meet for a quick cocktail. Before and after each day – quickly review your objectives for the show and how you did. How many leads did you get? Did you get that meeting in that you intended with that hot prospect? What adjustments do you need to make for the next day?
  9. Feedback and measure your results.I can’t tell you how many times people go to the show, collect leads and then do nothing to follow up. Don’t let this be you.
    • Track your leads. Follow up with every lead. Get them into your email marketing funnel and then track how long it takes them to convert to new customers. This will help you budget for next year and get the most out of your show.

Trade shows are ridiculously expensive. The cost of travel, hotels and valuable time is often wasted because people don’t follow these valuable tips.

Next time you go to a show – try this checklist and let me know what happens.