Tradeshows for Fun and Profit

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Tradeshows for Fun and Profit

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By Sallie Hyman



Of all the marketing activities your company might consider, exhibiting a tradeshow can provide a unique opportunity for face-to-face meetings with targeted prospects. With a focused audience of buyers and sellers wanting to see what you have to offer, you can often achieve at a trade show what would take months to do with traditional sales methods at home.

NASE member Al Rickard of Association Vision, a communications company in Chantilly, Virginia, says, “I have found tradeshows to be an excellent venue to make personal connections with potential clients. They are settings where people are inviting you to pitch them on your product or services instead of pushing back as they might in other settings.”

Don’t overlook the networking and connections you can make. Some of those “customers” might be looking to invest in the next promising company. And that might be yours.

In addition to selling and networking, you will also have the opportunity to meet the competition at tradeshows. You can see what products they are offering and to whom they are selling. It may give you some ideas about new markets to explore.

Tradeshows also let you see the bigger picture for your industry. You can get a read on trends that are occurring in the industry as a whole that will help your business stay “in the know” and on track.

Bang for the Buck

Getting to a trade show is a commitment. Although the initial cost and effort of attending a tradeshow may seem daunting, the return on investment can be worth it. The Center for Exhibit Industry Research (CEIR) compiled the follow data that supports the power of trade shows:

  1. The cost of a face-to-face contact with a qualified prospect at an exposition is $142. The cost of a face-to-face sales call at a prospect’s office is $259.
  2. Roughly 54% of all qualified sales leads obtained at expositions are closed without an additional person visit. In contrast, if the first contact is made at the prospect’s office, an average of 4.3 visits is required to close the sale.
  3. Over one-half of all exposition attendees come to see and learn about “what’s new.” The medium is ideal for introducing new products/services or new applications and enhancements of existing products.
  4. On the average, over 50% of the exposition attendees are there for the first time. Since new players in the industry emerge each year, an exposition is an ideal place to meet these people.
  5. Between 11-23% of a show’s audience come specifically to see at least one product or company.
  6. Attendees spend between six and eight hours viewing exhibits during the course of an exposition. On the average, they visit 26 exhibits.
  7. Over 80% of exposition attendees are final decision-makers or influence the purchase of products and services exhibited.
  8. Between 20-37% of the average exposition audience is identified as “top management.” These are the people hardest to reach using other sales and marketing mediums.
  9. Over 50% of the audience at a regional exposition travels less than 100 miles to attend. At national expositions, 64% of the visitors come from at least 400 miles away. This may influence the exposition selection process.
  10. Over eight out of ten exposition visitors have not been called on by a salesperson from exhibiting companies in the 12 months prior to the event. In addition to new potential customers, exhibitors can meet the key management executives from their current client companies whom they had been unable to see before.
  11. Visitors are attracted to booths for a number of reasons, but most often because of the products displayed or demonstrated, or by company name recognition. However, what prospects remember most is what they are told by sales people.
  12. Some long-term business relationships start with an exhibit contact. On the average, company sales are influenced for two years after the show by the contacts made at that show.

Making sure that your business realizes the benefits from a trade show takes planning.

Choosing a Show

The first step is choosing the correct show. There are more than 10,000 trade shows held in the United States annually, so the task of finding a show can be daunting and time consuming. Begin your search by narrowing the field to your industry. Directories such as Trade Show Central Trade Show News Network are a good place to start. Your industry association is also a good resource. Don’t forget to ask you customers what trade shows they attend. If they are there, there is a good chance other like-minded buyers will be there too, who may also be interested in your product.

Once you know what shows are available to you, it is important to find the one that is the right fit your particular business. NASE member Jerry Hogan, CBC, CQF, CSF, CBA, The Resource, Development Group, LLC, of Warsaw, Indiana has seen a lot of businesses at the wrong shows over the years.

“I recommend that you look into and exhibit at specific industry tradeshows. It does no good to be at an open trade show where you will not maximize contact with people who are interested in your business,” he says.

Don’t just choose by the numbers. The biggest show does you no good if you get lost in the crowd or the demographics don’t fit. Small businesses should look for shows where they aren’t just a small fish in a very large pond. They will benefit from smaller shows that might be more vertical or targeted to a very specific industry. But make sure that the show is big enough to draw the customers you are trying to reach.

Try to attend a show you are considering before committing to exhibit. Then you can see firsthand if it fits your business’s needs. But keep in mind that some shows may not permit supplier companies to attend unless they purchase an exhibit booth.

Terisa Brooks-Huddleston, NASE member and Founder, Our Hands For, Napa, California said it was quite a task choosing what shows to attend. “We first scoped out the show as attendees to see if we would fit in and to see if the right demographics and buyers were there,” she said of the company’s first foray into tradeshows in 2013.

Some things to avoid when choosing a show include exhibiting at a new trade show and trade show company hype. New shows have no track record or guarantee that the right people will attend. If a trade show is hyped up to sound too good to be true, it probably is.

Track registration deadlines. Many times booth space is on a first-come, first-assigned basis, so if you sign up at the last minute, you may find your booth stuck in an undesirable location. Last-minute registrations may also miss the deadlines for crucial services such as electrical and wifi connections.


Speaking of services, plan carefully and don’t assume anything. Once you register, show organizers will give you detailed information about booth options and technical requirements. Think about everything you might need for your booth. How many outlets will you need, do you need wifi, what is the lighting like? No detail is too small to ignore.

Know what’s included in your booth space rental and what’s not. If it is not listed and you think you will need it, bring it yourself (i.e. tape, scissors, extension cords), in what Brooks-Huddleston calls her “bag of tricks.”

The Booth

Your booth is what will draw potential clients to you. It needs to be eye-catching, yet keep true to your brand look and showcase your product. From a practical standpoint, make it light and easy to pack, carry, and assemble. Once assembled it should be sturdy and safe. This includes using flame-retardant materials that are required by fire marshals for indoor booths.

Make your booth customer-friendly and easy to navigate. This will allow customers to move through or around your booth with ease and prevent traffic backup that may turn off potential customers from wanting to visit your booth. “Keeping your table at the back of the booth with you standing in front is more inviting to people and allows you to interact more easily with them,” says Hogan.

Be sure to use signage to draw people in. You want them to easily identify who you are and what products you sell. And make sure you have proper lighting. Good lighting makes a big impact.

Finally, preview your booth at your home or office before you travel to the show. You want to make sure it is functional and appealing. Have your employees walk through to see how they find it from both the buyer and seller side. You can make adjustments more easily with time to spare and have peace of mind when you arrive at the show.

Worried about getting traffic to your booth? Rickard suggests using a gimmick: “A contest or unique giveaway can be an effective way to draw tradeshow attendees to your booth. I often give away badge ribbons with fun words like ‘Superstar,’ ‘Workaholic,’ or ‘Party Animal,’ and they invariably attract attention and people love them. You just need to make sure that you steer the conversation to talk about your services after they attach the fun ribbon to their badge.” Hogan agrees, “Forget the pens or candy. People take those and walk away. Make sure you engage in conversation first, then let them enter the contest.”

Preshow Planning

The theory of “If you build it, they will come” does not apply to your booth at a tradeshow. Capitalizing on your time at a trade show takes a lot of preplanning. Although you will have people walk by your booth (and hopefully stop to inquire), you can maximize your potential by letting people know you will be there. The CEIR estimates that up to three quarters of show attendees know which exhibits they will attend before they get to the show. Make sure you are one of them.

Four to six weeks prior to the show start promoting the fact that you will be there. Call customers to set up formal meetings. Send out a mailing with your booth and contact number. You can often purchase a list of pre-registered attendees from show management. Sending out a press release to local papers and trade publications will also help generate interest.

Preparing Your Team

Knowing why you are going to a show will help you prepare your team. Are you going to sell, showcase a new product, or look for investors? Make sure your staff is prepared and has a clear goal for each day, such as generating a certain number of qualified leads. Limited time and attention of attendees requires quick qualifying and lead-generating tactics.

“Practice your elevator pitch before exhibiting at a tradeshow – you’ll need it!,” says Rickard. “You only have a couple seconds to engage people as they walk by your booth, so make sure you smile and exude positive energy as you deliver your pitch and most will respond by paying attention to you.”

It is important to schedule properly so that your team is fresh with adequate time for breaks and “off time” to finish up paperwork. “If possible, have three people in an booth,” says Hogan. “Two can actively be working and the third can be eating, taking a break, or walking around the show finding synergistic businesses.”

Follow Up

Following up is probably one of the most important aspects of attending trade shows. Make sure that you follow up immediately, so that your new contacts will recall where you met. The rule of thumb is that follow up should be made within 72 hours – before the window of opportunity of a recent contact is lost. The follow-up plan should be determined and scheduled prior to the show. It is a good idea to have one team member send each day’s lead information back to the office so appointments can be made while you are still at the show.

Finally, get feedback from your team so see how they can weigh in on how they perceived the event and any input they have for future modifications.

What Not to Do

On a practical note, Brook-Huddleston and Hogan offer the following advice from their experiences at tradeshows. Hogan says, “Look for the booths with people sitting behind the tables playing on their iPads. Those are the people wasting their money. They are not engaging and sending a message for people to just walk on by.”

Brook-Huddleston’s biggest pet peeve is having a person at a booth look at your nametag first, and not look you in the eye and greet you. “It’s not relational. It feels like they are sizing you up to see if you are worth their time. We make sure to look everyone in the eye,” she says. Showing interest in your product and the people at the show will go a long way to bringing traffic through your booth.

Tradeshows are a good way to get the exposure and connections that can help boost your business to the next level. They take careful research and planning, but the results can be well worth the work.

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