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How NOT to waste money on Tradeshows (Part Two)

So, you’ve decided to participate in a tradeshow and you want to be sure that you get the most bang for your buck?

Hopefully, you have already read the first part of this article – on why tradeshows may not be for you. But if you have decided that tradeshows are right for you, then here is a list of things that you can do to maximize the Return of Marketing Investment (ROMI).

To maximize ROMI, the work needs to start long before the actual event – and I’m not talking about the admin side of things here. If this is the first event or if you are changing your approach, a lot of thinking may need to be invested to ensure a successful event.

Your stand is a fortress

First of all, the design of the stand needs some consideration. I have been to a lot of events – with a lot of very impressive and expensive looking stands, but many of them failed in their primary function, which is: Attracting people to the stand and enable the sales team to engage with them!

A lot of conference stands looks like fortresses with their walls, hidden rooms, different colored carpets, steps and big screens and that can be a problem.

Your goal is to make it as easy as possible for a prospective customer to come to your stand – and making it look intimidating is not the way.

So, the first thing you should do is to take a look at your stand. Not with a view as to how impressive it looks, or if all your products are presented there, but rather with the view of a prospective customer. Does the stand look approachable, have you removed all the invisible barriers that you can think of? If not, consider scrapping the stand and start over…

Oftentimes a cheap pop-up stand without walls, carpets or any of the other previously mentioned ‘barriers’ may prove more effective in generating leads than a big, expensive custom build stand.

Getting the leads

Similarly, many will avoid your stand out of fear of being subjected to ‘yet another pitch’.

Nobody likes being sold to, but at the same time, most people are curious and willing to talk if you seem approachable – or you approach them.

I’m not going to dive deep into the strategies that you can employ to get people to stop by your stand. There are many resources both on- and offline that outline those and how your sales team should act while on the stand.

Instead, I just quickly outline a few tricks that I have seen used to great success.  The objective to all of these is to get the person to the stand so that the sales people can initiate a chat:

  • Running a simple competition where people have to answer a few questions.
    • Possibly in connection with 2
  • In male oriented business areas, employ a couple of smiling PR girls, to attract attention
    • Men love speaking to smiling girls)
  • Make the stand look busy
    • Nobody likes to be the first to a party – get employees or customers to come by your stand so that it looks busy. That makes it easier for prospects to approach the stand (as the fear of being sold to is diminished by the crowd)
  • And the all-time classic: Have nice, useful or just plain weird giveaways that make people stop by your stand
    • Be original. It does not necessarily have to be expensive. Some of the best I’ve seen have been cheap plastic giveaways

Getting close to prospects

Another thing you should do when exhibiting is to take advantage of the fact that your sales team, key prospects and perhaps even existing customers are in the same place at the same time.

You should connect all three and get them to talk under informal circumstances.

If the event stretches more than a day, or if customers and prospects have traveled a substantial distance to be at the event, chances are, that they are not going home right away.

This is an excellent opportunity to make sure that prospective customers get to talk to your favorite existing customers (who are hopefully your biggest fans and your product evangelists).

If you work with longer sales cycles, chances are, that you have already spoken to a lot of the prospects you meet on your stand. You will probably also have received a delegate list from the organizers, so you know who is attending. In pther words, you know who you want to get close to.

With this information, you can set-up a night on the town for your team, customers and prospects.

Make sure to invite your happiest customers well in advance and get them to commit. You will want a happy customer or sales guy to every 1-3 prospective customer. Customers are better than your own sales team.

Take them to a fancy restaurant for some good food and conversation. The good news is that you don’t have to do anything to control the conversation. During the night your products /services are sure to pop-up in conversations and if you have selected your existing customers carefully, then your prospective customers will unknowingly be subjected to a wealth of real life case-studies and contacts who use your solutions whilst they are still in the buying process.

At the end of the night, both your prospects and your customers will be have had a good night, which reflect positively on you. And as an extra bonus, the prospects have also been sold your products – without even realizing it.


In part three of this series, we take a look at how you make sure that the tradeshow doesn’t become a stand-alone marketing event, and that the leads you get from the tradeshow are nurtured and integrated into the overall marketing-flow.

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GrumpyCMO is where I air my thoughts on marketing. I'm Bo Ekkelund, and I have been in the marketing field for more than 15 years. The blog is called GrumpyCMO, as I call it as I see it. I see a lot of hype in marketing and I see a lot of very basic mistakes being made in marketing and this is where I tell the world about it. Oh, and I also air my thoughts on marketing strategy, marketing's place in the organization and the changing challenges of CMO's. Some of the articles on this site have also been published on other sites, such as Marketcommunity and LinkedIn.