How to Generate Leads From Trade Shows & Conferences




Aside from showcasing your latest products and services to companies within your niche and meeting industry leaders, the most common top priority is to generate leads from trade shows.

With the right strategy, small business owners can leverage their trade show exhibits to:

With that said, here's how to prepare, execute, and follow up on leads from trade shows.

How to Prepare for a Trade Show

First of all, planning a successful trade show requires you to be super organized, creative and resilient. The level of effort you exert in preparing for a trade show determines the number of leads, opportunities and return on investment (ROI) that come out of it.

You need to understand that planning way ahead of time is the ultimate key to a successful trade show. Lackluster planning can lead to a disaster of epic proportions.

Here are tips on how to prepare for a successful trade show:

Step 1: Set Goals

When setting goals for a trade show, always remember the S.M.A.R.T mnemonic:

Specific Measurable Attainable Relevant Time-bound

Take a look at these examples:

  • Collect 25 business cards from prospects during the first day of the trade show. 
  • Close 10 sales, complete with signatures on purchase orders, during the second day of the show.
  • Beat your one-day sales record from a previous event.
  • Talk to ten different prospects for at least ten minutes each.

Also, when you’re setting goals for your exhibit, a great way to achieve them is to break them down into small, achievable goals that you can work towards as a single exhibitor or a team.

Step 2: Delegate Responsibilities

Did you know that multi-tasking is very unproductive

Oh yes! This is one skill you don't want to use at a trade show. Focusing is a key to success at a trade show. Multi-tasking usually leads to feeling like a "chicken with its head cut off".

If you're handling a team, then it's best to delegate tasks according to their specific strengths. Spend enough time going over each person’s responsibilities in the weeks before the show.

Assign a specific team member to do the presentation, hand-out flyers, distribute giveaways, talk to clients, etc.

The purpose of delegating tasks to team members is so you can FOCUS ENTIRELY on your goals and execution for the trade show.

Step 3: Know Your Audience

A successful trade show requires preparing the right approach for the right type of event.

There are two unique types of trade shows you may want to exhibit at:

  • Vertical Trade Shows
    This type of trade show brings together a wide range of attendees from manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, and retailers within a very specific industry.

    An example from my previous life is the CEDIA show (Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association). The show attracts a very narrow demographic but there are attendees from every level of the supply chain.
  • Horizontal Trade Shows
    This type of trade show brings together attendees from a wide range of different industries, often at just one point on the supply chain.

    An example of a horizontal trade show is a wholesale convention with thousands of diverse vendors.

It's important to be very strategic about the trade shows you exhibit at, otherwise, there's a strong possibility of getting a very low or zero return on investment.

Step 4: Understand Your Space

It's very important to have a clear view of your space at a trade show. You have to know your specific floor location, your competitors' locations, and even which direction you’ll be facing.

The foot traffic and the lighting can dictate the success of your booth.

Try to learn which exhibitors you’ll be located beside before you book a floor space. Also, keep an eye on utilities and services near your location. You might want to ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I near a power outlet?
  • Is my space near the toilets?
  • Am I near fire extinguishers and emergency exits?
  • Are there cafes and restaurants near my location?
  • How can I draw visitors into my booth?

The bottom line is that understanding your space and its requirements can make or break your exhibit so you better spend enough time doing your research.

Step 5: Understand The Theme of the Show

Trade shows follow a certain narrative and following this narrative gives you access to valuable media coverage.

Industry leaders use trade shows to introduce new concepts or launch new products and it attracts the media. This gives your business an opportunity to be part of the narrative.

My personal tip is to first, research guest speakers and learn about their trade show presentation concepts. And then, focus on matching your exhibit with the trends and strategies they will talk about.

Synchronize your marketing efforts with the event's message or theme to highlight the qualities of your business.

Step 6: Rehearse

You don't want your trade show exhibit to become a major flop, do you?

Although mistakes during a show are unavoidable, the chances of committing them will be lower if you spend time rehearsing the whole show from beginning to end.

Write a conversation plan. Have a dress rehearsal and role play if you must to make sure that everything flows smoothly and nothing falls through the cracks.

The best way to be prepared for an event is to REHEARSE, REHEARSE, and REHEARSE some MORE!

For the most part, executing on one trade show is the same as another. I'd highly recommend creating a trade show checklist for all the tasks you need to complete from beginning to end for a trade show.

Here are some additional resources to help you prepare for your trade show:


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How to Properly Execute at the Trade Show

Now that you’ve completed all your pre-show planning, it’s time to execute at the show.

Here are a few things to do...

Work the Plan

Check the following during the tradeshow:

  • Booth setup
  • Personnel
  • Scripts
  • Flyers
  • Giveaways

Send Reminders

Make sure you are active on social media to reach attendees during the show. If there's a designated event hashtag (#), use it.

Also, you might want to post pictures of your company in action during the event. Go Live on Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, etc. and tweet on Twitter to remind people about the event.

Don't Forget Your Giveaways

Give away stuff to those who give you their full contact information. You can use prizes, gift cards, and discounts to add value to potential customers.

You can also giveaway T-shirts, pens, stickers or notepads, or your marketing brochures and handouts. Make sure you give away something that people will remember you by.

These giveaways will give your leads a reference point for reconnecting with you when you follow up after the show.

With that said, here's how to follow-up on leads after the event.

How to Follow-Up on Leads After a Trade Show

1.Organize Your Leads

The first and most crucial step to take after a successful trade show is to organize your leads so you can get in touch with them immediately.

Organize your leads (if you can) based on - hot, warmand cold - in order to prioritize them. Doing this lets you add details and missing information, including company name, other contact information, and the services they were most interested in.

2. Complete Your Initial Outreach

I don't think there's a right or wrong way to complete your trade show outreach. The most important thing is you have an outreach plan and you start executing it as quickly as possible coming out of the tradeshow.

Following up with leads two weeks after the show isn't going to cut it. You need to strike while the iron is hot!

Here are a couple of outreach ideas you might want to consider.

Make Phone Calls

Phone calls can be a very effective mode of communication when it comes to following up on trade show leads, especially hot leads. Phone calls allow you to connect with prospects quickly so you can be sure you maintain a constant connection to your potential customer.

Promote Engagement Through Customized Email Sequences

Send customized emails that prompt interaction with your leads right after the trade show.

Coming out of a trade show there is all kinds of valuable information you can provide your leads to help further the relationship with them while adding value to them in the process.

Use calls to action in your emails to further engage your leads and encourage them to take the next step with you. 

3. Be Prepared to Nurture Your Leads

Many of your trade show leads won't be ready to buy immediately. Crafting a plan to keep in touch with them and nurture them over time will be really important.

Pro Tip: Consider Remarketing to Trade Show Leads

There are a number of ways you can remarket to trade show leads after the show, it really depends on how much information you collected about from people during the show.

With a phone number or email address, you can create a custom audience in Facebook and target folks who visited your booth with a relevant ad. 

With a physical address, you can put together a direct mail campaign to engage boot visitors after the show too.

Remarketing in channels outside of phone and email will provide you with one more way to stay top of mind after the show. 

More Tips on How to Generate Leads from Trade Shows

1. Generate leads from trade shows by choosing the right shows.

Trade shows take up a lot of time and money. For this reason, you must be very strategic about the trade shows you choose to exhibit at.

Do your research and make sure you will gain significant exposure to your ideal clients

2. Generate leads from trade shows with the right exhibit or booth.

  • Get a bigger booth. Choose a corner space if possible.
  • Get a booth space closer to the foot traffic like the entrance and exit zones. Usually, a space near a bigger competitor can give you this advantage.
  • Remember to backlight your trade show display graphics.

3. Generate leads from trade shows with pre-show promotions.

  • Send postcards to attendees offering a free gift in your trade show booth.
  • Run a banner ad on the event's official website.
  • Include booth location and show information on all outgoing mail.

4. Generate leads from trade shows with promotions and activities at the show.

  • Introduce a new product, service, or business concept at the trade show.
  • Offer food and drinks to your attendees. It will entice people to gather in your booth and stay a while.
  • Give your attendees something entertaining and fun to do like a raffle, sweepstakes, money machine or a game.

5. Generate leads from trade shows with effective staffing in your booth.

  • Bring in more qualified booth staffers. People who know your product/service who are comfortable engaging people in conversation.
  • Ask visitors open-ended questions and listen to their answers to get insights about their needs and wants.
  • Use a badge scanner to quickly record leads instead of writing down every visitor’s name and address. 
  • DON'T FORGET TO SMILE. Nobody wants to talk to Grumpy!

And that's how to generate leads from trade shows!

Remember, it starts with great preparation and impeccable execution to get leads from events, conferences, or trade shows. Then, you must have a strong follow-up strategy to turn those leads into customers.

Did you find this helpful? Feel free to comment below or share this article. We'd love to hear from you!

Need more lead generation tips? Check out our entire Ultimate Guide to Lead Generation.


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This is the exact same marketing plan we use for our business  and our clients.

It's simple and easy to use. Isn't it time you started seeing consistent, repetable results with your marketing? It all starts with the RIGHT plan...

Header image courtesy of Jumpstory.

About the author, Tim Fitzpatrick

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