How to Make Your Next Company Trade Show a New Business Development Machine

trade show make your next one a business development machine

Is exhibiting at a trade show in your near future?

If so, set yourself up to be a business development machine for those key days during the show. Here’s how to get people to know you are at the show, have an opportunity to like what you are doing and get on the road to trusting your company with their business.

Whether you’ll be at a huge show like the National Federation of Retailers BIG Show (NRF BIG), or a local one-day business expo, these business tips will work for any size business and budget.

Busy show

Please understand that trade shows are busy events. Attendees are focused on different goals. Some are attending for the keynotes, others are registered to be in workshops, others are the ones presenting.

Know that most people’s schedules will be filled up before the show. This will make it more difficult to secure meetings and have key people you want to talk with “drop by your booth”. You’ll need to plan in advance and get on their show “to do” list well before the show starts.

Get started now

As soon as you have secured your spot, start promoting. Add the show information to your email signature and company newsletter. Let people know you’re exhibiting at the show and include your booth number. For example, an email signature could include this line: “See us at the XYZ Show – Jan 23-26 booth #458.”

Typically, the show team will provide ways for exhibitors to promote the show to their networks. Some will have email or text messaging promotions open to exhibitor participation. Most will have a show guide (printed or digital) listing and promoting all exhibitors.

Tradeshow website

The show website will start to fill up with exhibitor companies as soon as the show is open for exhibitor registration – be sure to get your company listing submitted as soon as possible. An online listing on the trade show website can also help with a back link to your company website.

Depending on the level of participation – you may be offered more promotional opportunities at the show. Generally, there will be the opportunity to be a gold, silver, or bronze sponsor.

Each of those levels will come with distinctive promotional opportunities. These can include keynote opportunities, tickets to exclusive events, special pricing and booth placement. Most are available for one off purchase for an additional fee if you decide against a specific level of sponsorship package.

Your network – work it

I warn you, this next part is hard work! Remember, everyone will be very busy at the show. You need to get on their schedules ahead of time.

To do this, start as soon as you’ve secured your booth spot. Personally write to people in your network and propose the idea to meet for a breakfast, lunch or dinner during the show dates. This way you’ll feel like your schedule is still in your control and have set appointments with people who already know you.

This can be an excellent time to re-establish connections with your network. This can also calm down some of the exhaustion and anxiety of long days consistently meeting new people and having to be “on”. Ask your colleague to bring one of their colleagues along. That way you have a warm introduction to someone new.

New people – meet them

Next, reach out to those potential partners and clients you want to do business with and secure a breakfast, lunch, dinner or coffee meeting with them. You see where I am going with this? You want to be fairly booked during the show.

Of course, leave room for spontaneous meetings and take advantage of the seminars, workshops and social events at the show. Do remember, it is called a trade show – you’re there to increase trade with your company. You can see the sights and explore the destination city after the show is over.

Booth meetings

If you will be taking meetings at your booth (typically in 15 or 30 min blocks) work to get those filled early. Make it easy for people to sign up for a booth meeting. Have a sign up form on your website where people can self-select what time works best for them. Remember the success of your show depends on this early work.

Last year

Next, if possible, get the list from last year’s show and see if there is anyone on that list you’d like to reach out to.  Perhaps they will be attending the show this year and would welcome a chance to learn about your business.  Do remember if in Canada or other countries where email laws are strict, be sure you are following your local rules when emailing businesses for the first time. Find out more about CASL here.

Social media

Of course, we need social media to help our trade show participation turn into business development opportunities.

Share early (as soon as you register) that your company is attending the show. Get the show’s hash tag and use it. You want to ride the wave of promotion that the show is already creating and get in front of people who don’t yet know about your business.

Be sure to promote your company, why people should come by your booth, what your booth number is and what they’ll learn by dropping by.

Social partners

Find out if your company’s strategic partners will be at the show. If so, be sure to share, like, retweet, repost their content for the show. They’ll appreciate it, hopefully return the favour and you’ll be sharing information that is helpful and informative to your audience.

Be sure to share the show information. Typically, the trade show marketing team will have a social strategy. Like all of us, having quality content to share is needed, so providing them with information to retweet, share, like (by using the show hashtag so they can find you) needs to be part of your plan.

You can’t see everyone at the show. It’s just a fact. So use social media to give your company the opportunity to get in front of more people .

Your team: getting social at the show

Remember to continue your social posting and sharing at the show. Recruit your team and company members and show them how to do this. Most people understand how to use social media, but the excitement of the show can demand all of their attention and they may forget to do so.

Have a pre-show meeting to give them tips on what to share and what to be on the lookout for. For example, suggest they tweet/post/Instagram at least two times during each keynote or workshop they attend, or after each meeting with a customer, or as your booth visitors win the draw for the big prize you are giving away. Just these reminders can help your team think to pull out their phone and share different events on social during those long trade show days.

But first, strategy

Of course, there needs to be a compelling business reason why you are at the show. Trade shows are very valuable and effective, but they need to fit in and be driven by your marketing strategy.

This means being able to answer the question…how is exhibiting at the show going to help your business achieve its goals? That question needs to be answered before deciding what show, if any, to exhibit at.

Are you setting your company up for success at your next trade show? Contact New Initiatives Marketing for more ideas on how to make all this trade show marketing stuff drive business for your company.



Get the Ultimate Guide Now:



Get the Ask a Fractional CMO Newsletter