One Of My Biggest Trade Show Mistakes

When I first started my job, I was beyond excited! “You’re in charge of our trade shows”, I was told – how exciting, event planning should be easy, right?

I had about 3 months to plan for my first show and I had everything ready to go. This show will be better than last year and nothing could go wrong, or so I thought.

The exhibit was shipped and waiting for us. We had more than enough brochures and giveaways. Hotel rooms were ready, travels plans prepped.

I’d be lying if I said that I weren’t nervous. However, I was just ready to get the show started.

The bright lights turned on and the doors opened. It was moments before we’d be flooded with new prospects and it was going to be glorious.

About 10 minutes in, only a few people strolled by. They half-smiled and tried to avoid eye contact. No worries, just give it time, I thought.

The show struggled on over the course of 2-½ days. We ended up with fewer leads than the previous year.

We failed. What did I do wrong?

I spent several weeks trying to figure it out to ensure this would never happen again. Here’s the postmortem.

1.) We did not announce our exhibiting presence. No pre-show marketing. No one knew we were coming. We did not create a trade show promotion. We sent no emails, made no phone calls, did not mail anything at all to tell people that we were exhibiting at the show. Our sales reps didn’t even send messages on LinkedIn to invite people. It doesn’t always take a lot of effort, however, every show needs some type of pre-show marketing.

2.) We had no plan. The sales team knew that we were exhibiting at the show, however, there was no agreement with marketing as to what our goals were for exhibiting, why we were exhibiting at what we needed to accomplish. Now, we create a set of agreed upon goals, we measure them and we report on them for each show.

3.) Our booth staffers were not trained. Sure, many had worked a trade show before and others, like me, had not. But, no one works a trade show everyday. When attendees walked by our booth space, we didn’t know what to do. We didn’t make an effort to say hello and engage with them, thus lost many opportunities. Now, we practice, like a play rehearsal, before every show. We run through the best ways to start conversations, how to ask questions and how to respond to objections.

Though my ego was somewhat deflated, I’m glad that my first show taught me many of the trade show mistakes that you encounter, so that I was able to learn how to better prepare for trade shows in the future.

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