How to make the most of trade shows

Trade shows are great opportunities to break into and develop markets because you can meet buyers and industry specialists from around the world. They're also a good way to learn more about target market trends and size up the competition.

Trade shows are great opportunities to break into and develop markets because you can meet buyers and industry specialists from around the world. They're also a good way to learn more about target market trends, size up the competition and get other information that will help you break into the market. Attending a trade fair in your local market or abroad is a big time commitment, but with good preparation it can really pay dividends for your business.


1. Select a foreign trade show

The decision to attend a trade show should not be an impulse, but rather part of a long-term marketing strategy included in your marketing plan.

Set strategic development objectives and choose the show accordingly. Use the following criteria:

  • Types of exhibitors and visitors and their reasons for attending
  • Size, reputation and visibility of the show
  • Time of year and prep time needed
  • Regions represented
  • Type of attendees expected and their positions within their companies
  • Opportunities for sponsorship and visibility
  • Length
  • Budget

Identify any previous or current exhibitors you may know and look into the organizer's terms.

To learn more about putting together a marketing plan, see the Desjardins interactive marketing plan.

2. Prepare

  • Set your goals based on your strategic development objectives and assign roles and responsibilities to each of your team members.
  • Select your booth location based on visitor traffic and proximity to booths of businesses offering related products and services, competitors and potential partners.
  • Analyze and plan out opportunities to make presentations, sponsor activities and attend networking events.
  • Plan and fine-tune your booth's appearance, lighting, staffing and promotional material to generate interest.
  • Get as much information as you can about expected exhibitors and attendees. Find out what cultural aspects you and your team should know about.
  • Verify intellectual property protections in place and the trade names used by other exhibitors.
  • Plan a communication campaign to get your name out there (social media, website, trade journals, targeted invitations).
  • Set up appointments and confirm them a few weeks out. Keep a few slots open for additional meetings.
  • Make sure to cover all logistics well in advance (hotel, plane tickets, ground transportation, passports, visas, vaccinations, insurance, material and booth shipping, samples and inventory).

How to generate traffic to your booth

  • Send out invitations in advance to pique attendee interest (training, exclusive announcement, etc.).
  • Make reminder calls to attendees a few days before the show.
  • Think of everything that could grab their attention (banner, lights, sound, video, etc.).
  • Always have something going on at the booth to attract people's attention (demonstrations, videos, etc.).
  • Have enough staff running the booth at all times in similar dress and use the entire space.
  • Ask some of your reps to go out into the hall and direct people to the booth.
  • Put on valuable events for your visitors (training, guest appearances, special presentations, etc.).
  • Boost your visibility by giving lectures (if part of the show program) or sponsoring an event during the show.
  • Get to know other exhibitors so you can exchange referrals and visitors or put on events together.
  • If appropriate, think up a special show promotion (discount, special price, gift cards, etc.).

3. Be part of the action

  • Make a list of important people who will be at the show, try to arrange a time to meet with them or let them know in advance that you will be there (these people are highly sought after at trade shows).
  • Keep your schedule up-to-date to make the most of your time.
  • Maintain a high energy level at your booth and seek out new ways to maximize traffic.
  • Motivate your sales team and reassign roles as needed.
  • Find new sources of market information (suppliers in attendance, industry reporters and associations).
  • Keep a record of every contact you meet.

How to quickly assess booth visitors

To maintain a steady flow of traffic to your booth, make the most of your time at the show and qualify business opportunities on the spot based on the follow-up required, assign team members to interview visitors using a set questionnaire.

Put together a qualification card with the following items:

Technical qualifications:

  • Can the product or service meet customer needs?
  • Does the product or service have a clear comparative advantage for the customer?

Sales qualifications:

  • Why would the customer buy the product or service?
  • What criteria would the customer use when selecting and buying the product or service?
  • Is the business positioned (size, earnings, reputation) to purchase the product or service?

Time qualifications:

  • What stage in the purchasing process is the customer currently in (exploratory, pilot project, pre-financed purchase, impending firm order, etc.)?
  • When can the product or service be delivered? How urgent is it?
  • What are the next steps in the purchasing process and what are the likely barriers?

4. Follow up and evaluate

  • Follow up with the people you met via email or phone the week following the show. Plan on spending at least 2 days on this task.
  • Follow up with the people who were on your list but did not attend.
  • Carry out strategic and tactical debriefing with the team members who attended and decide what steps to take next. Evaluate whether attending the show was beneficial and whether the tactics you used at the event were effective.
  • Tell other team members how the show went.

Make a chart to evaluate the show.

Quantitative aspects
Number of contacts made - sales  
Number of contacts made - partners  
Number of contacts made - suppliers  
Cost of the show by sales potential  
Cost of the show by partner potential  
Cost of the show by supplier potential  
Percentage of contacts created out of total booth visitors  
Impact of the show on website traffic  
Number of documents distributed  
Number of samples given away  
Number of inquiries received  
Number of contacts by category (management, procurement, sales, technical, academic)  
Number of contacts by business type and size (number of employees, product supply, earnings, relevance, source, legal structure)  
Qualitative aspects
General impact on the business's image (understood, perceived)  
Interest generated in each product and service presented  
Spillover effect on the marketing of a new product or on a new market  
Overall objective attainment (strategic, tactical)  
Effect on employee motivation  
Effect on partner motivation  
Effect on the competition  

Desjardins can help you do business internationally, maintain good relations with your foreign customers and suppliers and manage your business risks. Contact Desjardins International Services