7 Key Takeaways from my First Trade Show

As your business grows, the focus shifts from building the product to positioning it within the market. Exhibiting at a trade show is a natural next step in building visibility and credibility as a company. It also provides you with the opportunity to showcase your product and the chance to network with qualified prospects.

That very question – whether trade shows provide enough ROI to offset the costs, both monetary and time-wise – is the main concern for most companies thinking of exhibiting. Setting clear expectations and goals for what you want out of the experience will help you evaluate your success after the event. Whether it’s the number and quality of generated leads or the overall impact of your presence and branding, define your metrics to keep your team focused and your investment worthwhile.

Despite my initial concerns, exhibiting at Shop.org turned out to be a valuable experience. Here are 7 key takeaways from our first trade show as an exhibitor:



  1. The opportunities are strong…

Trade show organizers are quick to extol the benefits of networking and gaining face time with prospective clients. They’re not wrong: not only are trade shows pre-screened with people who are willing to pay to attend, attendees go into the event ready to speak to vendors and exhibitors. What’s more, 81% of trade show goers have buying authority, which makes the interactions even more valuable. Make sure to research the trade show and its attendee list so you can leverage those opportunities to the fullest.

  1. …But be prepared to work for attention.

It can be hard to see beyond the walls of your own booth space as you gear up for the event. Your team will be focused on the details, so make sure you take a step back to think big picture. Don’t forget that your booth, no matter the size, is just one of hundreds – and that all the exhibitors there have similar goals. Realizing this before you get to the event will help you guide your team on ways to stand out from the crowd.

     3.    Rely on creativity over gimmicks and giveaways.

Big-ticket raffles are part of the trade show experience, but don’t rely on gimmicks and giveaways to generate traffic. Instead, trust your team’s ideas and let them get creative. When a team member suggested Nerf guns and a laminated target as a way to engage passerby, I was skeptical. It turned out to be an irresistible challenge for most attendees who walked by, and was by far our most effective way of getting people to speak with us.

  1. Build relationships over giving the hard sell.

It’s easy to slip into sales mode when speaking to attendees, but keep in mind that they’re inundated with pitches throughout the conference. By having my team focus on building relationships instead, we were able to nurture quality leads into real contacts. Use the opportunity to start a genuine conversation with the prospective client, which will last longer and yield more results than a sales pitch.

  1. Figure out what works – and what doesn’t.

Trade shows offer a unique chance to receive instant feedback from attendees – and pivot accordingly. For example, at Shop.org, we found that our market was flooded with similar messaging. Attendees said they couldn’t tell apart several different companies who all used the same rehearsed terminology. My team responded by avoiding buzzwords while explaining how we differ from our competitors. Be prepared to roll with the punches – how well and quickly you’re able to adjust can give you the edge when it comes to capturing that lead.

  1. Capitalize on the event by hosting your own.

Attendees are usually from out of town, and welcome the chance to mingle after hours. Using the conference as a platform for your own event will give you more opportunities to network with prospects – as well as keep you memorable to the attendees who stopped by. Our invite-only executive mixer at a local Seattle hotspot was a success due to effective planning: by building the attendee list with key contacts early on, we were able to keep the event exclusive and high-level, which boosted our credibility.


Jerry Jao

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