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25 Of The Most Common Trade Show Mistakes

The past 7 years, working with clients in the trade show industry has allowed me to work with many different companies, industries, marketing teams and personalities.  I’ve had the benefit of seeing some really great success and trade show strategy.  And, I’ve also seen companies who have stumbled, because of mistakes that have been made in several different areas of the trade show strategy.

So, I’d like to share with you the 25 most common trade show exhibiting mistakes.  You’ll see that they can all be filed into several different categories, like pre-show, at-show, post-show, logistics, strategy, exhibits, etc.

  1. Not planning ahead.  Yes, we’re all really busy at the office with a lot of other things, but if you’re not planning for your trade show 12-9-6-3 months ahead, you’re setting yourself & company up for failure.
  2. Going Cheap.  If you’re looking to save $5, $20, $200 here and there, you’re focusing on the price of things, rather than the investment.  Those extra bucks for the nicer carpet, the extra plants or the better looking display will add to the experience of your attendees and set your company apart from others.
  3. No Pre-Show Marketing.  If you don’t tell anyone that you’ll be at the show, how can you expect to have a lot of people stop by your booth space? No one has time to wander around these days. They’re coming prepared to see who they want to see. Give people a good reason to stop by your trade show booth space and invest in those e-mails, post cards & promos to intrigue their interest ahead of time.
  4. Bad Graphics.  Have you ever seen a billboard on the highway with a bunch of copy?  It’s hard to read, right?  Same with trade show displays.  Make sure your graphics quickly tell who you are, what you do and how you can help them.
  5. Failure to Follow-up on Leads.  I know you’ve heard (from CEIR.org) that 79% of leads are not follow-up after a show. Shocking.  Don’t be one of those companies.  Create a closed-loop system, before you go to the show, to make sure no leads fall through the cracks.
  6. No Post-Show Marketing.  Just like not following up on leads, a lot of people fail to continue marketing after the show.  Those B & C leads should still receive contact from you to be nurtured into A, sales-ready leads, at some point.
  7. Old Display.  Ever had an old car?  It’s a pain, right?  Things break down and just don’t work right anymore.  Same thing with a trade show display.  At some point, it’s not telling the same story as it used to and you’re probably losing out on opportunities.  Time to get a new one.
  8. Missing Deadlines.  Remember all those trade show forms? You know they have deadlines.  Submit them early and you’ve found an easy way to save some money.  Also, you’ll have deadlines from your exhibit company for building your display.  Plan ahead and make them — you’ll avoid additional expenses, like the need for expedited shipping.
  9. Filling Out Forms Incorrectly.  Was it 10 watts, volts or amps you needed for your electrical drops?  Small detail, but if you get it wrong, it’s a big expense to change on the trade show floor.  Even more if it’s on a Saturday or Sunday.
  10. Not Partnering with Professionals.  Yeah, everyone knows a nephew or friend who has Photoshop.  That doesn’t mean they know how to design, though!  Don’t waste time on logistics and pinching pennies, work together with a professional to have your best show ever!
  11. Failure to Measure Results.  In a court of law, you need evidence to win a case.  So when you get back from the show, how can you show others and yourself whether or not it was a success?  You need to measure results.
  12. Exhibiting in the Wrong Booth Size.  When you have Thanksgiving dinner with 12 people at a table for 6, it’s crowded and uncomfortable.  You’ve probably noticed this in a booth that was too small.  At other shows, perhaps a regional show, you might find that traffic isn’t too busy, so perhaps you can downsize the next year.
  13. No Staff Training. If we all didn’t need constant & consistent training in our lives, baseball players wouldn’t take batting practice before their games. You need to train booth staffers before each show.  Yes, even the veterans.
  14. Sending the Wrong Staffers. Send the new guy to the trade show, I hear it all the time. And, let me tell you, it’s a bad idea. The clock is against us at trade shows. So we need people who are experienced in the process and are focused on success.
  15. Failure to Research Your Target Market. Do you know what percentage of CEOs, directors and managers will be at the show? You might communicate to each of them in a different way and you need to be prepared & flexible.
  16. Going to the Wrong Show. How do you know they’ll be at the show? Because you went last year? Look how quickly technology changes. The trends in industries can change as quickly, so you need to be sure you’re at the right shows. That might mean exhibiting at different shows than you did in the past.
  17. No Teamwork.  Have you seen the movie “Glengarry Glen Ross”? Your sales team might complain about the lack of or quality of leads. Your marketing team is probably complaining about the sales team being lazy and not following up on leads. Stop fighting and work together.  It takes a leader and a plan, but a well-oiled trade show team, with the gap bridged between sales & marketing, will be very successful at trade shows.
  18. Not Leveraging Technology.  Technology is pretty cheap these days.  You can buy an LCD monitor for nearly the same price as renting from the show.  Everything is free on the internet, like social media.  Everyone has a camera. Embrace some form of technology and use it to connect with prospects at trade shows & enhance your booth space.
  19. Forgetting About Social Media.  How many people are on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc.?  Who knows these days, but it’s a lot.  Everyone has at least one of these accounts and they’ll be at the show.  Take pictures around the show & in your booth and tweet them.  Take a short video and post it on YouTube. Your trade show experience will live long after the show and continue to promote your company.
  20. Underestimating Your Prospective Customers.  They’re coming to the show prepared, with knowledge.  They’ve done research, online, before the show and they know who they want to see at the show.  You better be one of them and you better be prepared.  Get on their dance card!
  21. Not Having a Plan “B”.  What are you going to do if your display doesn’t show up?  One of your booth staffers get the flu, what should you do?  Your exhibit is out of regulation, what’s next?  You’d better have a back-up plan for all of these situations and more!
  22. Getting Hung Up on Failures.  So that give-away didn’t work out. You didn’t have a chance to connect with that huge prospect. Let’s get over it, plan for the next show and do better next time.
  23. Not Listening.  Stop talking!  Starting asking good questions and let your prospective customer do the talking.  Then listen!
  24. Not Taking Notes.  Don’t rely on badge scanners.  Typically you’re just receiving contact information, not much more. Record notes either by writing them down or using a better technology.  This is an important step to help you quickly qualify prospects and follow-up quickly afterwards.
  25. Forgetting to Celebrate Success!  Yes, you put a lot of work into your trade show.  Once you’ve measured results after the show, you can see all the objectives that you achieved for your company. Now, go celebrate with a lunch or a special purchase for yourself. You deserve it!
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About the Author

Michael Flavin is a trade show strategist & exhibit consultant at Skyline Exhibits & Graphics Mid-America in St. Louis, MO. He works with companies & organizations to eliminate headaches from their trade show, event marketing & recruiting programs. Overall, he offers total, turn-key solutions, focused on creating memorable experiences, lowering operating expenses and increasing ROI. In addition, Michael consults & trains booth staffers and helps companies measure results from their trade show programs. He also helps exhibit marketers design St. Louis trade show displays.

7 responses to “25 Of The Most Common Trade Show Mistakes

  1. Pingback: The 25 Most Common Trade Show Mistakes | Skyline Toronto Blog
  2. Pingback: The 25 Most Common Trade Show Mistakes | Skyline Ottawa Blog
  3. I have to read it again and again, need to stamp this on my front head.
    it is so true and common sense,
    Thank you for these refreshing advice.
    Bravo, c’est très bien fait.
    Cordiales salutations.
    Jean Gantzer

  4. Great article…really. Exhibitors should be careful while hosting their booth. All the above 25 points are fabulous and must to keep in mind. Just keep your mind active and you can reach heights..

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