Advice From the Experts

Veteran exhibitors tell how they choose trade shows, prepare for them, run their exhibits, and follow up afterwards.

How do experienced exhibitors present their companies at trade shows? We asked some of the best to spill their secrets.

How do you pick the trade shows where you'll exhibit?

"We choose by market segment," says Jim Clem, North America distributor manager for Hitachi America's industrial components and equipment. A lot of exhibitors work the same way.

Market-focused exhibitors look for “what type of businesses go to [each] specific show" as attendees, according to James Merritt, national sales and marketing manager for engineering and cybersecurity firm Altron.

For more about choosing trade shows, look at our article focusing on the subject.

What's the most important thing you do to prepare for a show?

  • "Review the exhibitors and see who I want to visit with." — James Merritt, national sales and marketing manager, Altron
  • "Identify the customer base that will be at the event." — Micheal Ginsberg, event manager, Qosina
  • "Prepare a clear message or story [about] specific industry challenges we can solve."— Steve Wilson, global business unit director for plastics, rubber and composites, Cold Jet
  • "Housing is first and foremost. In an effort not to get shut out of choice hotels, I book as soon as housing opens." — David Aquilino, customer service and marketing manager, Arthur G. Russell
  • "Sit down with the sales management and engineering teams to determine what we should be showing or demonstrating." — Barbara Kuntz, marketing communications manager, Amada Miyachi America
  • "Our first step in planning a show is determining how to have a valuable presence, deciding what technology we will focus the booth around." — Cassandra Emery, communication and project assistant, Herrmann Ultrasonics

How do you make your company stand out on the show floor?

James Merritt, sounding like a real-estate agent, says, "location, location, location." For him and other exhibitors, the key to getting noticed is your booth's spot in the expo hall.

Clem mentions location, too, and he's also a fan of giveaways like “bags, lanyards, pens, [and] sumo-wrestler stress squeeze toys." So is Qosina's Micheal Ginsberg: "We offer free samples of our products onsite. People love free stuff!"

A third tool for grabbing attention is “visible signage,” says Barbara Kuntz of Amada Miyachi. In particular, says Arthur G. Russell's David Aquilino, “I may use a halo or other signage that can be seen from a distance.” (A halo is a round or multi-sided sign hanging above the booth.)

During a show, what's the most important thing NOT to do?

Your booth workers should never "miss potential opportunities by being distracted and not focused on the people at your booth," says Ginsberg.

Clem mentions one of the most common ways booth workers make this mistake: "Internal peer talking [among the booth workers] and not facing the show floor aisles." As Bay Associates Wire Technologies sales manager Brian Burke puts it, "Do not be goofing around with a co-worker and miss a chance to engage with a customer."

Steve Wilson of Cold Jet adds, "Do not sit, eat, or use [your] phone or laptop." Herrmann Ultrasonics" Cassandra Emery explains, "If you're looking at a phone... you are missing the opportunity to engage."

What's your first priority after a show?

Leads — the ones that the booth staff acquired.

Wilson and Ginsberg say that they enter the leads into their companies" CRM (customer relationship management) system so they or their salespeople can follow up with the leads after the show. Aquilino says, "We go through the leads [and] decide which ones are good to pursue." "Our first priority is contacting all leads and thanking them for their time or answering their questions," says Emery.

How should you reach them? Merritt sends emails to the leads. Burke mentions phoning: "Call right after the show." Or sooner: Kuntz says that Amada Miyachi does follow-up "before we even close the show."

For all of these companies, the key to exhibiting is reaching out to leads — not just after the show but before and during, too.

Or as Burke says: "Engage, engage, engage!"