6 Common Exhibitor Mistakes

And how to avoid them

Everyone makes mistakes. And if you're smart, you can learn from others' rather than make them yourself. Find out what exhibitors routinely do wrong so you can avoid these six common errors.


Mistake #1: No/Vague Goals

Up to 71% of exhibitors don't set specific goals. They may have vague desires, like finding new customers, but nothing concrete."The result is a lack of focus, poor coordination, wasted money, and lost opportunities," says Steve Hancock, president of exhibit company Divinitas Displays.
To avoid this trap, set measurable targets. If you want new customers, aim to collect contact information from five who plan to purchase products like yours in the next 12 months, plus another 30 who are interested but not yet planning to buy.


Mistake #2: No Planning or Organizing

Exhibiting means dozens of tasks. If you don't plan ahead and keep organized, you could let important details slip. Instead:

  • Make a calendar of deadlines. Shippers, printers, and other service providers impose rush charges for last-minute orders. If you meet their deadlines, you'll save money.
  • Read the exhibitor manual and other show documents. Otherwise, you might miss crucial facts and regulations.
  • Develop backup plans in case your tech glitches, your shipper misplaces your booth, or your booth workers get sick. The show's managers and exhibitor service company can offer advice or replacements.


Mistake #3: No Pre-Show Marketing

David O'Beirne, owner of the consultancy Exhibitors Only, says that if he were exhibiting, he'd contact attendees well before the show."I'd be writing to prospects and I'd be writing to current clients, if they're in the area, to come and see me."

Write to your own clients and prospects whenever you have news about your show preparation — always with an invitation for them to meet you at the show.

The most effective marketing channel is email, says a survey of B2B event professionals. You can also post your news on social media; you can reach a show's attendees by including its hashtag (like #AdvMfgExpo) in your posts.


Mistake #4: A Bad Booth

Your booth is your company's face at the show. A variety of problems can make attendees miss it.

  • Sameness. Too many booths look alike; they're easy to ignore and hard to remember. To catch and hold attendees' attention, you can use unusual materials (electric vehicle company Faraday Future covered a booth with mirrors and live moss); striking accessories (livestock-medicine firm Zoetis used wooden barrels, rope lassos, and other ranch equipment); interactivity (Google built puzzles into its booth walls); or other innovations.
  • Barriers at the front of the booth. Don't let tables or other hurdles block an attendee from entering. Move them out of the way so your booth is approachable.
  • Clutter. A cluttered booth looks disorganized. For a clean, professional look, remove unnecessary items so there's more room for people.


Mistake #5: Untrained Booth Staff

Only 26% of exhibitors conduct staff training, says the Center for Exhibition Industry Research. You can get an edge over the other 74% by instructing your staff in a few crucial areas.

  • Product knowledge. Engineers and other potential customers want to know your product's specifications and benefits. Make sure to staff knowledgeable subject matter experts who can talk the talk; if they're not available, teach your other workers how your product operates and what it can do.
  • Attendee engagement. Too many workers spend time talking with each other or reading their phones. Rehearse with your team how to invite passers-by into your booth.
  • Sales techniques. A common problem is aggressive selling: Ambushing attendees with a brash sales pitch. Many attendees don't like it. Asking questions often works better. So does an engaging demonstration.


Mistake #6: No/Slow Follow-up

Exhibitor magazine says that exhibitors don't follow up on 40% of trade-show leads. They let these potential customers slip away.

To avoid this mistake, start by dividing your leads into three categories: hot, warm, and cold. Hot leads need a product like yours right now or very soon, and can afford it.

Contact these leads during the show or within the next 48 hours. You'll put yourself ahead of most other exhibitors.


A Direct Route to Success

Avoiding common exhibiting mistakes isn't complicated. You just need to apply thought and effort. As an exhibitor, you're used to doing that. And you'll like the payoff: a smooth-running, lucrative show experience.