It’s September again, and you know what that means: It’s trade show season! Trade shows have always been a popular B2B marketing tactic, but they’re expensive to pull off. Want to maximize your investment? Use these tips to get the biggest bang for your marketing buck.


Trade show planning isn’t something you should be doing last-minute. Too many companies get bogged down with execution and don’t spend enough time in the planning stage. Instead, you need to be starting your preparations well before the show.

1. Set objectives. What do you want to get out of the trade show? Consider setting targets for some common business objectives:

Generate leads: How many appointments do you want to book? How many deals do you want to make?
How many new people do you want to meet? Set specific, measurable goals.
Raise awareness: Train your team to interact with people in a meaningful way.  Have a mix of technical and business staff.
Gather intelligence: Plan what you want to research. Find out what’s going on in the industry, identify trends and ask customers what they want.

2. Get your materials ready. There’s nothing worse scrambling at the last-minute because you’ve forgotten something. Make a checklist that includes:

Video presentation for your booth
Pop-up posters
Brochures, catalogues, sell sheets, etc.
Swag, giveaways and prizes for a business card draw
Container for collecting business cards
CASL sign (by submitting their business cards, they agree to get emails from you)

3. Tell people you’ll be there. Invite customers, prospects and suppliers to the show, and tell them when and where they can find you. Ask them to make an appointment to talk, and tell them how to do that, too. Make it easy with a booking tool like If there’s one major area in which companies fail to maximize their trade show investment, it’s before-show and after-show communications.


Preparation on its own isn’t enough, of course. What you do at the event itself will determine the success of the excursion.

4. Show off who you are. Make sure your booth reflects your brand, showcases what you do and highlights how working with you benefits customers. Ensure everyone staffing the booth is in brand-appropriate attire (suits or company-logo shirts).

5. Have the right number of people. One person per 50 square feet of booth space is a good ratio. And try to have a mix of technical sales and senior management people available to talk to passers-by or customers.

6. Engage visitors. The point of the trade shows is to connect with customers, not sit there and talk amongst yourselves. Sustaining high energy levels is hard, so schedule sufficient breaks and ensure shifts are distributed fairly.

7. Collect business cards. Jot notes on the back of each card right away, including what kind of follow-up the person wants.

8. Keep a list of questions. When people ask you questions at the show, write them down and add them to your post-show debrief.


Just because the event is over doesn’t mean your work is.

9. Connect fast. Get your new contacts into your database and send a quick follow-up while things are still fresh— within 24 hours is ideal, and you should never wait more than three days.

10. Debrief. Talk about what you learned and what you can do to make things better next time with your colleagues. Don’t turn it into a blame game—stay positive and constructive.

11. Measure. See how many contacts and how many leads you have, and decide if the show was a good investment. Is it worth going back?

12. Follow up again. Send out an email to prospects and existing customers telling them what you were up to at the show. Include photos and fun info to make it readable and engaging.

You’re investing a lot in your trade show presence, so its crucial that you make every dollar count!

Lisa Shepherd is author of the new book The Radical Sales Shift: 20 Lessons from 20 Leaders on How to Use Marketing to Grow Sales in B2B Companies and president of The Mezzanine Group, a business-to-business strategy and marketing company based in Toronto. She has been the youngest female CEO on PROFIT’s Ranking of Canada’s Fastest Growing Companies and is a frequent public speaker on B2B marketing strategy and execution.


What’s your trade show game plan? Share your tips and tricks for making the most of industry events using the comments section below.

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