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Sales - 8 min READ

How to get (good) leads at a trade show

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Author photo: Shabnam Kakar

Shabnam Kakar


Attend a trade show they said. You’ll get leads they said.

It’s true, trade shows can be an amazing way to generate new high-quality leads. In fact, 4 out of 5 people who attend trade shows have buying authority—meaning over 80% of the people walking through those trade show aisles are potential paying customers.

The key is knowing how to get them.

We’ve broken down what to do before, during, and after a trade show to maximize the number of leads you bring in.

Before the show:

Write down what you want to accomplish at the trade show.

Yes, you want leads. But what exactly do you want them for?

For example, your primary goals may be to:

It’s important to narrow down your goal (or goals) for the trade show and focus on that. This will give your trade show efforts some direction.

Choose trade shows where your target audience will be.

It’s better to attend a smaller trade show where more of your audience will be than a larger one with only a few potential prospects.

When evaluating whether you should attend a trade show, ask yourself: “Will this trade show help my company accomplish our primary goal?” (The one you decided on the previous step.)

Trade shows aren’t cheap. They can cost upwards of thousands of dollars plus the time and effort involved in setting up your booth, ordering swag and information pamphlets, getting speaking points ready, and of course, paying the employees who will be staffing the booth.

So, a little research on the types of people that typically attend this trade show, which other companies will be there, and the turn-out rate from previous years is well worth the effort.

Pro-tip: Trade shows are also a good relationship-building opportunity for your current clientele. Use your CRM to look up which customers live near the trade show and invite them to come say hi and pick up some free swag!

An example of a lead's contact information logged in Copper

Ask if you can speak at the show.

Most shows have individual speakers or a panel of them that talk about relevant topics. If you can secure a speaking spot, you’re sure to reach a ton of people even if they don’t come talk to you at your booth.

Plus, you’ll get some great content for your LinkedIn page!

Just remember, this isn’t somewhere to sell your product, but rather to speak about an industry topic in general. However, you do want to make sure your audience knows who you are, so briefly introduce yourself, your company and what it is you guys do.

At the end, let them know where your booth is located so if anyone is interested in learning more, they can stop by!

Here are some pointers when trying to get a speaking gig:

  • Check if speaking opportunities are available: Usually, you can check the trade show’s website to see if they have a section titled something along the lines of “Speaker Submissions.” If not, that’s okay, just reach out through their general contact form.
  • Have a speaker proposal ready: If there is a speaking position available, the trade show organizers are going to want to know what you have to say. So, think of a topic relevant to the trade show (hint: looking at popular speeches that were give there in previous years can help give you some ideas), slap a catchy title on it and have it ready to send off!
  • Reach out early: Trade shows are usually planned out months if not over a year in advance, so plan accordingly.
  • Advertise it: If you do land a speaking slot, awesome! Be sure to announce it on social media to get people intrigued about your topic and start some buzz about your brand before the trade show even begins!

Reserve a good booth location.

Before the trade show, suss out the venue it’ll be held at and try to get dibs on a good spot to set up your booth.

Spots near the concession stands are usually a surefire bet because of the high traffic. Corner spots are also valuable as they tend to have good visibility and are easy for visitors to get to, especially when it’s crowded.

Make sure you book early though—the best spots go fast.

Let the world know you’ll be there.

Put the word out on social media that you’ll be at X trade show at X time and where your booth will be. That way people who are interested in your brand will know exactly where to find you.

You might even want to offer an incentive to drop by specific to your social media audience. for example, you could Tweet “Come visit us and we’ll hook you up with a free food/drink voucher!” (Who doesn’t like free food?)

Even if people don’t attend the trade show but see your post, they’ll see you as someone who is actively participating in industry events and this will help position you as a leader in your field. Hello, brand awareness.

During the show:

Make sure your booth looks sharp.

Looks matter at trade shows.

You want to make sure your company’s booth stands out, and that anyone who is passing by can know right away what you do at a glance.

That being said, don’t overload your booth with your company’s life story either. Keep it simple and to-the-point.

Here are some pointers for designing your trade show booth:

  • Have a clear tagline that lets people what you do in one short sentence (and make sure it’s legible).
  • Don’t put too many words on your booth. A logo and tagline paired with one or two visuals is usually enough. You want to aim for about 40% empty space.
  • Focus on just one thing you want people to remember about your company after the trade show and highlight that. For example, if you’re an apparel company and want people to remember your unique hoodie designs, feature only hoodies in your display instead of your entire clothing collection.

Staff your booth with the right people.

The people standing at your booth are the ones who are going to be representing your company at the trade show. So for starters, make sure the people standing there actually want to be there. After all, they can’t make others interested in their booth if they aren’t interested in it themselves.

Of course, your booth staff should know the products very well and be able to talk about them and answer any questions confidently and accurately. Otherwise, your chances of getting quality leads from the trade show are slim.

They should also be strong communicators both verbally and in being able to read body language to properly gauge whether booth visitors are really interested in what you’re selling or just there for the free stuff, which brings us to the next point. Typically, sales teams do great in this environment.

Have visitors complete an activity before giving out swag.

Not all trade show leads are equal, so having them prove themselves through a simple activity is a good way to start qualifying them early.

For example, maybe you decide to hand out free t-shirts at your booth. Everyone likes free t-shirts, but not everyone is necessarily interested in learning about your brand. Rather than hand them out to everyone who walks by, reserve them for the visitors who stop to ask questions and agree to leave their email address where you can send them more information.

Use the power of technology.

Going back to our t-shirt swag example, you may want to streamline this process by having multiple iPads at your booth (ideally one per staff member) where you can have visitors enter their email addresses before handing them a free shirt.

These email addresses can then be fed directly into your CRM, ready for you to use later (here are some templates for writing trade show follow-up emails).

For example, see how you'd manage leads in Copper:

As we mentioned above, another powerful way to use technology at trade shows is social media. The show likely has a designated hashtag. Find it and tweet directly at people using it to come visit you for (for a free t-shirt!) and let them know where your booth is located.

You can also schedule additional posts ahead of time using a social media management tool like Hootsuite or Sprout Social so your booth staff can focus on engaging with the potential leads in front of them instead of looking down at their phones.

After the show:

Follow up ASAP.

You could get a mountain of leads at a trade show but if you don’t follow up with them, it was all for nothing.

Follow up the same day if possible. Otherwise, follow up the next day while the lead is still hot and your encounter is still fresh in their mind—and yours. To speed things up while keeping your message personal, have a follow-up email template ready to go and just customize it to each lead.

Email personalization gets harder the longer you wait between trade show and follow-up, as you’re more likely to forget key details that could help you connect with the lead. So don’t wait.

If you had a conversation with them, sprinkle some of that into your email to help them remember you (proving you remember the conversation will earn you some brownie points in the relationship-building department too).

Think of it this way: the longer you wait to follow up, the colder that lead gets. So make sure you have a plan for how to manage these leads.

Record your results after each trade show.

Did you achieve the goals you wrote down?

If your goal was brand awareness, how many people did you engage with? If it was newsletter sign-ups, how many email addresses did you get? If it was networking, how many vendors or suppliers did you connect with?

These numbers will help you determine which trade shows you had the most success at—so you know where to pay another visit to next year!

Now that you’ve got your trade show leads, learn more on how to build relationships with them and turn them into sales.

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