How to Plan a Trade Show

by Nancy Wagner; Updated September 26, 2017
Male sales clerk standing in eyeglass store, portrait

Participating in trade shows gives you a way to let prospective customers know about your products or services. Ideally, you will start planning for a trade show at least several months before it begins. This gives you enough time to carefully think about the key messages you want to share with attendees, create your exhibits and invite customers and prospects to visit your booth. Once you attend your first trade show, evaluate what you’d like to change, and get ready to build upon what you created for the initial show.

Set Show Goals

Write down realistic goals for the trade show in which you want to participate, as this will help you figure out what exhibits and staff you need. For instance, you may want to make contact with 150 prospects, or sell $25,000 worth of products, requiring two sales staff on hand at all times. Another goal might be to gather contact information from prospects so you can market to them after the show. Some companies use trade shows to introduce new products or to help build brand recognition.

Choose Space

Most trade shows sell booth space at different prices, depending on where the booth is located and the size. For instance, if you want to introduce a new product or service, you need the most trafficked spot you can afford, such as on the main aisle. If you need to convince people to buy by having sales staff talk to each attendee, choose a quieter space with plenty of room for several sales people to hold conversations with prospects.

Design the Booth

Find out the dimensions and layout of the space you choose to locate at the show, as this will guide the design of your booth. For instance, if you want people to interact with your staff, you may want to set up the booth so attendees can walk all around the space and look at various exhibits. Decide on the messages you want the booth to convey. Then, draw a floor layout to show where exhibits, tables and sales areas will be placed to relay those messages. Once you finalize the floor plan, start planning your exhibits, sales materials and any handouts you want to give attendees. If you want to use a giveaway to gather contact information, figure out what is most likely to appeal to prospects and start pulling the elements together.

Train Staff

Start training your sales staff at least a few weeks before the show begins. Explain your goals for the show, and walk your salespeople through various scenarios. For instance, if you plan to gather contact information, but not actually sell anything at the show, you should train your sales staff on how to approach attendees and get them to provide their contact information. If you want to sell products, then train staff on how to identify qualified buyers, convince them to buy and complete the sale with an order form or by using a payment processing system.

Promote the Booth

A few weeks before the trade show begins, invite your current customers and everyone on your prospect list to stop by. Ask the trade show coordinators if they have any free tickets you can hand out to help increase traffic to your booth. Use your Facebook and Twitter accounts to let followers know about the show. Remind people a week before the show starts what booth number you’ll be at, and tell them what to expect at your booth, such as a giveaway, free information or demonstrations of how your product works.

About the Author

Nancy Wagner is a marketing strategist and speaker who started writing in 1998. She writes business plans for startups and established companies and teaches marketing and promotional tactics at local workshops. Wagner's business and marketing articles have appeared in "Home Business Journal," "Nation’s Business," "Emerging Business" and "The Mortgage Press," among others. She holds a B.S. from Eastern Illinois University.

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