Do you always feel like you could be doing more with your trade show program?  You’re not alone.  What may surprise you is how your exhibiting evolution may follow the exact same 3 steps as other exhibitors:

  • First, exhibit to raise awareness of your company, brand, or products.
  • Second, change your exhibiting goal to generating leads.
  • And third, switch to focus on holding meetings in your booth, especially with clients.

Climbing the ladder of tradeshow objecftives

This insight hit me while reviewing survey responses from exhibitors sharing what they are doing differently in their trade show programs.  Most exhibitors said they were focusing on one of these three objectives.  What struck me was how exhibitors repeatedly transitioned from one goal to the next, progressing more along this continuum of engagement.   I’ll share those quotes shortly.

Step 1: Exhibit to Increase Awareness

Here are quotes from some of the exhibitors who talked about how they exhibit at trade shows to increase awareness of their company brand:

  • “We are looking at it as more of a marketing tool to make our presence known to the market.”
  • “Using it more to get name recognition.”
  • “Primary purpose is to gain name recognition.”

Understandably, some exhibitors that focus on branding do so because they are new companies, new to trade shows, or entering new markets:

  • “Using them as a branding effort in new markets rather than sales tools.”
  • “We’re just starting to use trade shows.  It is an opportunity for us to introduce our company to market sectors adjacent to our focal markets today.”
  • “We did not do trade shows 2 years ago, we are looking for more exposure.”

Step 2: Exhibit to Generate Leads

After exhibiting to generate awareness for a while, trade show marketers get the itch to do … something more.  Here are three exhibitors who spoke of that transition from awareness to leads:

  • “Primary focus is on generating sales leads whereas before it was more brand awareness.”
  • “Using it as a true lead generator as opposed to just organizational branding.”
  • “Looking for qualifying leads more than generating exposure.”

This transition only works in one direction — no one said they wanted to shift from generating leads back to raising awareness!  Other exhibitors also focused on lead generation:

  • “Relying more and more on trade shows for lead source.”
  • “Gathering more leads.”
  • “Using to generate leads.”
  • “Collecting and tracking leads.”

Step 3: Exhibit to Hold Meetings & Relationship Building

The next transition is from gathering leads, to holding meetings with key clients and prospects in their trade show booth:

  • “More for maintaining relationships rather than bringing in new leads.”
  • “We are using them more to set up meetings at the show.”
  • “Trade shows/industry conferences have become greater opportunities to deepen existing client relationships and meet face-to-face for the first time in some cases, rather than primarily make new contacts.”

Many exhibitors even said they focus their trade show activity on meetings just with clients in their trade show displays (although over time, if you do not also gather new prospects, eventually you will run out of customers!).

  • “Appearance at shows is more about reconfirming existing customers’ choice in our product, retention, meeting many customers in one setting and connecting with possible business partners, than they are about sales.”
  • “We are more focused on our key customers.”
  • “Account maintenance.”

Meetings in the booth seem to be a more effective use for trade shows.  We asked exhibitors to share how their organizations view the effectiveness of trade shows, and those who focus on meetings rated trade shows 13% higher than those who focus on awareness, and 32% higher than those who focus on lead generation.  Moreover, more exhibitors in our survey said they focus on meetings than either awareness or lead generation.

In this day and age when it’s so hard to get face-to-face with even our clients, it makes sense to focus on setting up meetings with your best clients and prospects.   You want to make sure you’ve got a strong relationship with your existing clients, keep them up to date on your latest offerings, and potentially cross-sell to them your other products.  And a longer meeting in the booth avoids the pitfalls of taking a quick lead on the show floor that fizzles into nothing when your sales force has a tough time getting a follow-up meeting after the show.

Not to say there weren’t other objectives that exhibitors focus on.  Some highlighted networking, some mentioned generating sales, others about a greater focus on R.O.I.  But these three – Awareness, Leads, Meetings – were by far the most common, and appear to be followed by exhibitors in order.

So where are you on this ladder of trade show objectives?  If you’ve been thinking you can do more at trade shows, maybe it’s time to stretch your program, and reach for the next rung.

Value of Trade Shows White PaperFor more information about how you can climb the ladder of trade show objectives, read The Value of Trade Shows. This white paper tells how exhibitors said they are increasing their trade show participation, why they value trade shows, and how they are exhibiting better at trade shows than before. Click here to request your free copy.