Trade Shows Made Easy: The Ultimate (Downloadable!) Checklist


Research shows that trade shows continue to be one of the most used business-to-business marketing strategies in the US. However, not all businesses are created equal. While trade shows have long since built a reputation for being a must when it comes to growing your brand, as a business owner, it’s up to you to decide whether or not this is true for you.

For some, trade shows are just too big of an investment, driving them to seek out other methods of tracking down leads (and understandably so). For others, trade shows provide an invaluable opportunity for face time with droves of prospective buyers. “Being seen equals brand awareness,” says Sharon Stuart, CEO of BedVoyage. “If a buyer has never heard of our company, this gives us an opportunity to be in front of them and hopefully create a sale.”

Should you decide that trade shows are in your best interest, we’ve compiled some things you may want to consider before, during, and after to make the best of your experience. We’ve also created an easily downloadable PDF checklist for you to go back to as you get ready for the big day.

Before the show

Having trouble figuring out where you need to go? There are several lists and resources available online to find the perfect trade show for your company. UBMFashion offers an “Exhibitor Concierge” for apparel brands looking for shows that cater to Women’s, Men’s, and Kid’s apparel. Trade Show News Network offers a comprehensive list of trade shows across all spectrums that you can look at.

Once you’ve picked a show, it’s time to invest in booth space. Location is something that many people don’t think about until it’s too late. For example, did you know that corner booths are always better because they allow you to be seen from two different vantage points? A lot of people don’t do this, but it is perfectly acceptable to request that the trade show organizers are not placing you right next to a competitor. After all, it’s in their best interest to make sure that you’re happy. Trade shows also usually have a set way of organizing and breaking attendees off into sections (i.e. one area may be pet accessories while the other is pet food, etc). Be sure to ask about what those sections are because that information may just help you organize yourself a little better as well as pick the best spot in the best section for you.

Consider why it is you’re attending the show in the first place. What are your goals? What do you want to get out of this experience? Is it to generate leads, raise awareness, gather intelligence or all of the above? Set objectives so that you can stay focused and strategic.

These objectives can be anything from:

  1.     Speaking to X amount of buyers
  2.     Giving out X amount of samples or sell X amount if product
  3.     Generate X amount of leads to follow-up with later
  4.     Answer X amount of questions for market research
  5.     Find at least one investor

Once you’ve figured out your objectives, think about how you’ll go about making them happen. What materials will you need in preparation for the show? Will any work need to go into designing some of them (i.e. banner and/or handouts)? 

Show materials typically include (but are not limited to):

  1. A/V or presentation equipment (especially if you’re doing a vendor presentation in addition to your booth)
  2. Pop-up material and/or posters
  3. Paper materials (i.e. brochures, catalogues, sell sheets, etc.)
  4. Samples, swag, or any other products to give away
  5. Somewhere to amass business cards

Now that you have goals in mind, materials handy and travel booked it’s time to start telling people you’ll be there and building some buzz! Be sure to notify any and all potential customers, suppliers, or any other prospects to the show, telling them when and where they can find you for a quick chat. Scheduling tools like make it easier than ever to plan face time with those who need it the most. 

Of course, you can’t go there without perfecting your pitch. As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, “Having a great elevator pitch can be the difference between snatching up an opportunity or losing out on the deal of a lifetime.”

During the show

Once you’re at the show, no matter how beautifully your booth is set up or how fantastic your product is, it’s unlikely that attendees will simply fall into your lap, purchase order and all, if you don’t make an effort to engage with them. For that reason, be sure to:


  • Be prepared to talk… a lot! Trade shows are neither the time nor the place to be shy. You’re not there to chit chat, you – and everyone else – are there to work. Keep that in mind and keep your head in the game. Trust us, the more people you talk to, the better it is for you and your business. However, don’t just talk for talking’s sake. Make sure that every conversation you have results in gathering more information that can help improve your business while ultimately educating visitors on your product. “This is the place where anyone visiting the show can pick the brains of the experts and go home with an abundance of information you will never find online,” says trade show veteran, Ken Cowan, VP of Sales and Marketing at BiologicVET.
  • Be selective about who you speak to. Trade shows are your one and only opportunity to get serious face time with the people who can truly help your businesses grow. According to CEIR, “90 percent of trade show attendees have not met face-to-face with any companies exhibiting at the show in the 12 months prior to the event.” We all know trade shows are an expensive investment, so why not make good on your money by keeping the time-wasting to a minimum and really targeting your audience? Many people go to trade shows with the aim of gaining general information – this is a mistake. Keep a laser focus and be especially selective about who it is you’re spending your time conversing with. Focused on retailers but a consultant wants a moment of your time? Politely decline – after all, it may be your last chance to speak to a retailer for a long while.
  • Take tons of notes. On average, trade shows like SuperZoo and NRF rake in around 15,000 and 33,000 attendees respectively. That’s a lot of people! The only way not to get completely overwhelmed by every detail of the (very) many people you’ll likely meet is by taking notes and tons of them. Try to remember something unique about each person. But don’t stop there. Make sure to keep all the contacts you make into a spreadsheet or CRM tool. Make a “drip” email list – this will be all the contacts you will be emailing to follow up with after the show.
  • Use social media. While you’ve undoubtedly been making the rounds and letting your followers know you’ll be at the show, the work doesn’t stop once you’re there! Use any down time to keep up with what’s happening at the show away from your booth, attract people to your booth, connect and network with prospective clients online, and take advantage of the show’s social media hashtags to update attendees on your exhibit.
  • Prepare to take action ASAP. Last year, 46 percent of those with executive buying power made purchase decisions while attending a show. Want to make sure you are a part of that lucky percentage of exhibitors with an order placed in the comfort of your booth? Close a deal on the spot, if possible. If there’s one thing every good salesperson knows, it’s that when a consumer is in the ‘moment’ is when they’re most prone to take action. Don’t let that moment slip away and certainly don’t let a prospective buyer out of your sight! If opportunity knocks, seal the deal.

After the show

Weren’t able to snag that deal on the spot like you’d hoped? All’s not lost – that is, as long as you make sure to follow-up right away. After all, the more time you let slip by, the less likely they are to remember who you are and what you’ve discussed. Even if they’ve left your booth with some great swag, they’re unlikely to touch base once the thrill of the show is over. Call, email or do whatever you need to do to get in touch and (hopefully) stay in touch!

  • Avoid being generic in your trade show email follow ups. When it comes to reconnecting with your leads, it doesn’t hurt to get creative. While that may be easier said than done, try thinking outside the box of traditional ways of communicating. In addition to your drip email campaign, test out sending your lead(s) a memento to remember you by. This could be something as simple as sending a dozen cupcakes to their office or gift cards to their local coffee shop.

But don’t stop there, while following up, extend free trials, product samples, white papers, free consultations, special pricing and other inducements to prompt them into action. Everyone likes to feel special. Take that extra two minutes and make sure your subject line is personalized. Avoid generic subject lines, particularly those that mention the name of the show (e.g. “Expo West Trade Show Follow Up”) Your prospects will be getting a LOT of those. If you really want to increase your likelihood of standing out in a crowd it helps to pick up the phone and call as well.

Watch out for Gmail’s ‘remove formatting’ text editor. In Outlook, even though you clear the formatting it still renders as if you have copied and pasted text. So even if you think you are getting away with copy and pasting to make an email personalized, make sure you run your text through a basic text editor first.

  • Experiment with social retargeting. If your lead list is big enough, consider a social retargeting campaign based on the emails that you sent out. I am a huge fan of subliminal ads that don’t feel intrusive, so when I see that subtle reminder somewhere in my social feed from a brand or company I have been interacting with, it does trigger my memory and interaction I had with that company.
  • Not all leads are considered equal. It’s better to do a great job for the 20% that matter and to cover the rest using marketing automation rather than doing a half-cooked personalized follow up to everyone. Try mentioning situational specifics in the first 2 lines that will trigger situational recall. Something like, “I remember you mentioned you were looking at building out your gluten-free listings for Q2 – to refresh your memory, I was wearing the giant alligator hat!”  Your prospects will be getting a lot of “You stopped by our booth.”  Sure, they stopped by yours and 500 others!

For those leads that aren’t top-tier, consider placing a focus on nurturing rather than selling (only 5-15% of attendees will be in purchase mode!) – have them join your email list, provide genuinely helpful information, and develop brand affection.

  • Use the show as a learning opportunity. What did you learn? What did people most respond to? What are some pain points you can address in the future? Perhaps most importantly, was the show worth it? Build out return on investment (ROI) calculations based on the amount of deals you were able to obtain either during or post-show. This will let you understand how money is spent, where you may have made some of it back, and whether or not this particular show was worth the time and/or effort.

Like our guide above? Print up a copy of our handy dandy checklist and ensure your next show goes off without a hitch!

Dayana Cadet

Dayana Cadet

Dayana’s love affair with writing spans all manner of content. As the Content Specialist at Hubba, connecting people to the things they love is where she thrives.

Follow her at @D_isforDayana
Dayana Cadet