Trade Show Strategies (with 30+ Years of Experience)

Trade Show Trenches
March 30, 2023

If you Googled “trade show strategy” or “successful strategies for trade show marketing,” then you are already miles ahead of your competition. Please pat yourself on the back. Most companies “wing it” when it comes to trade shows or exhibitions. They buy an exhibit, reserve space at a show, and bring the sales team. That’s their entire strategy. Even worse, trade shows probably represent 25-40% of the company’s entire marketing budget. 

Instead of planning, they improvise by rolling the dice and hoping for the best. Sometimes, it works out, but more often, they leave frustrated and confused about why their return on investment wasn’t better. You, however, are not going to make those same mistakes. You’re engaging with trade show experts and will show up prepared!

Did you know there are approximately 13,000 trade shows in the United States each year? Roughly 36 each day. In addition, US companies attend an average of 7.8 international trade shows each year. Over half of the largest trade shows in the United States are held in Las Vegas, Chicago, and Orlando. According to

  • More than half (over 50%) of the attendees are first-timers to a trade show.
  • A significant number (56%) of visitors are willing to travel over 400 miles to attend a trade show.
  • 45% of trade show visitors attend only one exhibition every year.
  • Over half (64%) of the attendees at a trade show are not current customers of the businesses exhibiting.
  • More than half (52%) of the attendees are attracted to exhibits with interactive presentations of promotional giveaways
  • A vast majority (82%) of the trade show attendees have the authority to make purchasing decisions.

Why Are Trade Show Strategies Important?

Money. It’s really that simple. Trade shows are expensive. Developing a clear and detailed trade show marketing strategy significantly increases your odds of recouping your investment. Moreover, they can help you to generate leads, strengthen relationships with existing customers, learn about the competition, build brand awareness, and boost sales. 

Consider this… No company would purchase new equipment without justifying the reasons for the purchase, researching their options, and creating an implementation plan. Why? Because the equipment is an investment. Trade shows are really no different. They’re a sales and marketing investment where the cost has to be offset by anticipated revenue. 

trade show marketing strategies

Planning Your Trade Show Marketing Strategies

It’s never too early to start planning. Begin by assigning one person to be in charge of timetables and schedules. Assign another person to draw up the budget and define the marketing goals. This person will have to account for the cost of renting or buying the exhibit, the cost of accessories such as literature racks, as well as travel expenses. Travel expenses will vary depending on the location and duration of your stay. If you decide to rent, you should expect to budget:

  • 25% on renting your booth space
  • 20% on design and graphics 
  • 15% on electrical, cleaning, and drayage 
  • 10% on shipping materials to and from the trade show 
  • 10% on press kits and pre-show promotions
  • 20% on staffing, travel, and other miscellaneous expenses

Strategies for Trade Show Marketing Before the Show

No one has ever won a race by sitting on the sidelines. Few marketing tasks are more stressful and expensive than planning for a trade show at the last minute. Something will go wrong. And when it does, there’s no time to fix it. To avoid that stress, DO ALL of the following:

Start Early 

At least 3-4 months in advance if you don’t already own an exhibit. 

Set Goals

What do you hope to achieve at this specific trade show? Do you want to generate leads, introduce a product or service, build brand awareness, or close deals? Once you know your goals, you can develop a strategy to achieve them.

Know Your Target Audience

Who are you trying to reach? What’s your ideal client? Make sure you understand your target audience’s needs, interests, and motivations so you can develop the appropriate messaging. 

Choose the Right Partner for Your Exhibit Design & Build

The exhibit house needs to understand your company, culture, and trade show strategies because there’s a good chance you’ll be working with them for years. If the conversation is only about the “build,” then you might want to keep looking. 

Bring the Right People

Most companies bring the sales team, which seems obvious. However, if your product is technical, consider bringing engineers. If your clients communicate primarily with a customer service department, bring those key members. Finally, C-Level management should be at the show (and in the booth). 

Schedule Key Connections

Who do you want to meet at the trade show? Make a list of potential customers, partners, and influencers and schedule time to meet with them. Successful exhibitors don’t rely on random traffic at the show. They work hard to generate traffic in their booth long before the show opens. 

Create a Detailed Marketing Plan

Your marketing plan should include everything from your booth design to your social media campaign. Make sure to promote your exhibition attendance well in advance to generate interest and excitement.

trade show success strategies

Trade Show Strategies During the Show

It’s showtime baby! You have a strategy and a plan for maximizing your success during those 2-3 days at the trade show. Make no mistake, you’re going to learn a lot. Plus, there will be some unexpected challenges, but you can handle them because you’re prepared.  

Engage with Attendees

The most important thing you can do at a trade show is to engage with and listen to attendees. And then answer any questions. Launching into a sales pitch before even hearing a potential client’s concerns and needs is not only rude but a waste of time. 

Document Each Lead & Contact

Do you remember what you had for lunch six days ago? Probably not. You’re probably also not going to recall the specifics of the conversation on the show floor with a sales lead two weeks ago. Document it so a warm lead doesn’t turn into a cold call because of a paucity of information. 

Building Relationships

Trade shows are also a great way to build relationships with potential customers, partners, and other businesses. By interacting with people face-to-face at a trade show, businesses can build trust and rapport that can lead to future business opportunities.

Network with Other Exhibitors and Attendees

Trade shows are a great place to network with other businesses and professionals. Make sure to take advantage of this opportunity to meet new people at mixers, educational events, and other social events. At some shows, nearly all the big deals are made off the show floor. 

Hold Daily Meetings

Scheduling meetings with the booth staff before and after show hours ensures everyone understands the message, the goals, and their role. It’s also the perfect opportunity to address any issues immediately and discuss any meetings with potential clients held outside show hours.  

strategies for trade show marketing

Trade Show Success Strategies After the Show

Your head is pounding. Your feet hurt. You’re tired. And on your flight home, the kid behind you kicked the back of your seat from Las Vegas to Cleveland. Buck up! Those potential sales won’t close without a post-show follow-up. It’s time to document what went well, what went sideways, and make changes for the next show in New Orleans (in 8 weeks).  

Post-Show Follow-Up

This should be the automatic next step for most exhibitors;  yet, research has shown that a surprising number of companies ignore their show leads. Or if they do contact them, it’s weeks or months later and without a specific goal in mind.  

Post-Show Recap

The ideal time to prepare for the next trade show is immediately after the last one. Not only is it fresh on everyone’s mind, but it also sends a message to the team about your commitment to trade show success.  

Create Content

Trade shows are a great opportunity to generate content that will help you to position your company as a thought leader in your industry. Write blog posts, create videos, or even host webinars about the topics that were discussed at the trade show.


 Don’t forget to connect with your leads on social media. Like, comment, and share their posts to stay top-of-mind. You can also use social media to run contests or giveaways to generate buzz about your company.

Analyze Your Results

 After the trade show, take some time to analyze your results. What worked well? What could be improved? This information will help you to make better decisions about your trade show strategy in the future.

trade show strategy

Trade Show Strategies with Exhibits NW

Seek professional help… yes, we said it! At Exhibits NW, we’ve been assisting clients to formulate and implement their trade show strategy for 30+ years. We understand trade show marketing. More importantly, we are committed to helping our clients chart a path to trade show success show after show, and year after year. Make no mistake, we’re going to challenge you. But that’s OK.  

Whether you’re looking for a custom, modular, or portable display, or just a trusted partner to ensure your success, contact the Exhibits NW creative team so we can ensure you exceed your trade show goals!

Schedule a Call

If you’re ready to take your trade show exhibits to new heights, fill out this form, and we’ll contact you shortly.

Schedule a Call
If you’re ready to take your trade show exhibits to new heights, fill out this form and we’ll contact you shortly.