How to maximize your marketing ROI from exhibits at B2B trade shows and conferences

Proven pre-show, during show and post-show techniques to increase sales leads from B2B conferences and tradeshows

Exhibiting at industry conferences or tradeshows can take a big bite out of your budget. Consider using these proven techniques to help maximize your marketing return on investment.


Evaluate and select trade shows or conferences carefully.

Are the show’s attendees likely prospects for your products or services? It’s better to have a couple of hundred very qualified leads than thousands of leads from people who may not be real prospects.


Set measurable goals.

You can’t determine the success of your exhibit without first knowing what you want to achieve. Marketing, sales and management personnel, as well as your exhibit vendor, should be involved in establishing the purpose of exhibiting. Make your goals as specific as possible. For example, how many qualified leads do you hope to generate? And what exactly is your definition of a qualified lead?

Put your show plan in writing.

This plan should include a workable schedule and designate responsibilities for each task. Don’t wait until the last minute; also be sure management signs off on the plan.

Develop a key message for your exhibit.

A good exhibit communicates one major message clearly. This is more effective at drawing prospects to your booth than the cluttered image projected by companies trying to communicate too much.

Design an open, inviting booth.

Don’t block access with tables and counters; you want to draw attendees into your booth. If space permits, provide comfortable chairs to encourage prospects to linger. Use provocative headlines and interesting graphics to entice them to stop and learn more.

Identify key prospects and invite them.

Mail your customers and prospects complimentary passes to the exhibits. These passes are often available free from show management. Shortly before the event itself, call and remind prospects and customers to stop by your booth. Be sure to pique their interest by telling them why they should drop by.

Merchandise your show participation.

Include free exhibit passes with all your business correspondence. Include taglines at the end of all your e-mails, such as “Stop by and see us at booth 1525 at Widgets Expo. Need a free pass? Just ask.” Write a press release explaining new services to be introduced at upcoming conferences. Invite key editors or reporters to stop by or to schedule specific appointments with your key people. Publish an article in your company newsletter listing trade shows and conferences you plan to exhibit at.

Train your exhibit staff before each show.

They need to know the objectives of your company in exhibiting at the show or conference to get the best marketing return on investment. They need to know what their roles will be and what is expected of them. They also need to have detailed information about any new products, services, or other news being announced.

Design a custom lead form.

Be sure to include questions designed to qualify your prospects by determining the immediacy of their needs, purchasing authority, budgetary situation, etc.


Create a unique identity for booth personnel.

Matching blazers, T-shirts, cowboy hats (for a western theme) or even boutonnieres will identify your people to prospects who need information or assistance.

Offer premiums or gifts if appropriate.

Merchandise your traffic-building giveaways through preshow mailings. For example, include the cap portion of a high-quality pen in a preshow mailing that invites customers and prospects to pick up the rest of the pen at your booth.

Provide live demonstrations.

This will draw attendees to your booth and help them learn more about your company’s products or services. It also allows you to effectively communicate to a number of prospects at once.

Remind the folks staffing your booth to record all prospect information.

Remind them that one of the primary objectives of exhibiting is to generate leads. Encourage your people to record everything they can learn about the prospects’ needs and applications. Stress the importance of getting phone numbers and e-mail addresses whenever possible. Consider awarding prizes or special awards to your exhibit staff for the most leads completed and turned in on each shift.


Send requested materials immediately to get the best marketing return on investment.

Have literature ready to go before you head to the show. Then fax, e-mail or overnight the leads from the show to your inquiry handlers overnight. Have them send the requested material to prospects within 24 hours. Fast response is your second opportunity to get a jump on the competition and make a favorable impression. (Your performance in the booth is the first.)

Include a teaser on the envelope or in the e-mail subject line.

Something like “requested information from Widgets Expo” works well to get past the assistant (or wastebasket) or past the delete key.

Help your prospects take the next step.

Make sure the information you send makes it easy for prospects to take the next step: include all the ways to contact your company (phone, e-mail, web site address, etc.).

Use the telephone, mail and e-mail to follow up.

Your goal is to build sales-winning relationships with your prospects and further qualify them. Plan to offer them something of value in return for providing you with more information about their situations and needs. Perhaps a how-to guide, a white paper, or an invitation to attend a Web seminar.

Track your leads through to the sale.

Did the qualified leads buy? How much? Use the answers to demonstrate to management the show’s marketing return on investment, and to increase the odds of show budget approval next year.

Complete a critical evaluation.

After each show or conference, look at what went well and what didn’t. Critique each aspect of the show and ask salespeople and other participants for comments. Give special attention to the feedback pertaining to lead quality. This information will help you maximize the effectiveness of future show efforts and your overall marketing return on investment.

Contact Mac for a Free Decision Maker Kit

M. H. "Mac" McIntosh is described by many as one of America's leading business-to-business sales and marketing consultants and marketing speakers. He is president of Mac McIntosh Incorporated, a marketing consulting firm specializing in helping companies get more high-quality sales leads and turn them into sales. More about Mac...

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply