Trade shows - they’re an integral part of many retailer and wholesaler’s customer acquisition strategy. Of course, the upfront costs for event attendance can be quite high. That's why it's important to craft a coherent strategy before diving in.

So how do you maximize your impact at a trade show?

Here are some good strategies to ensure that you get the most bang for your buck for any trade show you attend.

Before the event

With the business landscape as competitive as it is today, it’s no longer good enough to just turn up. Events are expensive, and it’s integral that you’ve put in the metrics to help you measure your Return On Investment (ROI).

Make sure that you’re well prepared well before the show by following some of these simple tips.

1. Choose the right event, and commit early!

Identifying the right trade shows to attend for your business is incredibly important. To ensure that your event is a success, pick events that attract the people that you're targeting. After all, it doesn’t matter how well you sell if you’re pitching to the wrong audience!

trade show crowds Don't make the mistake of pitching to the wrong crowd!

Do your research - look at past events and check the attendance list. Are these potential customers? Does your product fit their overall brand and price point?

If possible, talk to others in the industry. Often, they can paint a more realistic picture of the opportunities available at the event. There could be a substantial discrepancy between what you might expect from promotional material compared to what the actual event is like.

Once you decide on an event, try and confirm your attendance as early as possible. As a blanket rule, the earlier you register, the better the location of your booth. Securing a booth with the right kind of foot traffic could be the difference between meeting the supplier of your dreams, and missing him by just a few steps.

Pro tip: Choose booths that are closest to the entrance. Corner booths also draw a fair amount of foot traffic, as do booths that are close to 'essential' locations - such as the registration site, bathrooms, or the dining area.

2. Identify potential customers and do your due diligence

It’s time to do some (for lack of a better word) stalking. Find out who your potential targets are and if the information has been released, where their booths are located. If you can identify particular people that you know will be in attendance, even better.

Figure out who you're meeting in advance

Know what your potential customers might be looking for, and have a pitch ready that’s customized for their particular needs. Because time is limited, make sure that you present a proposal that’s straight to the point. Keep track of all of your different potential leads in an Excel spreadsheet, and update it periodically as you find out more.

3. Set goals and relevant metrics

Trade shows are a great way to generate quality leads, but it’s difficult to justify their impact if you don't have the right metrics in place to measure how you did . According to Hubspot, your trade show performance can be measured in the following ways:

  • An increase in new leads and sales
  • An increase in organic and direct traffic
  • An increase in social media following
  • An increase in email and/or blog subscribers

Depending on the nature of your business however, the relative importance that you place on these metrics can vary quite substantially. Make sure you choose the ones that are most relevant to your business.

During the event

1. Stay organized and on task

Events can be very tedious affairs. Nevertheless, it’s important that your booth staff are constantly upbeat, positive, and ready to engage with visitors. First impressions matter!

Make the most out of your time at the trade show by utilizing all of your time efficiently. Every person you interact with could be a potential customer - make every minute of (real life) face time count!

2. Network, network, network

If everything went well during your preparation process, you’ll know exactly who you want to speak to, and how you plan on pitching to these potential customers.

Nevertheless, don’t miss a single chance to network, whether you’re in the queue for lunch, or just wandering around and scoping out your competitors. You never know who might be an interesting contact for the future.

Pro tip: Systematically organize name cards as they come in. Keep a spreadsheet with contact information and details of your conversation - this will make things much easier for the post-event follow up.

After the event

1. Follow up!

trade show
Include a Call to Action in your email follow up

You’ve put so much effort into getting contact details. Many people make the mistake of sending brief, non personalized follow up emails, essentially saying, “it was great to meet you”.

And although these emails are a good way to jumpstart a conversation, they contain no direct call to action. If you followed the steps above, you should have detailed notes on every single person you met and exchanged contact details with. Categorize and sort these contacts by importance, and know exactly how you want to move the relationship forward.

2. Review your performance

Remember those goals you set before the trade show? Now’s the time for you to review the metrics! Did you meet your targets? Why or why not?

Diving into the data is important so that you can understand what went wrong and how you can improve.

Another important thing to remember is that the returns generated from an event may not be instantaneous. For instance, you may need to go through a long negotiation process before closing a deal. Make sure you mark these contacts so that all transactions down the line are recorded and linked to the return on investment (ROI) of the event.


Trade shows are a great avenue for generating quality leads. They require substantial investment, and as such should be optimized to ensure maximum returns. It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of generating hot new leads and closing new deals - but it's also likely that there are things you can be doing better.

Creating a systematic approach to doing trade shows will save you a lot of headaches in the long run - and help you align the results with your overall business strategy.

See also:

Are you confusing markups and margins?

How to verify Chinese suppliers - 10 ways to find a supplier you can trust.

Insider tips from a China-based sourcing agent