10 Tips for Trade Show Sponsors

Personal Branding

Tradeshows serve a purpose. Tradeshows are also very expensive.

Trade Shows are the Most Expensive leads you’ll ever generate. Make sure you Do Events Right. The First Time and Every Time.

This post is for SPONSORS of booths at trade shows. Whether you are part of a global company and especially if you are part of a small firm where every dollar really counts. This post is for you.

I also wrote a post for ATTENDEES of trade shows. You can find it here: Eight Tips for Trade Show Success

The primary purpose of a trade show is to drive AAR. This is my term for Awareness, Adoption and Revenue. This is a simple model that I think applies to every product or service. People need to know you exist before they can try it or buy it.

Below are my Tips for Sponsoring Trade Shows. I’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments.

10 Tips for Trade Show Success … And a few PRO TIPS too

1. Be Ready – from the First 5 to the Last 5

“It takes only ONE good deal to make it all worthwhile. That lead might come in the first 5 or last 5 minutes” ~Martin Tuip

You never know when someone is ready to buy … So YOU NEED TO BE READY. I would argue and add that trade shows aren’t all about selling on the show floor. This really depends upon the event. However, a critical element of tradeshows is driving AWARENESS. If people don’t know about your product or service they will likely never become a customer.

Trade shows are an extension of your product management and community engagement strategy.

2. Bring the Right People

I have worked in the computer hardware and software industry for over 20 years. In all this time … hardly anyone wants to talk to a sales person. If it is a Technical event (like Microsoft TechEd or SAP TechEd they REALLY don’t want to talk to sales person. They want to Geek Out with other Techno-Geeks.

Bringing the right people enables a connection between the attendees. Which can help drive ADOPTION.

3. Train your people

A few simple tips:

  • NEVER bad mouth competitors. It just makes your company look bad and it doesn’t add anything to the conversation.
  • NEVER stand around talking to each other. As a general rule of thumb … never have more than two employees talking to each other. See Tip #6
  • NEVER sit in the back of the booth. Engage the Attendees.
  • REMEMBER why you are at the event … to talk to prospects, customers and partners.
  • PRO TIP – Sending the Right People pays big dividends. The right people can short circuit a conversation because they speak the same language and can move the conversation along.

4. Have a Booth Schedule

  • Tradeshows are tiring
  • Provide a schedule for booth staffing and responsibilities
  • Allow people to take breaks. They’ll need them.
  • Rule of Thumb: Schedule 2-3 hours of booth time then give people a break
  • Stagger schedules. This allows some people to take a tour around the show floor or perhaps sleep in.
  • PRO TIP – Make sure the managers of the people working the booth have signed off and agree to the goals of the event.

When done right tradeshows require people to give it their all for the time they are the in the booth. Make sure they have the rest and tools they need to do their best.

5. No Food or Drinks in the Booth

This might sound a bit draconian, but take a moment and think back to a booth that you have ever visited where you saw coffee cups and food wrappers lying around the booth. Were you impressed? Did it detract from your perception of the booth, from the product or service being presented?

  • There is a time and place for Food and Drink … the booth is not that place.
  • PRO TIP – Let people know they WILL have breaks. Let them know to finish their food and drinks before coming back to the booth.

6. The Rule of Two

Have you ever seen a booth where all the people working the booth are talking to each other? Were you likely to approach the booth? Most people wont.

This might also seem a little over the top, but I recommend that the employees working the booth need to focus on why they are working the booth. Hint: It’s to meet with customers, prospects and partners.

Let’s Get This Conversation Started

7. Open Ended Questions

Opening Lines – Open Ended Questions WORK

  • Never ask a Yes or No question.
    • For example,
    • DON’T ask … Can I answer any questions for you?
    • It’s too easy for the attendee to say … NO and move on.
  • Never talk about the weather.
    • Unless, like at a Microsoft TechEd event in Orlando where the rain was coming down so hard that it sounded like a freight train was bearing down on all of us.
  • Ask Open Ended Questions:
  • For example,
    • What kind of questions do you have about X?
    • What challenges do you have with Master Data Management?
    • Open Ended Questions allow the person to think about the question and to hopefully engage in a dialogue. They might change the subject to talk about the issues they are facing. This is OK. Dialogue is Good!
  • Crazy Opening Lines can be fun and will make you memorable
  • For Example,
    • Who would win in a fight between a Lowland Gorilla and Grizzly Bear?
      • (This came from Dan O’Leary — Thanks Dan!)
    • These kind of questions almost always force the person coming to the booth to stop, think and they usually smile and say something. There … the Ice is now officially broken.
  • Remember … Engage!

8. Social Media Works

Social Media channels can have a significant impact on the perception of the company, the products and services being presented. Your company can use Social Media channels to get the word out. You can also engage the community to help drive these efforts. Make it fun, make it easy and make it memorable.

Let it work for you too.  Engage the community. Enable your employees, your customers and your partners to be active participants in the effort. If it’s easy to do and especially if it’s fun and/or drives some community good they will be happy to help.


SWAG is sometimes called Schwag, but it’s the same thing … SWAG is Stuff We All Get. All the Tchotchkes and giveaways will not make for a great product or service, but they sure can drive a lot of AWARENESS. I’m not against SWAG, but you need to realize they can be a distraction from the purpose of the event.

When planning giveaways a few things to keep in mind include being conscious of the event you are attending. For example, if you are attending a Microsoft event don’t giveaway an iPad, iPod or other iSWAG.

10. Trip Report / Post Mortem

Just as I recommended in my post for attendees it is also important to do a wrap up of the event for sponsors. Call it a trip report, call it a post mortem, call it anything you want. Just take the time to document the event, the actions, the follow ups while they are still fresh in the minds of everyone that attended. Make sure it includes all staffers that attended the event.

Use Evernote or OneNote-0-= to combine all comments into one place for easier analysis. Use the notes to insure prompt follow up and delegation of actions. Also use the post mortem to determine if the event was worthwhile for achieving the goals of the company.

  • PRO TIP – Check the activity on the website. Was traffic higher for specific products or services? Can these be attributed to the event?
  • PRO TIP – Ask staffers back at the office for their input too. For example, did they get more questions or interest in specific products?

Trade Shows are expensive and require a lot of forethought

Put Your Best Foot Forward … ALL THE TIME.

Be Ready to Drive Awareness, Adoption and Revenue.

There you have it … My Ten Tips for SPONSORS of Trade Shows.

What other tips do you recommend for Trade Show Success?


Jeff  is a veteran in the Enterprise Content Management industry. Over the past 20 years he has worked with customers and partners to design, develop and deploy solutions around the world. Jeff is currently the Director of Strategic Alliances at Winshuttle. He has worked for Microsoft, FileNet (IBM), K2, Captaris, Open Text, Kofax and Kodak. He speaks and blogs about ECM and the Intersection between Social, Mobile and Cloud Computing.

Photo from Shutterstock – nikshor / Shutterstock.com