So you’ve decided to invest in attending a trade show as your newest sales opportunity. Trade shows can be an effective way to bring in a lot of new leads in just a few days, but, if you don’t plan ahead of time, this tactic to meet leads can quickly fall short.

Trade shows can be a daunting task, especially if it’s your first time at such a large event. From the long days to the vast number of attendees, it can be easy to get lost in the shuffle. But by planning ahead, you can set yourself up to make meaningful connections, secure meeting times and head back to the office with a ton of business cards.

Let’s take a look at how you can maximize your experience, and don’t forget to download our trade show attendance checklist to ensure you remember the steps below and have the tips, templates and timeline you need to get it all done.

Let Your Contacts Know You’re Attending

When you decide to make the investment in attending a trade show, the first step is to make sure to let people know you’ll be there. There are a few ways you can do this:

Email your contacts

Sending out an email to your customers and leads is a great way to announce you’ll be attending the trade show.

In your email you can announce who from your team is attending and ask if they’ll be heading there as well. If the customer or lead is attending and they’re from a different state, then this is a great time to see if they’d like to secure some time before or after the trade show to meet for 15-30 minutes and catch up.

When emailing your contacts, make sure to only reach out to ones that this trade show is relevant for. For example, if you’re a manufacturer that serves multiple industries and this is an automotive-focused trade show, don’t reach out to your electronics customers.

Post on social media

Posting on your social media channels is another easy way to share you’ll be at a trade show. You can use the trade show logo as the photo, or even head to the social media channel of the trade show and share one of their photos.

Since you won’t have a booth number to share, you can garner engagement by asking people to let you know in the comments if they’re attending. Don’t forget to tag the trade show and use their event hashtag to help ensure more people see your post.

For example, if you were attending the NeoCon conference in Chicago in 2019, you might use the post copy:

“Our team can’t wait to attend @NeoCon in Chicago this June. Who else is heading to the show? We can’t wait to see the latest technologies, and to sneak in some deep dish pizza. Where’s your fav spot and who wants to share one with us? #NeoCon2019 #UrbanBoardwalk #NeoConPlaza2019 #DeepDishPizza”

After posting, make sure to click the event hashtag and see who else is posting! By engaging with their posts and following the accounts, you may be able to gain some followers, as well as make connections with attendees prior to the event.

Reach Out to Schedule Meetings

Since companies from all over will be attending, a trade show is a huge opportunity to try and schedule meetings. But, with how hectic a trade show can be, you want to make this an easy, seamless process for those you’re requesting time from.

Be strategic in who you ask

There are only so many hours in the day, so you want to make sure you’re using your time wisely.

While you may have a friend at the show you want to meet with, if they aren’t someone who can provide value from a business perspective, then this might not be the right time to connect — or at least not until after you’ve seen everyone you’re trying to target.

Instead, make a list of everyone who might be attending the trade show who you want to meet with and separate them by cold leads and prospects where you have a contact with the company.

You can make this list a few ways:

  • Trade show floor map. Most trade shows will provide a trade show floor map with the exhibitors listed. If it’s not readily available as an online download, reach out to the trade show’s contact person to request a copy.
  • Social media hashtag. By seeing who’s posting on social media using the relevant hashtag, you can quickly find other attendees.

Reach out to schedule a set time

For prospects you already have a connection with, reach out to your contact to ask if they’ll be attending. An email might look like this:

“Hi (first name),

Will you be attending (conference name) this year? I’ll be walking the trade show floor this year and would greatly appreciate the chance to catch up regarding (project, conversation, etc.). Would you have 10 minutes to connect?

I’d be happy to come to your booth. Would 11am – 11:10am work with your schedule?

If someone else from your company will be attending, I’d greatly appreciate an introduction so I can introduce myself at the show.

(Your Name)”

This not only reinforces that you’ll be at the show, but also prepares them to meet with you and helps secure a time for you to stop by the booth.

For companies on your target list that you don’t have contacts at, you’ll want to start by identifying the right people to reach out to. There are a few ways to do this:

  • Check their social media. If they’ve posted about the trade show, there’s a chance they’ve tagged an attendee, or that an attendee has shared the post to their personal profile.
  • Look at their website and check out their team member page. Many companies share their employees’ photos and job titles on their “About Us” In some cases, you can find a job title that might make sense to be in attendance at the trade show.
  • Check LinkedIn. In addition to checking the company’s LinkedIn page to see if they’ve mentioned the trade show, you can also check who works at the company to see if there’s a relevant job title that might make sense to attend.

Once you’ve determined who might make sense to reach out to, you can send them an email introduction. It might look something like this:

“Hi (first name),

My name is (your name), and I work for (company name). We provide (insert value proposition/product offering) to companies like yours.

I wanted to reach out to introduce myself and see if you will be attending (trade show name) this year. Would it make sense for us to connect for 10 minutes at the show so I can share more about what we do, and learn ore about your role at (company name)? I’d be happy to come by your booth. How does 11:00am work for your schedule?

If someone else from your company is attending, I would greatly appreciate their contact information so I can reach out and introduce myself.

(Your name)”

You want to keep your email short and sweet, but make sure to include a key reason why they would want to take time from their day to speak with you.

Aways try and secure a set time to come by their booth or to meet at a specified location. Even though a trade show can get hectic and there’s still a chance they’ll lose track of time, setting a specific time to come by helps them plan their day, ensures they’ll be at the booth and shows that you’re committed to meeting with them.

It’s also helpful to look at the trade show map while suggesting meeting times so you can try and schedule meetings at close by booths near one another and avoid the dreaded back-to-back meetings across the room.

Also, make sure to leave a 15 minute or so grace period between meeting times so you can get to your next spot and leave a buffer for anything that runs over.

Review the Trade Show Floor Map and Make a Plan

Begin doing this about four weeks before your trade show, and then a week or two before the trade show, spend an hour or two making a firm action plan. Download the trade show floor map and take time to highlight every booth you want to visit.

When deciding which booths to stop at, consider if they’d be a valuable client to you, if they’re a prospect you need to meet in person, a booth you have already secured time with someone at (I typically use a different colored highlighter to note these) or, if this isn’t your first trade show and you’ve met them before — it’s always good to visit again to become a familiar face and recognized name.

Once you have the booths you want to visit mapped out, you can choose a starting point and make a plan of where to go when. Typically, it’s best to start in one corner of the trade show hall and work your way up and down aisles, but that may depend a bit on any meetings you’ve scheduled and at what times.

Come Prepared

The last thing you want on the day of the trade show is to arrive and realize you’ve forgotten your business cards.

Because you won’t have a large booth to fill you don’t need to worry about banners, posters, swag or some of the other traditional trade show items you may be familiar with, but there are still some key things you’ll want to have.

Business cards

This might be the most obvious but is still oftentimes the most forgotten thing you’ll need.

Not only do you need to make sure to bring your business cards, but you need to make sure you bring plenty to go around. Between all the booths you visit, people you talk to walking the floor and anyone you sit with at lunch, you’ll be passing out and receiving cards all day.

I typically allocate approximately 250 cards per day as a rule of thumb. While this may sound high, you want to come over prepared. The only thing worse than forgetting your cards to begin with is running out early. I also tend to keep a stock of business cards in my pocket or an easily accessible pocket of my bag so that I can easily hand them out upon meeting someone.

As for the cards I receive from other attendees — I recommend putting them in the back of your attendee badge so you can keep track of who you met at the show and keep them from getting mixed in with your personal cards. You also don’t want the embarrassing moment of handing a new contact someone else’s business card!

A pen and notebook

Throughout the day you’ll be meeting potentially hundreds of people, and no matter how great of a memory you have you’ll have likely forget who someone was, what follow-ups you have or who said they might have an opportunity for you.

So you need to bring a pen and small notebook.

Every time you meet someone, you’ll want to take notes. In passing someone on the trade show floor and making a quick introduction, an easy way to do this is to write an identifier on their business card after they walk away.

For example, if I meet Charlie and he’s wearing a red shirt and needs help bringing in new leads to his currently referral-based business, I might write this on his card after he walks away:

“Red shirt. Referral business. Wants new non-referral leads.”

This will help me recall our conversation when I follow-up after the trade show.

For longer conversations when you’re visiting a booth, eating lunch with someone or simply having a longer conversation, you’ll want to take notes in your notebook. In some instances you can do this while talking to them — just make sure to tell them you’re jotting down notes so they know you’re actively listening — or you’ll want to write them down immediately following the conversation.

When taking notes in your notebook, it helps to start each new company or contact on a new page so you can easily find them afterwards. I also tend to write on the business card “in notebook” so I remember where to go back to for more information.

A digital one-sheeter on your company

Rather than bringing a ton of leave-behinds with you — don’t forget, you’re going to have to carry your bag all day, so the more you bring the more you’ll be weighed down — have a digital one-sheeter ready to go for your follow-ups.

When speaking with someone who would benefit from more information you let them know you’d like to follow-up with some more information and ask the best time for you to reach out with your one-pager. This will help you get a next step with your new lead, let them know to anticipate an email from you and ensure you receive the business card.

A light bag

During the day you’ll receive a ton of promotional items. From one-pagers and brochures to swag from company booths, you’ll accumulate a lot to carry. Make sure to bring a bag that not only has enough room for your business cards, leave behind, pen and notebook, but also for any items you might pick up.

Comfortable shoes

While you may love your new loafers or heels, a trade show is not the place to break them in. At some larger trade shows you could end up walking miles throughout the day, so you want to wear shoes that are comfortable to walk in for a long time that still look professional.

Post-show follow ups

What you do after the show is just as important, if not more important, than what takes place during the show.

Follow the steps below to make sure the good conversations you have at the show continue on.

Go through your business cards

After the show, go through your business cards and add all of your relevant contacts to your customer relationship management (CRM) system.

In addition to adding them to your CRM, create a list for everyone you met at the trade show so you can track the ROI of the show, add them to any automated follow-ups you might have and vet the show for future years.

Once they’re in your CRM, you’ll want to start following up.

Ask when you should follow-up

For people that you have scheduled meetings with or anyone that you have a longer, more engaging conversation with, ask when a good time to follow-up would be.

If someone is traveling from out-of-town for the trade show, they might not realistically be able to check in on their emails until the follow week. To avoid your follow-up being buried in their auto reply email graveyard, make a note of what day they’d like you to reach out, and stick to that date.

When you add the contact to your CRM, set a reminder to email them on a specific day so you remember to go back to them and send a note. If you don’t have a CRM, first check out our blog on why you might want to consider investing time in one, and then make a note on your calendar of when to follow-up.

For everyone else, follow-up within two business days

For anyone who you didn’t set a follow-up date with, reach out within two business days of the trade show ending. If the trade show was part of a larger conference, wait until the conference is over to start your follow-ups. This helps ensure your email doesn’t get lost while they are still busy attending the event.

Prior to the trade show, I recommend blocking time on your calendar over the two days afterwards to upload your new contacts, review new leads, send your follow-ups and prepare any follow-up documents that may be requested from you. Approximately two hours per day should suffice.

Be specific in your follow-ups

In the weeks after the trade show, everyone you meet will be receiving a plethora of, “It was great meeting you last week!” emails. And while you’ll likely have to send some of those as well, you want to be as specific as possible in your follow-ups.

If you discussed how a specific capability might help their company, reference that conversation in your follow-up. But the specific notes don’t always have to be ‘work specific.’

For example, in my former role as a Director of Business Development, I ended up in a conversation about UFC fighters with the Director of Supplier Diversity for Lowe’s. In my follow-up I referenced the fighter we both liked and asked if she’d be watching the next fight, in addition to reiterating my company’s value proposition and offerings.

Not only did this lead to more conversations and submitting a proposal, but it also created an opportunity to build a personal relationship with her, which has now led to continued communication long past my former role.

While your follow-ups may not be about UFC, any personal touch — whether it be about a sports team, their pet or something else that came up — is helpful in making sure you stand out.

Commit to Being Prepared

While it may sound like a lot of work, being prepared will help make sure you get the most value for your trade show attendance. Even though we can’t be there in person to help you jot down notes or pack your comfortable shoes, there are ways an agency can support you in your pre- and post-show to-do’s.

Contact us today to learn more about how Simple Machines can help with your email marketing, getting your CRM ready to go or strategizing your trade show plan. And don’t forget to download our trade show checklist to help keep you organized.

Interested in exhibiting at a trade show? Check out our Manufacturer’s Guide to Trade Shows — and no, you don’t need to be in manufacturing to benefit from this guide.