The New Rules for Trade Show Success

When I started in sales, trade shows were one of the few, reliable ways to get in front of a large number of your prospective customers.

Trade shows are still relevant today but few companies have adapted their approach.

WATCH THIS SHORT VIDEO: Bring Home More Trade Show Leads

Fact is, most companies come home from trade shows with just a handful of business cards.

The goal of any trade who should be gather as many Top of The Funnel (TOFU) prospects as possible. After all, trade show attendees represent your ideal target…even if they don’t express immediate in buying now.

I believe that the most prospects attend trade shows to gather information and educate themselves. They aren’t ready to buy…yet.

Sadly, exhibitors tend to follow a standard formula: send out a mailer, make a call beforehand, sponsor a cocktail hour, give a squishy ball to everyone that scans their badge, and then call everyone Monday morning asking if they’d ‘like any additional information’.

Instead of this outdated and ineffective approach, I coach my clients to follow these rules:

TRADE SHOW RULE #1 – Decision Makers Don’t Attend Trade Shows

Decision makers send other people to wander the floor. This is not a bad thing because even though the individual you speak with may not be a person with authority or budget; someone invested money to send them there which means there is a high probability some initiative going on that makes that company a viable prospect.

As such, your approach will need to change. Instead of wasting time ‘following up’ with the poor schlub who scanned their badge so they could score a free lint roller, you will need to do some navigating when you get back.


  • Set specific objectives for your trade show team to acquire as many companynames as possible. Set individual goals as well as a goal for the show. You can even run a contest.
  • Be prepared to allocate time and resources post-show to connect with attendees on Linked In. This makes everyone else at their company a 2nd connection.
  • Use this new level of visibility to identify and reach out to the real decision makers.

TRADE SHOW RULE #2 – Everyone Is Slammed for 2 Weeks After the Show

Why does anyone think it makes sense to follow-up with attendees the week after the show?

Think about it. When somebody attends a trade show Monday through Wednesday, this means they flew out on Sunday, get back late Wednesday night (or Thursday afternoon.)

In all likelihood, they ‘work from home’ on Friday, and spend the weekend recovering from all the festivities. Monday morning, their world is a disaster, and they might be out from under the mountain of emails, action items, and meetings they missed by the end of the following week.


  • I recommend starting your follow up two weeks (or more) after the show ends. This may seem like a long time to folks who believe you should ‘strike while the iron is hot! but remember: real buyers don’t go to trade shows?
  • Use the trade show to set an appropriate expectation. Look them in the eye, shake their hand, get their card, and then tell them you’d like to reach out in a couple of weeks and schedule a brief call to get acquainted. I know they told you ‘things were moving quickly’ but trust me…they are not even going to remember speaking with you. They will have already thrown away the collateral you gave them and that the little flash drive you gave them is in their kid’s backpack (fancy multimedia presentation erased).
  • When you connect with them, don’t approach the call by asking about initiatives or budget. Simply make it your goal to start the conversation. What did you find most interesting about the show? Have you dug out from all the work that piled up?

WATCH THIS SHORT VIDEO: Bring Home More Trade Show Leads

TRADE SHOW RULE #3 – Stay Out of The Booth

Remember the primary purpose of a trade show is to identify companies that meet your ideal target profile. Your fancy display and cool giveaway is not going to bring them out of the isle and into your booth. Fly fisherman stand IN the river because that’s where the fish are!


  • Talk to your team about the need too get off your padded carpet and into the isle

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