Trade Shows: The Complete Guide

The trade show is an essential B2B event. It is a highly effective way to meet prospects and convert them into new customers, but also to maintain your customer relationships.

After almost two years of health crises, trade fairs are back, and that's good!

But a successful trade fair is not a miracle.

Here you will find all our tips for successful trade shows and getting the most out of your investment.

Listing of 800+ B2B trade shows to download
We've put together a list of over 800 trade shows for the end of 2021 & the year 2022 to download for free. Join our community to receive the list, the weekly newsletter, and unlimited access to all our resources. It's free, and it's right here 👇

#1 Before the show: Define the objectives behind your participation in a trade show

Image Measuring Tools

What are you trying to achieve at the trade show? Why are you there?

For some companies, it may simply be a matter of being present, to be seen and to generate awareness.

Others seek to exploit the publicity effect, for example to launch a new product or service

For others (probably the majority), it is about specific sales-related objectives, such as generating a number of leads and opportunities. A trade show is a crucial moment in business development, to capture as many contacts as possible for your sales database and to humanise relationships built from a distance (especially at the moment).

It can also be a combination of all these objectives.

The key is to determine in advance, well before the event, what you are really trying to achieve: EVERYTHING you do before, during or after the exhibition must be linked to achieving the event's objectives.

It also allows you to define specific and quantifiable parameters to measure the success of your trade show.

You should therefore take the time to define with your teams (sales, marketing, etc.) precise objectives for the trade show you are going to attend. For example, you should

  • Generate 10 real conversations with ideal prospects (who fit your target audience: position, sector, income, etc.) and schedule follow-up calls/meetings.
  • Make a grand entrance to present your brand, make your offer known and understood.
  • Introduce yourself to the trade fair media partners: making a good impression with the press increases your chances of being contacted for future coverage.
Going further

#2 Before the show: Identify the relevant B2B shows for your business

Red Curtain Image

Once you have defined your objectives, make sure you book the "right" show. To do so, we give you some characteristics of the show to study in order to register.

  • The target audience

This may seem like a no-brainer to some, but make sure your potential customers are present before you book your event, and don't hesitate to ask about the demographics and attendance of the show.

  • The location

Your next trade show should be a good opportunity to meet with your current customers without blowing your budget. By planning your trade fair well several months in advance, you can contact prospects in the vicinity of your future trade fair and meet them there. Make the most of that temporary postcode!

  • The timing

Timing is everything. There is no point in registering for the 'right' show if the timing does not suit your team. If you can't prepare and present yourself properly, you'll waste time going to a show with a few promotional items, brochures and an old banner. On top of that, it gives a bad impression of your brand and product. It's better to skip it and use the time to prepare for the next show.

There are many trade show directories. Strangely enough they all have a very poor or outdated interface, but you can try or dataevent. Alternatively you can download our list of B2B trade shows

Listing of 800+ B2B trade shows to download
We've put together a list of over 800 trade shows for the end of 2021 & the year 2022 to download for free. Join our community to receive the list, the weekly newsletter, and unlimited access to all our resources. It's free, and it's right here 👇

Avoid trade fairs where the audience is too large

Think about it: what kind of event will attract your company's target audience? Where are your customers?

One of the biggest mistakes business-to-business marketers make is to attend trade shows that attract too wide an audience. It is better to filter and search for a venue that will meet the specific interests of your target audience.

For example, for a quality automotive software company, it is much more relevant to go to a car show than a quality software show because that is where your target audience is.

While going to trade shows may seem like the quickest way to get your name out there, it doesn't always work in your favour. On the contrary, you risk getting lost in a sea of industry leaders and competitors, desperately trying to stand out from them.

Choosing a show that caters to a broader industry and not your specialisation will result in very low attendance at your stand.

Analyse the competition

We urge you to keep up to date with the guest list for the show: who else will be there?

Sometimes companies care about the potential audience but not the competition. Taking this into consideration before you commit yourself can prevent you from ending up at a show where there are more competitors present than there is a target audience.

The list of participants is not usually a confidential document: even if it is not fixed, you can ask the organisers for potential registrants or for the previous year's list.

Attending a trade fair is very expensive and, as we will see in the following article, so is establishing a presence that stands out from the competition. Try to measure the potential ROI of each event, and then arbitrate between them if necessary. You might as well get the most out of your investment!

#3 Before the show: Creating momentum before the event

Organise a communication plan in advance of the exhibition

Don't wait for the trade show to start talking about you: get the word out before the event.

A few ideas: you can organise a webinar as a countdown to the show, post messages on social networks (e.g. using Facebook advertising) or send emails to your contacts via an email campaign to inform them about what your company will be presenting at the show.

For larger trade shows, you can even write a series of blog posts in the style of an event guide, covering the following topics:

  • Speakers not to be missed
  • Sessions to attend
  • Small group sessions led by employees
  • What you will present at the show
  • Other important information about the event.

Social networks are an integral part of your plan as they allow you to create a dialogue with customers: you can launch custom hashtags, encourage participants to connect, etc. You need to let them know about your offer and your presence at the show.

Pro tip

If you have the list of participants, you can start following your key prospects on social media. A short message such as "Visit our stand to see a live demonstration of #smartscan" can help raise awareness, interest and attendance.

Invite prospects & partners to meet you at the exhibition

Take the opportunity to personally invite prospects and customers to meet you at the exhibition.

Depending on what you have planned for the exhibition (presentation, promotion, new product launch, demonstrations, free consultation time, etc.), give them a good reason to come to your stand or session.

You can also make appointments with qualified prospects for consultations, presentations, demonstrations or other meetings before the event. Face-to-face meetings are a great way to maintain your relationship or even close a deal with a prospect.

If you are starting a conversation with a new prospect, the idea is to try to arrange a meeting, if possible outside the exhibition (in a nearby restaurant or hotel for example) to make it more personal. Having a coffee with a prospect can allow you to have a much more authentic conversation than a simple elevator pitch and to learn a lot more about their expectations.

In the case of a prospect who is part of the network of clients in your sector, you can organise a dinner or a drink, where your clients are present and can say how great you are in front of the prospect.

Finally, for a customer you really want to cherish, who may have attended the dinner with your prospect, feel free to organise something a little special.

Going further

#4 Before the show: Designing an attractive stand

Choose the ideal location for your stand

The location of the stand plays an essential role in the success of a trade fair.

When planning the exhibition, it is important to find out about the layout of the exhibition hall in order to choose the location that is best suited to high traffic and business development opportunities. It is best to register as early as possible (last-minute registrations are almost always given the worst stands).

In most lounges, especially the larger ones, there is often an extra charge for the larger spaces which are also usually the best located.

You should also find out about the configuration of your stand: dimensions, ceiling height, access to lighting, Internet, electricity, etc. All these parameters determine how your stand will be set up.

Secondly, it is important to design the stand so that your potential customers feel welcome. A table at the front of the stand can make it feel closed and unwelcoming. Instead, create a space where people can enter without feeling trapped.

Pro tip

Ideally, you should create different areas within your stand where people can learn about your company and your products/services. This subtle feng shui practice reduces the risk of people walking past you and increases the likelihood that they will come into contact with one of your representatives.

Establish a strong visual presence through the design of your stand

The design of your stand and the visual presence you create are part of your message.

Given the large number of participants who pass by your stand, you should try to create a bold design that attracts attention. Our tips:

  • Keep all important messages up on the display so that nothing gets lost at people's feet.
  • Choose one large graphic rather than several small banners and signs.
  • Ensure that your graphics and any other materials on the stand are consistent and that stand staff are coordinated.

You only have one moment to make a good impression, so take advantage of it!

Pro tip

Even with a team of representatives, you are not going to be able to talk to every prospect if footfall is high. A video playing on a loop on a screen that tells your story can get people to stop by.

Companies such as Onlineprinters can make it easy for you by offering you the different elements of a stand that you can customise.

Going further

Be creative with goodies

Swag is what a trade show marketer calls promotional material.

It can be lip balm, candy, notebooks, etc.: if you are creative, swag can help you generate additional good conversation opportunities. If you are creative, swag can help you generate additional opportunities for good conversations.

For example, a company that sets up a candy bar on its stand where everyone can fill a bag of the brand in question with the candy of their choice. Not only does the candy attract visitors to the stand, but the representatives can use the time that participants take to fill their bags to engage in conversation.

#5 During the trade show: Drive traffic to your booth

Sponsor the event

Sponsorship is another way to gain exposure at a B2B marketing event: it allows you to closely associate your company's name with a highly anticipated event. Trade shows often offer participants the opportunity to have their logo or company name on brochures, advertisements or even name tags.

And the end of the show should not be seen as the end of the road for businesses: there are always networking events after the show, which are great places to talk to potential clients. If you can, feel free to sponsor one of these happy hour events after the show!

To summarise

The idea is that your brand appears on all the entrances to the exhibition: even before they set foot there, prospects are already thinking of you!

Going further

Stand out at your next trade show with original trade show goodies.

Participate in conferences

Don't be satisfied with your stand: conferences are an essential showcase for your company. Speaking on a subject of expertise in front of a targeted audience brings immediate credibility.

It's also a great opportunity to cross-promote your booth activities and give your representatives something to talk about with visitors. Your conference slides can also be used as content to follow-up with prospects after the show.


Most trade shows have a process for finding speakers, which usually involves inquiring and submitting a proposal well in advance.

Listing of 800+ B2B trade shows to download
We've put together a list of over 800 trade shows for the end of 2021 & the year 2022 to download for free. Join our community to receive the list, the weekly newsletter, and unlimited access to all our resources. It's free, and it's right here 👇

#6 During the show: Engage your prospects on your stand

Have experts present on your stand

Is your team of representatives able to answer any questions you may be asked?

In addition to networking and entertainment, trade show participants are also there to obtain information. Many business leaders come looking for products and services to meet their operational needs.

Your salespeople are excellent at presenting your company's solutions and giving cost estimates, but many participants will want to delve into the technical side and potential use cases. Ideally, you should have a mix of sales and technical staff.

It is desirable to have a specialist on site: a customer may want to have an in-depth conversation with a solutions engineer about the inner workings of your product. On the contrary, if there is no one there to have a technical discussion, it does not inspire confidence in your brand.

Converting on your stand

The idea is that your stand is staffed by energetic and enthusiastic representatives who engage the show attendees and implement the strategy you have defined well before they arrive. Of course, if they are working on their computers or emailing on their phones while sitting on chairs, it sends an extremely negative signal to prospects.

Beyond the engaging conversations your representatives need to initiate, you can make your booth more attractive with a little creativity. Animated graphics, videos and demonstrations are effective ways to engage a prospect and succinctly (and entertainingly) convey information about your services and/or products.

Competitions, promotions and giveaways can also help companies create excitement around their stand. But don't just offer giveaways: the idea is to showcase your products and then offer them. Ideally, you should use the opportunity to implement your action plan by engaging in conversations with the prospects you have identified and taking their contact details via a scanner or landing page. In addition, this will be very useful for setting up a lead management process after the show.

Going further

To ensure your success at the show, find out our 10 strategies for recruiting good salespeople.

#7 After the show: Follow up on the leads generated during the event

Create a post-event follow-up strategy: Your work is not finished when the show closes. That's where the many efforts you put into a trade show can miss the mark.

First of all, you need to follow up on the participants who have visited your stand and give you their contact details.


Don't try to sell them your products immediately; send them an email first to thank them for stopping by and offer them a free download of your presentation.

It's also about gauging their interest: based on the number of unsubscribes you get from your first email, you'll know pretty quickly who was interested in your business and who just wanted the iPad you offered.

For those who remain subscribed, you can set up a lead nurturing campaign to determine which leads are worth pursuing, which will save your sales team a lot of time and energy. Also, don't be afraid to keep the buzz going by generating post-show content on your blog and social networks.

Finally, you can measure the results of your efforts against the goals you set for the show for several months after the show is over.

#8 After the show: Debrief with the sales and marketing teams

Image Football Team

When you return from a trade show, it is essential to quickly organise a debriefing meeting with members of your sales and marketing teams. You need to incorporate all the feedback from the show: the successes, the failures, the flaws, the good, the bad and the ugly.

Was your stand well attended? Did your message resonate with participants? Was the engagement good? Did you reach your lead target? This allows you to identify successes and areas for improvement.

Sometimes your best ideas fall flat when put into practice or your team is forced to improvise or adapt for one reason or another. Post-mortem debriefings are useful for identifying lessons learned and steps to take to improve the success of the next show.

Post-show follow-up also includes adding all contacts to your CRM and sharing the results with your sales team in the days following the show. Don't miss out on getting in touch with potential customers!

Going further

Once you have collected the addresses of your new prospects, find our complete guide to email marketing.

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