1) Poor planning – As mentioned, trade show success starts with great planning. There are several major aspects to a complete event plan. Here are a few:
a. Formal comprehensive plan – First, you must decide to create a formal, written event master plan, which will include the marketing plan, budget, timeline, deadlines, and all details.
b. Marketing plan – The marketing plan may be as large as the master plan itself, and should include: pre-show, during-show, and post-show marketing materials and actions. The majority of success or failure hinges on the quality of your event marketing efforts.
c. Budget – It is all too easy to build a budget that is either under-funded, or is miscalculated and therefore does not cover everything. The overall budget funding should be based upon projected returns over time. Basically, this means that you know the value of one lifetime customer/client, and you have a strong idea as to what percentage of event attendees will convert to new clients or sales. Then you need to figure profit margin, followed by all expenses. Expenses can be broken into major categories, like: space rental, exhibit costs, shipping, personnel, promotion/marketing, lead-gathering, on-site services, and miscellaneous costs.
d. Deadlines and timelines – Your master plan must include deadlines and a timeline. Much of this information – for the show itself – can be found in the sponsor’s handbook or kit that is given to each exhibitor. Other timelines and deadlines must be planned for pre-show marketing, during-show marketing, and post-show follow up. Still other items on the timeline might be travel arrangements and other logistics.
2) Marketing or sales flaws – Your marketing strategy is a plan-within-a-plan; the majority of all planning focus should be spent on a marketing schema. Here are a few highlights:
a. Message/intent – Perhaps the most significant concern is the message or intent you wish to convey to your target market. It’s a mistake to enter just any show for an undefined intent. Why are you entering the show or event? Is it to showcase a new product or service? Is it to capture a new market or territory? The reason for joining the event should be clearly defined, and all marketing materials and actions should be directly designed to support that message with impact and simplicity.
b. Target market/demographic – If you are entering a show “because we always do this show” or because your competitors will be there, this will potentially be less successful than entering the show because it openly matches your target market demographic. You should elect to do a show based upon projected results, and the probability of realizing a handsome return on your event investment.
c. Consistency – This means marketing consistency across all phases of the event: pre-show, during-show, and post show materials and efforts. You should use the same colors, content, and images for the entire event, as if the show is a whole marketing/sales campaign.
3) Booth exhibit mistakes – This means the actual display you will use in your booth space, its appearance and operation. Here again there is a multitude of mistakes that are easy to make, if not formally planned well in advance of purchase or rental.
a. Display size – The rule of thumb – if you are relatively new to trade shows – is to begin modestly, and work your way into a larger display and higher returns. Most of the time, the smallest are 10X10 booths, whereas the largest island displays can be nearly unlimited in size (and height). Beginning with a table top, a portable exhibit, or perhaps a hop up or pop up display makes sense when starting out. Then, when the basics of effective trade show operations are mastered, it will be time to step up your display size. You can still exceed projected results with a smaller booth size, if it is well planned and executed.
b. Fullness/appeal – A stripped-down display is rarely magnetic. It is when you add items like counters, special lighting, comfortable flooring, banners and kiosks, and other accessories, that you build attention and strong allure.
c. Graphics – The centerpiece of your display is the graphics. Although there are many concerns regarding decent graphics, there are some basics that should never be ignored. The company logo should always be front and center – or close to it – and the chosen image(s) should be very attractive, crisp, colorful, and should convey your marketing message in such a way that passers-by become engaged within seconds. Always be certain that your graphics directly support your intent. Yes, and keep it simple.
d. Staffing – If the people manning your display are not truly professional in both appearance and competency, then what’s the point of even entering the show? The selection and training of personnel should begin months before the event, unless you decide to ‘outsource’ your booth operation.
e. Presentations – Many exhibitors, with an otherwise proficient display, create less-than-optimal presentations. Sales and marketing know-how should determine the content of presentations, directly involving people in the marketing message/intent, and providing only useful information in a timely manner.
f. Lead collection – Booth operators must pre-qualify all prospects because it is a waste of time and energy to treat everyone as a customer or client. Then, after the qualification process, booth staffing must lock in enough accurate information on each lead, to follow up on promptly.
4) Staffing unprofessional – Proper selection and preparation of event staff is a major area where mistakes are made in trade show events. One small omission, bad gesture or body language, or poor choice of words, can mean the difference between successful cultivation of prospects, or losing potential clients altogether.
a. Training – The training of booth personnel should be a component of the marketing plan, and ought to begin at least a month before the event. They should be well-versed in the message/intent of the exhibit (including products or services), as well as sales processes and reading people accurately.
b. Attire/grooming – Dressing neatly and professionally should be obvious, including impeccable manners, and concerns as small as making sure your nametag or badge is properly displayed.
c. Etiquette – Etiquette means more than great manners. This includes eye contact, body language, use of verbiage, and overall demeanor. d. Management – ensuring rotation of shifts, break times, morale, food, water, and guidance are all concerns for good staff management.
5) Follow up blunders – How will you measure result metrics and obtain projected returns without ample follow up? The trade show itself is only the first step in realizing objectives and goals. It is actions following the show that determine success.
a. Promptness – Following up on leads must be done as soon as possible after the show. Warm leads go cold quickly.
b. Methods – phone calls are good, but perhaps emails demonstrate an even better respect for prospects’ time. You can blow a strong lead by being intrusive or annoying. The methods used for cultivating generated leads must be carefully planned and sensitively done.
c. Consistent action – There are definite steps to earning the business of prospects. Often times the first step is merely to get your prospect to take a predetermined action, leading to the next step. The point is that you must always persist in consistent action to realize results.
d. Analysis – Knowing what the “takeaways” (items learned) are from the show makes it possible to make improvements for the next show. Hold one or more post-show meetings, with both decision-makers and trade show personnel, in order to share observations and build better plans going forward.
To wrap up, there are plenty of ways to prevent excellent results from a trade show event. The intent of this article has been to touch on five of the top categories in which critical mistakes are easily made. Much reading and other materials exist to help in these classifications and more. It absolutely pays to do your research homework. Success is all in an outstanding plan.