75 Tips to Land Prospects at a Trade Show: Hook, Line, and Sinker

Trade shows can be rough waters for unprepared marketers. From the competitive sharks that prey on your prospects to big fish that swim right into your net, the trade show can be as successful as the Gene Hackman version of The Poseidon Adventure or as disastrous as the Josh Lucas version.

Sure, you know what not to do: don’t show up late, don’t forget to shower, don’t hire Manti T’eo as a spokesperson for your online dating service. But what about some guidance on how to reel in the catch of the day?

The keys to drawing attention to your booth, generating interest in your brand, and converting leads into sales are as simple as landing a big fish – hook, line, and sinker.

Hook: How to get people to visit your booth

1) Get in touch with the trade show’s management team before the event and ask for tips on staffing, booth design and capabilities (Do you need outlets? Running water? Internet?), effective promotional products, and marketing ideas. They want you to succeed, so they’re highly motivated to help you.

2) Send out personalized messages to clients who live/work near the trade show site, inviting them to meet with you.

Make sure your position allows you a view of the whole school.

Make sure your position allows you a view of the whole school.

3) Scope out the layout of the facility to select a high traffic area for your booth; most people in the U.S. naturally go to the right when they enter, so something on the right side or near a washroom (great for attendees waiting on colleagues) will put you in prime position. Try the left side for European trade shows.

4) Post on the event’s Facebook page prior to the show with a link to some compelling content (e.g., recently-added product features) and mention (or tease!) giveaways.

5) Email coupons to current customers ahead of the event, telling them to turn them in at your booth for a special gift.

6) Set up scheduled times for the meetings with current customers, so loyal customers don’t wait around to talk to you.

7) Blast an email to your entire list that you’re going to be at the convention; even if the vast majority doesn’t attend, they will see you as a significant player in your industry for participating.

8) Message specific clients you know are local to the event and set-up a face-to-face meeting.

9) Update your Foursquare listing to include the trade show as an event. When customers check in at your location, they’ll automatically see the details on your upcoming trade show appearance.

10) Look into becoming a speaker for a panel or roundtable discussion.

Take a left at the third reef, and you'll see my booth straight ahead.

Take a left at the third reef, and you’ll see my booth straight ahead.

11) Minimize self-promotion while presenting, but don’t be afraid to plug your booth number where you’ll be available for questions after the presentation.

12) Decide on a main goal for the event (Making sales on the spot? Generating leads? Feedback on a product design?) and review it with the staff throughout the trade show.

13) Schedule only staff members who want to be there; a potential lead reluctant to approach will be completely turned off by a disinterested staff.

14) Recruit booth reps who are skilled at reading body language; knowing when to change the topic, how interested a prospect really is, and when to close a sale is valuable for conversion and making efficient use of time.

15) Establish a dress code that allows prospects to easily distinguish booth staff from other attendees. Whether it’s a brightly-colored polo or a company hat, make sure your staff can be located quickly.

16) Wear company logo attire during off-hours. Customers who recognize your logo will be more likely to stop by your booth.

May I offer you one of our customized beach balls?

May I offer you one of our customized beach balls?

17) Distribute giveaways to trade show attendees through adjoining and nearby hotels. Think welcome baskets for rooms or customized coasters for the restaurant or bar.

18) Research the venue and talk to show runners about expected attendees and itinerary in order to make sure you have enough promotional materials and giveaways and proper staffing.

19) Maximize vertical space in your booth, even if it’s as obvious as putting arrows pointing to your products and staff.

20) Rent (or bring your own) plush carpeting for the booth. Prospects will stick around longer if they’re comfortable.

21) Create an open, inviting booth set-up instead of pushing the table up to the edge of the shared aisle.

22) Tempt passersby highly visible giveaways (that are easy to carry around), but put them closer to the center of your booth to allow your staff an opportunity to approach prospects.

As you can see, the stripes are quite slimming.

As you can see, the stripes are quite slimming.

23) Demonstrate use of products or services for prospects and encourage them to try it out themselves.

24) Have lots of pictures – a monitor showing video when possible – demonstrating your product in use or your service being carried out in a variety of settings.

25) Freshen up your social media profiles, blog, and website; interested prospects will be looking you up at the show, and they’ll make follow-up decisions based on their impression of your brand.

26) Search for the event’s hash tag on Twitter, and Tweet time-restricted benefits: “The next 5 people to stop at Weasel Fruit Booth 112 and say ‘Bananas are my favorite!’ will get a free water bottle! #FruitExpo2013”

27) Encourage people to check in to your booth on Facebook for a bonus incentive.



28) Tweet people who use the hash tag and directly invite them to your booth for a giveaway.

29) Put pictures and video on Twitter of the busy booth and available giveaways.

30) Use a program such as Buffer app to schedule your Tweets, so staffers are not glued to their phones the entire time. However, keep an eye on the live feed for questions/comments.

31) Place staff throughout the convention floor to give away one part of a two-part promotional gift (flashlight/batteries, tumbler/koozie) and direct attendees back to your booth for the other piece.

32) Approach people eating (don’t interrupt!), and offer customized napkins with your logo. It’s a subtle approach with potentially big payoff.

33) Provide products for hands-on exploration; the whole point of an in-person experience is to give a potential client access to the product and an expert at the same time.

34) Attend panels and presentations, and network with prospects or potential business partners who may be able to work out a reciprocal referral program with you.

35) Eat at hotel restaurants or other places near the convention location. Chat up other attendees (You’d be amazed by how many people leave those dorky badges on.), and give them your card (with booth number jotted down) to encourage further conversation.

Line: How to get people interested in your brand

May I interest you in one of our fine breath mints?

May I interest you in one of our fine breath mints?

36) Limit your pitch and share it with prospects, so they don’t breeze past, worried they’ll be stuck in a 15-minute presentation: “Can I borrow you for 17 seconds to show you our new product?”

37) Ask open-ended questions before your pitch to make sure the person you’re talking to has the role of deciding to purchase your company’s products or services.

38) Find out what the potential client needs from a product or service like yours, and focus on the components of your brand that fulfill that need (e.g., a specific feature, price range, customization).

39) Practice your pitch with a variety of customer types. Employees who aren’t attending the trade show will welcome the break from their computer monitor, and they can role play as different types of customers: passive, enthusiastic, indirect, knowledgeable, indecisive, passionate, impatient, confused.

Now buy my stuff.

Now buy my stuff.

40) Embrace humor to connect with strangers: “Here’s a free sample of our hand sanitizer, and I would actually be a little offended if you didn’t use it after we shook hands.”

41) Read body language to make sure you’re not pressuring a prospect out of a sale by coming on too strong and that you’re not missing a great opportunity to close with a receptive audience.

42) Offer chairs only for attendees with weary feet; a staff member sitting down at a booth is not very approachable.

43) Track frequently asked questions and include the information in your pitch. Bonus: use the information for feedback and future product development.

44) Organize a press kit for reporters and bloggers covering the event.

45) Plan a time for local press or an industry blogger to interview your booth staff (and make sure there is enough booth staff on hand to cover the prospects while one is occupied with the reporter). Being interviewed adds to your status in the industry.

Telling a joke just because your prospect is a clownfish is the fish version of racism.

Telling a joke just because your prospect is a clownfish is the fish version of racism.

46) Let the prospect set the tone for the pitch – whether a formal business-only transaction or a more casual conversation – but always maintain professional behavior (even if your prospect is a little “rough around the edges”).

47) Remove dates from promotional materials (unless linked to a limited time offer), so you feel comfortable ordering a large quantity and aren’t stuck with unusable materials.

48) Prepare yourself with lead cards or sign-up sheets in case the badge scanning doesn’t work.

49) Check out the competition’s booth, and find out what kind of strategies appear to be working for them.

A clownfish? What? No, I'm totally an anemone tentacle.

A clownfish? What? No, I’m totally an anemone tentacle.

50) Going incognito as a prospect to the competition’s booth can give you the inside scoop on how your brand is perceived. If you’re really bold, you can even ask them to compare themselves to your own brand.

51) Consider trivia contests, raffles, and other interactive activities at the booth to build a crowd. This will also make your booth look busy and in high demand, an attractive look for anyone wandering past.

52) Solicit business cards for raffle and contest entries to bump up your lead count.

53) Film customer questions or testimonies for future use in videos and/or podcasts or internal brainstorming sessions. Post it on YouTube with your brand and the show name in the title.

54) Choose contest/raffle prizes that can be used immediately such as a gift card to a nearby dessert shop (meals will probably be covered by prospects’ companies), or you can cover their parking fee.

55) Invest in food and/or water as giveaways. The overpriced convention hall fare and long lines will make your booth a popular stop.

"P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney." Got it.

“P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney.” Got it.

56) Make every person – whether they have the power to buy or not – feel valued, but don’t be afraid to give an abbreviated version of your pitch to those who don’t make purchasing decisions.

57) Request the contact information for the person who makes the buying decisions if you’re chatting up an employee with another position at the company.

58) Hand out your own contact information in addition to scanning your prospects’ tags or getting business cards.

59) Jot down a few notes about each prospect on the back of their business card immediately after the conversation, including clothing/appearance, for better recall later.

60) Generate a QR code, so attendees can instantly follow your social networks, subscribe to your blog feed, sign up on your mailing list, download a white paper or “best of” blog post compilation, and/or check out your website (depending on the goal you established before the convention).

Sinker: How to convert leads into sales

Listen, it's been great chatting. I'll drop you a line when I get back to the office.

Listen, it’s been great chatting. I’ll drop you a line when I get back to the office.

61) Mail postcards from the convention itself with a handwritten note to prospects. Depending on the length of the convention or the distance traveled, it may beat them home!

62) Follow up after a week from the end of the trade show; work piles up when potential clients are away at trade shows, and your card may have been lost in the shuffle.

63) Thank the recipients for spending time chatting with you, and offer discounts or special perks with their next purchase.

64) Refer to specific details about your conversation at the event; a personal touch will increase interest and response exponentially more than a form letter.

65) Qualify leads before passing them out to the sales staff. Make sure they’re marked based on how serious the prospect seemed about buying, how urgent the need was, and if the person is the sole decision-maker for that type of purchase.

66) Craft your first contact around sharing compelling content from your site such as a relevant blog post or a feature tutorial to establish yourself as a resource in your industry.

To be honest, I think we were all pretty surprised to receive a 2013 Chummiest Chum Award. It's really an honor just to be nominated.

To be honest, I think we were all pretty surprised to receive a 2013 Chummiest Chum Award. It’s really an honor just to be nominated.

67) Reach out to bloggers you chatted with and offer an interview or update on your latest service perks or product features.

68) Switch communication attempt strategy from email to a phone call if you don’t get a response from the initial attempt; spam filters, accidental deletions, and simple slips of mind are silly reasons to lose a sale.

69) Mention attendees on Twitter (if you can get that info from them), and thank them publicly for spending time with you.

70) Deliver on any specific information requested during the show (product features, quotes) to demonstrate follow-through on promises.

71) Remind your leads about the expiration date of promotional trade show offers in order to create a sense of urgency.

72) Award a “secret” second place prize to anyone who enters the contest and doesn’t win first; an extension on show specials or a free premium feature could turn a consolation prize into a conversion.

Should I contact you on the landline or your shell phone?

Should I contact you on the landline or your shell phone?

73) Contact a prospect initially in the way they prefer (This question can be part of the initial pitch and jotted on the back of the card.), but don’t be afraid to follow up again with a different method.

74) Include the leads’ email addresses to your mailing list.

75) Be nice to everyone. Rumors of rudeness spread quickly, and you never know who knows your most potentially profitable customer.

If you want to keep all of these tips on hand for your next trade show or to share with your employees, check out this handy Slideshare deck!

What are your biggest obstacles to trade show success? Which goals have been the easiest to measure/attain? Any other tips you want to share? Sound off in the comments below.

Until next time, keep expanding your brand!

Expand Your Brand!

Jana Quinn

An old ‘G’ that’s been working for QLP since it was in Bret’s basement – Jana has been writing since she made up a story about a Jana-Tiger that liked rocky road ice cream and got straight A’s. She enjoys writing about marketing and pop culture, posting a ‘Die Hard’ article as often as she’s allowed. She is inspired by the articles at Cracked and frequently wears a Snuggie in the office. You can also connect with Jana on Google+.


  1. Mike Thimmesch

    Wow, Jana, what a wealth of great info all in one place! Thanks for the link to our blog within your tips. Now for some unknown reason, I’ve got a hankering to go see the movie Nemo!

    Mike Thimmesch

    • Jana Quinn

      Thanks, Mike! I’m glad you enjoy the list I’ve put together. Your site is absolutely fantastic and a HUGE inspiration for the blog post. Keep rocking your own awesome site, and you can look forward to more links in future blog posts. 🙂

      P.S. Finding Nemo is an fantastic movie! I’ve been trying to find a promotional product angle for years so I can write a blog post about it. It’s my favorite Pixar film.

  2. Sylvia French-Hodges

    Great stuff Jana!

    • Jana Quinn

      Thanks, Sylvia! Any other tips you can think of? I’m sure this list will be updated. 🙂

  3. Rosemary Hazen

    Good info. Thank you Jana.

    • Jana Quinn

      Thanks, Rosemary! I hope it helps with your business. Have you participated in trade shows as an exhibitor or attendee?

  4. Elizabeth French

    What is your advice on the best way to break into Trade Shows? I have done lots of home parties with success but want to explore other options to go to the next level in retail.

    • Jana Quinn

      Thanks, Elizabeth! I’m glad to hear your home parties have been successful; you must be on quite a roll to be ready to take on trade shows!

      A lot of this depends on what type of products/services you’re selling. Something like homemade candles or crocheted pot holders would be great for local craft fairs while a tech products might be better suited for larger industry conventions. You’ll also want to determine if you want to dip your toe in the water with a small event or jump in with both feet at a much larger venue.

      What is your primary concern about breaking into trade shows? Are you having trouble finding the right ones to suit your products/services or want some guidance on the logistics of setting up a trade show presence?

      Thanks for stopping by, and hope to hear from you soon! 🙂

  5. Kevin Davis

    Thanks for the article, these are great tips. With follow up though, I’d probably act sooner than a week. You want to contact your customers while your brand is still top of mind. Either way, too many companies neglect follow up all together and the key try and convert these qualified leads.

  6. Jennifer Fernando

    Great website. The content is very informative.

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