avoid these 10 mistakes when exhibiting in a trade show

Avoid These 10 Mistakes After Investing In Your Trade Show

Published February 2019
Updated September 2022


After investing a tremendous amount in money, time and hopefully training don’t get in the way of your own success.

It is tempting to throw money at your trade show schedule and just get through the shows. But don't do that-take them seriously. Exhibiting in Trade Shows is an out-of-the-norm-way to connect with potential customers—whether to win them over or to increase your market share with current customers. Take a step back and discuss what more you can achieve at your next trade show.

take a step back

What is your focus for current customers?

How will you attract them to this event, much less your booth? Selling more to an existing customer is a lot easier than gaining new ones. Brainstorm and come up with ideas to get them there. Once they visit you in your booth…what is your message for them? We want to do more business with you. Yes, of course, but maybe saying What can we do to win more of your business?
And ask yourself Who do you currently compete with that is taking some of the sales from this, your customer? How can you make yourself come out on top to gain more? Then communicate this to these customers.

Then…how does that translate to your trade show exhibit? By inviting them to visit you at the show, you can show them how you plan to win more of their trust. Speaking face-to-face is much more effective than email or phone conversations. Show them your new product or process. Give them the facts: why it works better and is better than what they currently have. Have these conversations in your booth while waiting to visit with NEW customers. This makes you look like you are an expert in your industry and customers are already doing business with you and trust you.  #socialproof

What is your focus for lead generation?

How will you communicate why you are the best solution for them? Show and Tell. It’s not just for kindergartners. You want to put people into the solution you are offering. Help them see your solution working for them. Paint a picture. Put together a demo. Make it real and realistic. An exhibit booth works wonderfully for these scenarios.

By demonstrating your product or process consistently over the life of your trade show you will generate excitement, which gathers crowds. Your current customers stop to tell you how much they love your product and potential customers hear that and see the crowds—and start asking questions. Thus giving you an opportunity to listen…and answer their questions. Once you’ve answered their questions they have no reason not to purchase from you. Sell to them or set up a meeting to measure for custom fit.

Begin seeing how you will sell to this audience and you will gain a new excitement in exhibiting. View it as another approach to getting the word out about your product.

As you hone your talking points, create a demonstration to utilize, and tweak your physical exhibit, make sure to avoid these 10 mistakes!

1)      Underselling your company with bad graphics: 

All too often companies represent themselves at trade shows with a patchwork of a display. Vinyl banners wrapped around foam board, dented or dinged up displays, and a variety of hodgepodge displays. 

Represent your company in the best light possible. 

A less-than-professional appearance does not give your prospect confidence in you or your products and services.  This type of display will send prospects running to the competition.

running to competitor

Graphics that are cluttered, damaged or outdated have no business in your exhibit and can be trade show deal breakers. In addition, graphics that are small, poorly lit, displayed below eye level, or that don’t clearly communicate your benefits will hinder your trade show effectiveness. Take a look at your current graphics to decide if they need an overhaul before your next show.

(Terrific products-we recommend taking down the generic identification sign and hanging your own professionally made sign)

booth with generic sign


Display tip:  Overly bright or dark lighting, abstract colors, or nontraditional layouts may seem like a way to set your booth apart, but they may create a psychological barrier to attendees. Studies have shown that booths that contrast too greatly with the aisle carpeting or are surrounded by high walls can often be intimidating and act as a barrier to show attendees.

2)      Putting too much text on your display:  

You’ve got literally seconds to get someone’s attention as they stroll around the show floor.  No one will stop to read a lot of text.  Please understand that you cannot tell your entire company story on your trade show display.


(too small and too much text on the sign below---at a glance-what do they do/sell?)

too much and too small text


3)      Not promoting your presence at trade shows: 

So you’ve got a great looking booth and you're all ready to go.  So where is everyone?  Why don’t you have any traffic coming into your booth?  What have you done to promote your presence at the show?  Let your clients and prospects know about your trade show appearances by using an e-newsletter and social media. 

Postcards and other traditional forms of marketing are still important. Today, though, social media is king. Combining a Facebook event page (with live streaming from the event), a series of advance blog posts, an event-specific Twitter hashtag, a dedicated landing page on your website, and regular LinkedIn updates are critical to building awareness. If you make your updates playful and entertaining rather than promotional—and incorporate user-generated content when possible, you’ll get much better social sharing and  brand awareness.

social media is king

Send invites directly to those prospects that you have wanted to, but may not have, connected with in the past.

4)      Not training your booth staff and discussing proper expectations: 

Are your booth staffers sitting down instead of engaging with prospects?  Are they more concerned with playing games, texting, or chatting away while prospects stroll right by your booth? 

Many sales directors think that sending a new hire to the show is a good way for that person to hit the ground running. However, you need people who are experienced in the process and are focused on success. By all means, get your new hires up to speed on how you manage your trade show, but don’t let the newcomers lead the way until they learn the ropes.

Make sure you set the proper expectations before the show.  Don’t make the assumption that because you have professional sales people they will understand the nuances of how to work in a trade show environment.  Staff your booth with people who are as good or better than you!

5)      Not listening to your prospects needs

Don’t be so excited to get your message across and sell your product that you miss out on important info about your clients’ needs.  Hear the need, meet the need.  Also, be aware of body language and pick up any visual cues that may help you understand your potential customer’s needs even better.  Take advantage of everything that face-to-face interaction has to offer. Be a great trade show exhibit communicator!

listen more than talk

6)      Depending on a fishbowl to bring in qualified leads: 

Lose the fishbowl!  Is this type of giveaway really giving you the qualified leads you are seeking?  Be an expert provider of solutions and you don’t necessarily need a generic giveaway contest to drive traffic to your booth. Don’t waste your time, and your sales team’s time, having to go through a fishbowl of business cards re-qualifying leads. That is what the trade show floor is for: meeting & greeting and collecting leads into specific categories of your sales funnel.

For example, distribute leads into the following piles after speaking with each one, to make your follow-up much easier:

  • Interested, but needs the whole spiel again
  • Needs your product/service and wants questions answered before purchasing
  • Is ready to buy and needs help ordering

Of course, these criteria are simplified and you will want to break the piles down further. At the end of the show, instead of calling people that only wanted to win the tv you were giving away, you will be excited to speak with interested parties! 

7)      Hauling too much literature to your booth: 

Most of the literature handed out at trade shows doesn’t make it past the garbage can in your prospects’ hotel room.  Instead, write Show Sample on a copy of your literature to display at the show, and then get your prospect’s contact info to email or mail the info to them after the show.  It will also save you the expense of shipping your heavy literature around.  This gives you a great call-to-action follow-up with your prospect after the show.  Explore technology to get information in your prospects hands.  QR codes and mobile marketing platforms are great ways to do this.

8)      Not planning for trade show success: 

We don’t plan to fail, we fail to plan! In talking to clients who haven’t seen the results they were expecting, this is something that is very prevalent.  If you don’t have a good plan in place you won’t be able to show an ROI to justify future shows and all you’ve really done is waste a lot of time and money.  Discuss timelines with your trade show marketing consultant, get feedback from industry peers, do your homework.

Your trade show or expo presence needs to accomplish more than just raising brand awareness for a handful of attendees. Whether it’s expanding your prospect list, acquiring a set number of sales-qualified leads, or solidifying a new partner relationship, there should be a clearly defined and attainable goal each time you exhibit.

SMART goals

What do you want to get out of this trade show? What do you need to get out of it? Did you meet it?

9)      Taking logistics seriously: 

Make sure that the service crews handling the logistics of your booth understand what’s going on with your booth.  If you do many trade shows, create a list of shows for the year so that your booth gets from one show to the next, deciding which shows you have time to ship to from your office and which events you may have to ship direct from show to show.  Discuss any unique items such as products in the booth, monitors, height limitations, etc.

10)  Not following up on leads: 

Though is seems like a no-brainer, you need to make sure that your leads are called on in a timely fashion.  Discuss next steps, quoting, future meetings, and provide any additional information they need.  It’s time to deliver on the promises and the expectations that you have set at the show.

It can feel GREAT to speak with so many people in a short time! It can make you feel successful. But you are not successful unless you turn those conversations into customers.
Remember….they can tell you they want your product but as a salesperson you know that they will not call you. Follow-up and be persistent. Treat these leads like all of your leads.

Follow-up tip:  Approximately 85% of leads are not followed-up after a show! Be the exception! Understand the value in the leads you obtained at the trade show.
And...blasting show attendees with the same boring email doesn’t count as an effective follow-up. Instead, immediately after the show, organize the list of leads so you can target people with content tailored to what you spoke with them about at the trade show. Take notes! Use lead cards!

Just like not following up on leads, a lot of people fail to continue marketing after the show. Attendees who were on-the-fence after the show may be swayed with your post show marketing. In other words, those not quite ready-to-bite-yet-leads should still receive contact from you to be nurtured into sales-ready leads.


experience is learning from our mistakes

Mistakes of course are common and learning from them is the key.  In the time crunch of a trade show you will begin to understand that your PRE-planning is so important and make it better every year.

While it can be a relief to put a recently completed annual trade show behind you, that’s actually the best time to make concrete plans for next year’s event. If you put that show out-of-mind for six months, you’ll likely forget the key insights you gained from that show. By beginning your planning 12 months in advance, you’ll also avoid much of the frantic, last minute preparations that are too common in exhibiting. (Not to mention higher costs.)

IMPORTANT:  Nothing demotivates staff more than singling out every imperfection from an otherwise stellar event. Remember to focus on the positive outcomes of every exhibit, and pat your team (and yourself) on the back for a job well done!

 team success


What mistakes have you made as an exhibitor or have you seen that can help your peers? Please share below.

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