4 ways to use your trade show to drive your customer strategy | Trade show strategy

Jack Blog

October 31st, 2018 By Jack Morton

It’s incredibly common for organizations to call people their greatest asset – and nowhere is this truer than in their trade show strategy.

According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, 85% of an exhibitor’s success lies in the performance of the staff.1 And while just about every trade show marketer I know can recite inspirational quotes about the importance of preparation, and most provide training to booth staff, very few focus on the importance of creating a trade show environment in which their people can shine.

trade show strategyWhy is all of this so important? Because in my experience, there has never been a booth design that’s closed a sale or furthered a relationship. Sure, it’s important to stand out and attract people to your exhibit, but unless you deliver proof to customers and prospects that you deliver on your promise of being focused on them and their challenges, you’re going to lose.

Deliver proof – it matters
Our global Experience Brand Index showed that brands that deliver on their promises do much better on key success metrics than those that don’t – experiencing 200% higher Net Promoter Scores (likelihood to recommend), and 25% greater loyalty.

So how do you go about creating a trade show strategy that uses your exhibit to demonstrate client-centricity? Here are 4 easy-to-implement ideas:

1. Listen, listen, listen. While our inclination as marketers is to obsess about what we want to say, it’s just as important that we see trade shows as an opportunity to listen to exactly what our customers want. And a simple satisfaction survey just won’t cut it – you have to shift your thinking.

Where else do you ever get such a high concentration of customers and prospects who can tell you exactly about their challenges and preferences? If you think about your trade show exhibit as an opportunity to interview customers and prospects – individually and in groups – to fill the gaps in your understanding, I guarantee you’re going to come away with insights you can immediately put into practice.

2. Program unprogrammed moments. Getting people to the booth is hugely important of course – and that’s the role of programming. But it’s equally important to leave room in your programming to allow clients to explore with us – and with each other.

Ask yourself, does your booth provide space to converse? To whiteboard ideas and solutions? Perhaps more importantly, have you staffed your booth with the kind of people who can brainstorm solutions with clients in real time – even if they’re not salespeople? Your typical attendee goes to one trade show every year. If you’re not announcing a new product or solution, you should think long and hard about stocking the booth with solution stations where clients can get 1:1 attention.

3. Put a little provocation in your booth. The trade show floor is not the place to play it safe (and we don’t mean just with your design). Attendees don’t want simple information and education they can get at any time online or on a simple sales call – they want to come away with a new perspective on their most thorny issues.

You can make people think in fresh ways by bringing in outside voices, promoting a challenging question / challenge, or taking a firm stand on an issue in your industry. Convening outside voices only you can assemble goes a long way to helping clients and prospects develop a unique point of view (POV) that drives consideration and dialogue.

4. Let customers speak. It’s a bit of a blow to the ego, but customers may not want to hear what you have to say as much as they’re interested in what their peers have to share.

Do you have clients who have a unique POV or an interesting journey that’s worth highlighting in your exhibit? Consider programming in live case studies presented by the clients themselves – the authenticity and honesty they bring say volumes about your confidence in your products and solutions.

Underlying all of these recommendations is the recognition that attendees at trade shows often have dual agendas – they are interested in exploring solutions to their immediate organizational needs and in learning new perspectives that can further their own careers.

So, create for conversation, design for dialogue, and construct an environment where the exchange of ideas takes center stage.


1 Center for Exhibition Industry Research. (2017, May 4). CEIR Debuts New Report Series Focusing on Attendee Floor Engagement Tactics. Retrieved October 30, 2018 from https://www.ceir.org/ceir-debuts-new-report-series-focusing-attendee-floor-engagement-tactics