MEET helps international B2B companies gain traction and scale in the U.S. through trade shows, events, and strategic connections
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Pillar Section 6: Trade Show Event Participation

Trade Show Event Participation

At MEET, we talk a lot about booth strategy. Defining your target persona, selecting which shows to attend, identifying the right offer to attract quality prospects, and designing the most effective staffing model are all encompassed in a precise yet flexible booth strategy that is developed prior to the event.

After 75+ years of experience, we’ve become pretty good at identifying inefficient and ineffective trade show practices. At the top of our list is the tendency of many exhibitors to put their salespeople in the booth to engage with prospects. After all, who better to sell your product or service to potential customers than professional sales people, right? Wrong.

At MEET, we argue that sales people and business development professionals are not those best suited to work in the booth, at least not as their primary function during the trade show event.

Staffing Strategies that Maximize Trade Show ROI

Inviting prospects to opt-in to your booth with the right offer is the first step to maximizing trade show ROI. The second is to optimize your staffing plan to ensure that those who are there to meet your prospects are engagement and enrollment specialists.

Walking through trade shows, we observe that more than 90% of the booths are staffed by salespeople. The truth is, salespeople have a higher and better use. That’s not to say that what is happening in the booth isn’t valuable. It’s exceptionally valuable. But despite your inclination, salespeople are not those best suited to drive exhibit booth ROI.

Understanding how to drive trade show ROI requires distinguishing between the purpose of the booth and the rest of the trade show floor. The purpose of the booth is prospect identification. The rest of the trade show floor is for richer, deeper conversations with people who are already customers or in your sales pipeline.

Engagement and enrollment specialists, also known as transaction professionals, are those best suited to deliver your offer and convert prospects. Why? The answer is in the math.

Trade Show Strategy PlanAssuming your sales team works an 8-hour day, and a typical sales conversation in the booth takes about 15 minutes. This means that each salesperson can generate a maximum of 32 potential contacts each day.

8 hours/15 minutes = 32 potential contacts

It’s not that salespeople are bad at their job. In fact it’s quite the opposite. Your sales people know so much about your product or service that they are inclined to have more in-depth conversations about it. They are doing the job you trained them to do, they’re just not in the right place.

Alternatively, let’s assume your transaction team works an 8-hour day, and a typical offer in the booth can be served and responded to in one to two minutes. That means that each transaction professional can generate a minimum of 240 contacts per day with much more qualified prospects.

8 hours/2 minutes = 240 qualified prospects.

How is it that transaction professionals are able to generate almost eight times more contacts than your sales team? Because when equipped with a well-crafted offer, transaction professionals are simply tasked with enrolling prospects who self-identify. Like the fish swimming to bait.

Transaction professionals are not engaging people who are attracted to free pens or chances at to win an iPad. They are not “selling” your product or service. They are simply engaging with qualified prospects that have opted in to an offer that is uniquely tailored to their needs.

What then should your salespeople do while transaction professionals are delivering your booth offer and enrolling prospects? You want them out of the booth, engaging in one-on-one meetings with trade show attendees such as current prospects who are already in the sales funnel, existing customers, partners, potential partners, and other strategic contacts.

Trade Show Strategy PlanAllow your sales people the time and space to engage in richer, more substantive conversations than what takes place in the booth. These conversations may take place in a coffee shop or even a rented room. Your sales team’s goal is to close business, sign contracts, further penetrate existing accounts, and develop new sales channels and referral sources.

Want to learn more? Check out our webinar: Five Reasons Why Your Salespeople Should Never Be in Your Booth and What to Do About it!

Designing Your Booth Display for Results

Now that you’ve got your staffing strategy and a well-crafted offer, it’s time to design a booth display that fully leverages these assets.

Booth displays that maximize ROI have two key attributes: focused and flexible.

A focused booth display places your offer front and center. In thinking about how to promote your offer, billboards are a helpful comparison.

Trade show Strategy PlanThere’s a rule in billboard marketing that they should not exceed five words. Whether you are traveling at 20, 30, 40 or even 50 miles per hour, the message should be easy to absorb regardless of your speed.

Similarly at trade shows, audience members are bombarded with thousands of messages as they walk down the aisle. As many people are introverts, they may not be making eye contact with booth staff and when they do, their eyes are not on your booth for very long.

A focused booth display is not crowded with free pens and candy. Rather, it clearly and succinctly presents an offer that will trigger quality prospects to self-identify and enter your marketing funnel.

Interested in learning the four most common challenges to designing an effective booth display? Check out this post.

To learn more about the range of available booth design options in terms of cost and material design, check out this post.

A/B Testing in Your Booth Display

The other key quality of an effective booth display is flexibility. As most web-based marketing strategies these days rely on some degree of A/B testing, trade show strategy plans are no different. As your best opportunity to get in front of high volumes of quality prospects, trade shows are a perfect opportunity to use A/B testing to inform which of your booth offers are most effective.

Need a refresher on A/B testing? Check out this post.

How do you determine which offers to test? Let’s assume you approach every show targeting two specific buyer personas. The next step is determining an offer that will speak directly to your personas’ greatest, most pressing challenge. The type of challenge that, when confronted with your solution, causes them to immediately stop in their tracks.

Once you’ve determined your offers, it’s time to test whether your hypothesis was correct. In other words, will these offers cause your ideal customers to self-identify as prospects and self-enroll in your lead nurturing and sales process.

A/B testing allows you to test your hypotheses by rotating between offers throughout an event to help you determine which is more effective. Try testing one offer in the morning aimed at one buyer persona, and another in the afternoon aimed at a different buyer persona. Or test the attractiveness of different offers for the same target.

Preparing for Engagement Outside the Trade Show Booth

The final step in preparing for a trade show event is developing your strategy for engagement outside the booth.

A well-designed trade show strategy plan leverages every available opportunity to connect with prospects in and outside the booth.

In our discussion on staffing, we highlighted the critical role that salespeople play outside the trade show booth. Maximizing ROI from any event requires that salespeople have a clear strategy for how they will approach current prospects who are already your sales funnel, existing customers, partners, potential partners, and other strategic contacts.

Trade Show Strategy PlanPrior to any show we attend, MEET’s staff carefully analyze every exhibitor one by one and categorizes them by prospect, competitor or partner. Everyone of interest is mapped out prior to the event and placed into a schedule for out-of-the-booth outreach. Added to this schedule are specific workshops we believe will attract target prospects as well as partners who will be presenting.

For more insight into how our team prepares for a trade show, check out this interview with MEET’s own Strategic Partnerships and Trade Show Ninja on the topic: Walking the Trade Show Floor, How to Get Value When You Can’t Exhibit. Or check out this post.

Click here to download the full report: How to Maximize ROI with a Trade Show Strategy Plan 


MEET ( helps international B2B growth companies soft land and scale in the U.S. through trade shows and in-person events. MEET’s processes help its clients ramp-up sales quickly and maintain a steady stream of high-quality prospects going forward.  Contact Bill Kenney for a free, no-obligation consultation or +1 (860) 573-4821.