Trade Show Mistakes to Avoid

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Exhibiting at Trade Shows

Does your company exhibit at trade shows and conferences to gain exposure? Here are 5 mistakes to avoid when exhibiting at a trade show:

Trade Show Mistake #1 –  Exhibit without a Plan

It’s almost time to exhibit? Do you have your plan?

Now if you are like many exhibitors, you probably are thinking about your booth decor or your promotional items.  And although those are important, I am talking about the most important plan…

Your Marketing Plan

Many exhibitors fail to plan. They think that as long as they show up and wow their prospects, that the leads will flow in. It’s almost the “if we build it – they will come” mentality. This is one of the biggest mistakes to avoid when exhibiting at trade shows.

In order to have a successful event, you need to develop your marketing plan BEFORE the event.

Some questions to consider when planning:

  • Why are you exhibiting at this event?
  • Who is your target market? Will they be there?
  • What is your primary goal at the event?
  • How are you going to engage with your prospects at the event?
  • What makes the event “successful” for you?
  • What is your follow up plan after the event?

The answers to each of these questions need to be very specific, measurable and obtainable.  If your primary goal is to “get more leads,” that is not specific enough.  You need to make it more specific and measurable.  An example would be “we need to get 100 new, qualified leads to schedule a demo of our software in the next 2 weeks.”  Then identify what makes a lead “qualified.”  The more specific you are the more you will succeed.

Trade Show Mistake # 2 –  Have Poorly Trained Staff

Your staff needs to be trained BEFORE they ever step foot in your booth.  They are representing your brand, your company, your products & services.

They need to know the specific goals of this event.

But they also need to be personable, be able to answer questions and if there is something they don’t know, they know how to get the answer.

A business associate went to a conference where they wanted to talk to a company about their marketing automation software and it’s specific capabilities. The person staffing the booth had been trained in everything there was to know about the company’s affiliate partner program… but knew nothing about the software.  This person was the only person in the booth, and because they had no knowledge of the product, they lost a potential sale that day.

Now you may be thinking… the purpose of that booth was to generate affiliate partner leads… not software sales!  That is correct.  However, because the person in the booth (1) didn’t know anything about the software, and (2) didn’t offer to find out the information or connect the visitor with someone who could give them a demo, they lost a recurring monthly software subscription to a competitor.

Trade Show Mistake # 3 – Have an Empty Booth

Have you ever gone to an event hoping to speak with a certain company regarding their product/service only to find an empty booth?  I certainly have and it’s disappointing!

Booths should be staffed at ALL times.  That means you should have more than one person working the booth – even if your company is small.  Having a second person allows for breaks as well as the ability to have more conversations with prospects since there is more than one person working.

Empty booths also give a negative impression to attendees.  From a psychological perspective, they wonder how they can expect your company to “be there” for them if you don’t care enough to be at your booth at an event.

What about the last day?  Is it okay to pack up a little early and head out because things are slow?  ABSOLUTELY NOT!

You need to be at your booth for the full event… on time in the morning and staying to close each day.  Don’t start packing up early. It’s rude to your prospects and distracting to those around you.

Trade Show Mistake # 4 – Bad Booth Behavior

I am always amazed by bad behaviors I see vendors exhibiting when in a booth.  Here are a few:


  • Sitting behind their table, ignoring prospects – Just because there is a table and chairs there, doesn’t mean you should be using them.  Tables should be used for display purposes only. They can hold your promotional materials and your display. Chairs should be towards the front of the booth and arranged to promote conversation. This gives you the opportunity to invite your prospect to sit down with you for a conversation.
  • Talking/Texting/Playing on Your Phone – While it’s important to have your phone with you in case you need to look something up or something else that your prospect requests.  Checking email, social media posts, watching videos and texting is unacceptable and a turn off to anyone approaching your booth.
  • Eating in the booth –  Please don’t! It’s ok to have a water bottle there, but that is it.  If you need to grab a bite to eat, leave the booth.  And be careful that you don’t eat anything with a lot of garlic or onions!
  • Sleeping in the booth – Enough said.

Trade Show Mistake # 5 – Be Obnoxiously Aggressive

And speaking of bad behavior…

Wow… the number of stories I could tell in this section alone.  Whatever you do… don’t be the salesperson everyone hates.

It’s important to capture leads at an event… but they should be qualified leads… people you actually spoke to who have an interest in your company.  Don’t be capturing everyone’s contact info just to meet your numbers.

Aggressive Salesman

Case #1 – I was at a conference last year and a business acquaintance was at a booth speaking with the vendor. I hadn’t seen her for a while so I stopped to say hello. Being polite, she introduced me to the vendor, who she also knew.

And then it happened… while the three of us were having a generic conversation, he reached over, grabbed my badge and scanned it.  What?!? It was incredibly rude, not to mention inappropriate.  And yes – of course he added me to his email list which I promptly opted out of.

Case #2 – At another trade show that year, I was walking the aisles through the vendors and one of the vendors tried to discreetly scan my badge from across the aisle as I was walking by.  We hadn’t even made eye contact before he was trying to see how far away he could be to scan my badge. I quickly realized what he was doing and flipped my badge over only to be reprimanded by the vendor!

Everyone wants to get a large number of leads from an event… but those leads need to be real and qualified.  Quantity matters but not as much as quality.

What is your biggest mistake to avoid at trade shows? Share in the comments below.

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