8 Common trade show mistakes (and how to avoid them)

“Everyone makes mistakes” is a saying for a reason. No matter how much time and prep work you pour into your upcoming trade show appearance, you’re bound to stumble now and again.

And that’s okay. With every trade show you attend, you’ll have the opportunity to tweak your approach so you can maximize your time and boost your return on investment.

What you don’t want to do is make costly, avoidable mistakes that result in wasted time and money—and potentially even harm your brand.

That’s why we’ve rounded up the 8 most common trade show mistakes exhibitors tend to make. In this blog, you’ll uncover tips and solutions for avoiding these pitfalls so you can zoom past the competition and experience the ultimate trade show success.

Common trade show mistake #1: Not establishing specific and measurable goals

Nearly every company has the following goals:

  1. Generate leads
  2. Convert leads into customers
  3. Profit

But if you’re heading to a trade show without having established specific and measurable goals, your staff won’t know where to focus their efforts. This can result in a trade show effort that’s largely disjointed, ineffective, and perhaps even confusing for your customers.

How to fix it

We’ve written about the importance of SMART goals in the past.

SMART goals are goals that are:

Why are SMART goals important? First of all, they help guide your marketing efforts. They provide the framework for measuring your results and determining the success of your trade show exhibit.

They also help you determine whether the show was a valuable use of your time (and one you should return to next year) and whether there are tweaks you need to make in your sales and marketing strategies so you can have the best shot at success.

Common trade show mistake #2: Choosing the wrong show for your goals and audience

There’s no way around it—trade shows are expensive for exhibitors. From renting your booth space and designing your display to travel, shipping, and storage costs, there are a lot of costs to unpack.

When you exhibit at a show where your target audience is in attendance, you have unlimited opportunity to interact with potential leads, establish new relationships (and build upon existing ones), shorten your sales cycle, and retain repeat business. You’ll feel excited about the prospect of following up with leads and inspired to optimize your sales and marketing strategies.

But when you funnel your time, money, and energy into the wrong trade show, you end up wasting your budget and resources. A bad trade show investment can drain your energy and dampen your enthusiasm for future shows.

Group of seated trade show attendees listening to a seminar.

How to fix it

We’ve assembled these 18 questions to ask before exhibiting at a trade show to help you avoid making a costly mistake.

In the meantime, here’s an overview of the key questions you should ask before committing to a space at an unfamiliar show:

Common trade show mistake #3: Going too cheap on your trade show display

It can be tempting to rent a generic trade show booth in an attempt to save some money. You can bypass the cost of hiring professionals to design your booth from scratch and you won’t have to factor in certain logistical costs, such as storage.

Maybe you’re willing to invest in a custom trade show design company, but you’re tempted to go with a cheaper agency that has mediocre reviews. They can’t be that bad if they’re still in business, right?

Here’s the truth: if you’re not willing to invest in your business, your prospects won’t be willing to invest in you. A poorly designed trade show exhibit is as obvious to potential customers as it is to you. Not only will a bad display fail to help you attract qualified leads, but it can actively damage your reputation.

How to fix it

A well-designed, strategic, and eye-catching display will enable you to showcase your products and services in a way that deeply resonates with your target audience.

A quality custom trade show exhibit company will work with you from start to finish, using their design expertise and years of experience to refine your initial concepts and ideas. They can design and build a booth that presents a truly magical experience for your prospects.

If you need more convincing to invest in your booth, consider these additional benefits of custom trade show exhibits:

Learn more about the pros and cons of custom trade show displays versus rental displays.

Common trade show mistake #4: Creating cluttered or unappealing graphics

Trade show attendees are bombarded with messages from the moment they walk through the doors.

It’s hard enough to get your graphics to stand out in the sea of lights, banners, colors, and noise when they’re well-designed and strategically placed. If your graphics are too busy, poorly made, littered with error, or just generally unappealing, your prospects will walk right past them.

After all, your competitors are right next door.

How to fix it

Luckily, there are plenty of design strategies you can use to ensure your graphics effectively communicate your message and entice passersby to stop by your booth and learn more.

See more trade show booth design tips to enhance your exhibit!

Common trade show mistake #5: Not taking advantage of the opportunity to check out your competitors

Trade show visitors frequently attend shows to learn about new developments in the industry, establish relationships with vendors, and find solutions to the issues they’re experiencing.

But what many trade show exhibitors fail to realize is that these shows are the perfect opportunity for them to do the same.

We know it can be tempting to stay in your booth, surrounded by familiar people and products, waiting for prospects to come to you. But when you fail to explore the trade show floor for yourself, you miss out on a real chance to discover what the competition is up to and how your company can improve.

Two trade show exhibitors discussing marketing strategy at a trade show.

How to fix it

Here are just a few benefits of exploring the other exhibits, attending seminars, and mingling with the crowd:

Common trade show mistake #6: Not properly training your staff

One common mistake is sending your newest staff member to represent your company at the show. Another is assuming your staff members are prepared to exhibit just because they’re knowledgeable about your products and company.

If you don’t invest time and resources in training your staff, you run the risk of failing to connect with your visitors. At best, your representatives might waste the opportunity to establish new relationships and generate leads. At worst, they might give your company a bad name.

How to fix it

Choose representatives who are charismatic, outgoing, knowledgeable, and articulate. Provide them with talking points they can use as a starting point in their conversations with potential leads.

Make sure they know they can’t just stand in the shadows and wait for trade show attendees to approach them; they must have the skills required to start conversations and entice prospects to visit your booth.

Ensure your staff is well-groomed and wears attire that clearly identifies them as members of your team.

Finally, provide each staff member with the following list of “don’ts”:

Common trade show mistake #7: Failing to properly qualify leads

Another common mistake is to assume everyone is a potential lead. People attend trade shows for a variety of reasons, and not all of them will be a good fit for your product or service. If you spend time trying to sell to people who aren’t quality leads, you’ll miss out on spending time with people who are.

How to fix it

Prior to the trade show, you’ll need to establish a system for capturing and qualifying leads. Common lead-capturing tactics include filling out paper forms, collecting business cards, and scanning visitor badges.

However, these methods can be slow and inefficient. You need to be able to gather information quickly so you can move toward a solution. You also need the ability to take notes so you can craft personalized follow-up emails after the show.

Consider downloading a lead-capturing app like Cvent LeadCapture or Quick Tap Survey to help you collect information, jot down notes, and qualify leads.

You should also prepare a list of questions to ask potential prospects, such as:

Common trade show mistake #8: Failing to follow up with leads

Following up with the leads you generated at the show is perhaps the most important (and obvious) factor in determining your trade show success. And yet many companies fail to do so.

In fact, when Salesforce founder Brian Jeffrey hired someone to distribute business cards to exhibitors at a major industry trade show, he found that 85% of exhibitors didn't bother following upeven though the person he hired explicitly asked them to.

Of the 15% that reached out after the show, some took over 50 days to do so. “By that time,” Jeffrey asserts, “any interest a prospect might have had would be long dead.”

Trade show exhibitor using his laptop to follow up with leads via email.

How to fix it

To avoid making this common mistake (and essentially throwing your entire trade show investment in the garbage), follow these 3 tips:

Visit our “Ultimate Trade Show Planning Timeline” for more steps you should take prior to the show.

Ready to create your next global brand experience?

Reach out, we’d love to help get your first exhibit underway.