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10 Simple Laws of Trade Show Success

You don’t need a law degree to grasp the simple rules of trade show success. To ensure you don’t get jailed by poor trade show performance, or judged guilty of wasting your company’s scarce marketing resources, don’t break these 10 laws:

Wooden gavel and law books

1. Know why you exhibit before you do anything else

Just as intent is an important factor in the law, it’s essential in exhibiting. Too often exhibitors reserve a booth at a show without knowing why they are going in the first place. Without the guiding light of an overriding goal, they can’t shape their exhibit to match their needs, train their staff to aim at a common goal, or even know if they succeeded.

2. Exhibiting well requires both logistics AND marketing

You may say, “I object, your honor. I only have time to manage the logistics for our trade show.” That’s not going to get you off the hook. To succeed, you must also perform well the marketing tasks that too often get pushed aside in favor of details like shipping, ordering show services, and travel arrangements.

3. Exhibit at shows where your buyers are

Just as what is legal based on jurisdiction, so changes your fortunes as you exhibit at one of the over 10,000 shows you can choose from (in North America alone). You have to do the homework to determine what your best customers look like, and then find the trade shows where they freely roam.

4. Design your exhibit for your buyers, not you

What if your lawyer talked a lot just because he likes to hear the sound of his voice, rather than to convince the jury? Similarly, some companies design their exhibit to show themselves off the way they want to be seen – rather than focusing their message to best appeal to their clients and prospects.

5. Bring only willing booth staffers

Do the people you ask to staff your booth react as if being summoned for jury duty? Those people will take that negative attitude with them when they meet your booth visitors. Don’t ever break this law if you want to succeed at shows – just bring willing booth staffers, even if they cost more to get there.

6. Always train your booth staffers

Legal proceedings follow almost ritualistic protocol. You will please the judge if you follow similarly repetitive steps and train your staff for every show. Top sales people still need to know how to adapt to trade show booth staffing. And veteran staffers don’t know your new objectives, new products, latest pre-show and at-show promotions, and how to use the new technology you added to your booth.

7. Qualify your leads to boost follow up

Just as not everyone is guilty, not every lead is qualified. Your booth staffers must interrogate attendees to determine their value, and then rank the leads (A – Immediate, B – Intermediate, C – Future). Your reps will be more likely to follow up on the A & B leads, knowing you have already sent the C leads (that you still continue to market to) to the holding cell.

8. Promote your presence before and during the show

A good trial lawyer is a little bit the showman in order to sway the jury. You should have no objection to taking a page out of his book and promoting your presence before and during the show. Let attendees know all the reasons they should visit your booth, so you get their attention, rather than your competitor. Here’s a free book to help.

9. Plan for lead follow-up before the show

Have your closing arguments prepared before the trial ends – by preparing your lead follow up system before you go to the show. Assign a person to enter the leads, have fulfillment packets prepared, and have a smooth process for getting leads quickly to the right sales people.

10. Measure and report your results to keep exhibiting

After the show ends, the jury is still out whether it was a successful show or not. But if you track your leads to sales, compare your costs to your sales, and then report your satisfactory return on investment, you’ll be much more likely to be judged successful. Click here for a free tool to help you measure your results.

If you’ve just realized you have been breaking these laws all along, consider yourself on parole. You’ve got some time to reform your ways, become a trade show law-abiding citizen, and generate trade show success.


Looking to boost your overall exhibiting strategies? Get your hands on What’s Working In Exhibiting, a 32-page white paper revealing the most effective strategies and tactics exhibitors are using today to boost their results and stretch their budgets. Click here for your free copy.

About the Author

Mike Thimmesch is the Principal at Thimmesch Marketing. For over 25 years, he has created and implemented innovative marketing, lead generation, and exhibiting strategies that profitably grow company sales and brand awareness. Mike rose to Director level at Skyline Exhibits, where he helped generate over a half million leads, resulting in over $1 billion in sales. He published 11 industry white papers and eight exhibiting books, presented over 100 trade show webinars, and wrote over 200 exhibit marketing blog posts.

4 responses to “10 Simple Laws of Trade Show Success

  1. I do about 10 shows per year, I know my products, interact well, follow up after show with an email and then a thank you letter, people are so interested at the show, but usually don’t call back. I get many really good leads at the shows, like the Dallas Truck Show, in three years we have no sales from this show, but dozens of leads. Louisville farm show and truck show many leads and sales. Not returning to Dallas show, none of my competition attend that is probably why, no sales.

    1. Hello Charles,

      Are you getting good results from the other roughly 8 shows a year? Maybe you get better results closer to your Iowa headquarters than down in the South? Or at shows for other types of buyers?

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