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5 Common Pitfalls To Trade Show Marketing

Trade shows are a valuable marketing medium. But they are harder than they look. Exhibit marketers with good intentions still can make preventable mistakes. Your marketing dollars can generate profitable sales leads at trade shows, but not if you trip into these 5 common pitfalls:


1. Focusing On Logistics But Ignoring Marketing

Trade shows require an attention to detail and awesome organization skills. But if marketing is ignored, you may get a dull display delivered on-time to an empty booth at the wrong show. The pitfall here is that because the logistic needs must be attended to, the marketing opportunities are left until later, and then left undone. When you apply marketing as well as organizational skills, you create a custom trade show display that appeals to your buyers, who are the people walking down the aisle, and whose attention you caught with a great reason to visit you before or during the show.

2. Picking The Wrong Booth Staffers

At first glance, selecting the right staff seems like finding the best sales person, or the person who lives closest to the show.  But if you walk a trade show, you will be startled by how many booth staffers are not focused on attendees, but instead have their head down, immersed in their smart phone or laptop. You need to choose booth staffers who are willing to actually work the show, people with the right attitude and work ethic. That may mean people who work in customer service, marketing, or other departments.

3. Not Qualifying Leads During The Show

For too many exhibitors, lead fulfillment means sending the entire list of booth visitors out to the field sales force. If you want your trade show leads to be ignored, then by all means, send your sales force the names of all the people who visited your booth, and nothing else.  But if you want to get maximum value from your trade show leads, only send them the best leads, with the story about each that lets the field salesperson know why they are a great lead. To get that information, your booth staffers must be trained to write down the details of their conversations, and to rank leads according to value, such as A, B, and C leads. Send the A leads first, the B leads soon after, and put the C leads into your marketing list.

4. Not Trying New Trade Shows

I don’t mean not going to shows in their first year, I mean not going to shows you never exhibited at before. Your trade show schedule is not set in stone. Does your company already specialize on serving a particular vertical market / industry? If so, you may have greater success at that smaller, vertical market show, than at your big overall industry show. Has your company moved into new vertical markets to focus on? Do you have a new product that is particularly successful or helpful for a specific industry? If you have trade shows on your schedule that are performing poorly that you could drop, you can then shift budget dollars to these new shows. Keep experimenting!

5. Putting Too Much Into Your Trade Show Exhibit

A lot of your fellow employees apply pressure to have their part of your company story told in and on your trade show display. However, your trade show display is not a warehouse, nor is it a full-length novel: its job is to capture attention and support your booth staff. If you give in to everyone and load up your booth, it creates a confusing obstacle to understanding, rather than an enticement to enter and engage. If you switch your focus from trying to please every stakeholder in your booth with equal treatment to all, and instead, prioritize your messages and products, so that you only display what matters most, you will get more attention and visitors to your booth. This takes buy-in from the top, and willingness on their part to say “no” when needed.

I hope this article will help you spot these pitfalls at your company several steps before you fall into them, and change direction so you can avoid the hazard and better market at trade shows.


Exhibiting at trade shows is not an easy job. Read What’s Working in Exhibiting to learn 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 “5 Common Pitfalls To Trade Show Marketing

  1. Thanks for the great article Mike! I know there have been a few times I have been guilty of being bogged down with the logistics side of it, that the marketing side definitely suffers.

    But #3 for me is definitely the worst in my opinion. Over the years I couldn’t tell you how many business cards I’ve seen booth staffers collect and not write any other details down assuming they are going to remember. Then, sure enough by the time the cards end up back at the office nobody remembers what specific interests each attendee had and the contacts are essentially wasted. Like you mentioned, I’ve learned that discussing it before the show and making sure everyone is on the same page is a must!

  2. But you’re not saying there’s anything wrong with writing on the back of the card, right? It seems to me that’s an efficient way to jot down a couple of things on the spot that you can expand upon later. (I wouldn’t take out a notepad or start typing on a mobile device while talking with a prospective buyer.)

    1. Hello Stephanie,

      It might make sense for a few of your leads … but better to be prepared to have a lead card or an electronic lead retrieval system to record more than a few words about what the prospect said they like and don’t like about their current supplier, what they liked about your offerings, and what the next step is you agreed upon. And some business cards have printing on the back, so you can’t even write on them.

      And yes, if you’ve had a conversation going for a while, and you can tell it’s going someplace, it’s fine to write some notes while they talk, or to write them down after they leave. Just have enough space to write it down, so you sales people know what matters when they follow up.

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