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Using Trade Shows to Strengthen Key Business Relationships

RelationshipsIn today’s overworked, understaffed world, it’s harder than ever to get face-to-face with your key B2B audiences. That’s why so many companies exhibit at trade shows – to build relationships with key audiences through meetings in their exhibit.

And when buyers do show up at the show, they are further in the buying cycle, having already done initial research on the internet before visiting your booth. They want to get to know your team, or even close the deal, which is another reason why more meetings happen in trade show displays.

So who are we trying to reach? Salespeople, marketers, and business executives are all eager to host meetings in their trade show booths with:

  • Existing customers, to maintain their relationships and to upsell/cross-sell them
  • Key customers, to ensure they keep their business and get feedback about performance
  • Top prospects, to help close the deal
  • Industry alliance partners, to save time and travel expense, because they are all at the show already
  • Distribution partners, to promote new products and discuss current issues
  • Press, bloggers, and analysts, to gain precious public relations opportunities

Now that we know there are many strong business reasons for strengthening relationships in your trade show exhibits, let’s share how to design an exhibit that helps you best to host meetings. Here are 4 factors to consider when creating meeting spaces in your exhibit:

  1. How many people will be in the meetings in your booth – will people be visiting you individually, or in pairs, or in larger groups? Remember to include seating for your side of the table – will one person be talking to them, or a group as well?
  2. How many meeting spaces – will there be so many meetings going on that you will need more than one meeting space? You don’t necessarily need to have enough meeting spaces for the very busiest time of the show, but for the majority of the show.
  3. What level of privacy do you need – open meeting spaces, semi-private, or private? That’s driven by how much either you, your guests, or both want to not be seen talking together in your booth, or by how much you want to minimize distractions, or host hidden presentations or negotiations.
  4. What level of sophistication do you need – will bare walls do, or do you need some decoration or graphics or cool architecture or technology for a presentation? Do you want to put them atop a double-deck, or add a ceiling? This is determined by the value to your business you get from these meetings – is it a good investment to create a more welcome meeting space?

Here are some examples of exhibits with different kinds of meeting spaces:

Textura: This 10 x 20 has two very open meeting spaces. Consider how subtle they are, as they take most of the booth space, but do not distract from the branding graphics of the backwall display.

texturaPremier Tech Systems: This is a fairly open meeting space, where the need for privacy is not as important as the need to create a very warm welcome, similar to a living room in a nice house – be it a very well-branded living room

premier-tech-systemsVidiom Systems: Almost half of the island exhibit for Vidiom systems is reserved for meeting spaces. The meeting rooms are very private, hosted inside frosted Plexiglas walls. Vidiom systems island exhibit uses the exterior of the meeting rooms well, with workstations for quicker meetings with potential leads.

vidiom-systemsEvenflo (1): This is the entryway to a larger, open product display area, part of a 40 x 80 booth space. There are 3 meeting areas in view, ranging from a 2-person space with hard chairs to a 4-person space with upholstery. These could be used as a waiting room before getting the tour of the products on display. There are also two rooms behind closed doors on the right side, which could also be used for more private meetings.

evenfloEvenflo (2): Here is a large private conference room from the inside. There is executive seating for 10 people, high walls, cabinetry for storage, and a large flat screen monitor for presentations. This could be a board room, yet it is built inside a temporary exhibit.

evenflo2Casto: This entire booth is made for meetings. Notice how nearly the entire perimeter, while created with bold graphics and intriguing architecture, is actually a barrier to entry. And under the entry arch, you can see the number “2” on a frosted conference room window, indicating that the meeting spaces were numbered in advance.

castoWestern Digital: The island exhibit for Western Digital is at a conference. Tall, backlit graphics towers on the outside of the space promote Western Digital’s “absolutely” tagline. The entire booth is filled with chic, comfortable couches to entice attendees to relax, converse, and strengthen relationships.

wdPolaroid: This was a secluded, exclusive space for key VIPs at CES, embedded within a much larger 80 x 90 foot exhibit. It was an oasis amidst the largest trade show in the USA.


Horn: This booth creates a warm welcome for every visitor with a hosted bar. For select visitors there are many private meeting spaces, with conference rooms above and below a hidden double deck. There is even a VIP room for the business owner.

hornBuilding Relationships with More than Exhibit Design

Beyond your exhibit design, you can also strengthen key business relationships by the promotions you do and the booth staffers you bring:

Promotions – Whether it’s by phone or other means, invite your key audiences to meet you in your booth, and set meeting times in advance. You can even book people into specific meeting space you’ve designed into your booth. Since you are focusing on having longer meetings with fewer, but more valuable people, ditch the $1 giveaways and invest in higher-end gifts you can use to reward or entice key buyers and customers to visit. Similarly, rather than put out a bowl of hard candy, upgrade your hospitality to drinks and a real snack or treat for your valued visitors.

Booth Staffers – This definitely is not the time to send your new low-level employee to a show for training. Bring your senior management, business development managers, and the account execs who manage the key accounts coming to your booth. Bring people who can answer their technical questions, but do so with warmth and genuine charm, creating tighter bonds between your visitors and your company. You want your key booth visitors to feel like they’ve been well taken care of and that they met with their equals or betters, so they head home tied even stronger to your company and brand.

No matter which key audience you are targeting, be it key clients, prospects, partners, or the press, your trade show exhibit can be a platform for building stronger bonds between you and your most prized people.

tst-islandWhen you exhibit in an island trade show booth, you’re making a major marketing commitment. Request the Trade Show Tips for Island Exhibitors book to better prepare yourself for the unique challenges faced by island exhibitors like you. 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.

2 responses to “Using Trade Shows to Strengthen Key Business Relationships

  1. Mike, very comprehensive and very well thought out. I like how you segment the attendees, how you address the different floor spaces and needless to say the myriad styles add a rich layer to this sumptuous content. Nice, very nice!

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