Show Up To Blow Up: Why I Spent 50K On Trade Shows This Year


Someone please help me, I must have lost my mind this year.

I have spent more on trade shows in 2015 than I have in the last 19 years combined.  When my company hosted and produced “Truck Tank” at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas in August, it cost our organization close to 50K!  That may be peanuts for a large publicly traded company, but for an independently owned commercial equipment finance company in Dallas, that was big money!

So what do I have to show for it?

Not much in the form of ROI, but massive returns in the form of exposure.  That is why you want to do trade shows, not necessarily for the deals that come from attending, but from the exposure that attending can create for your business.  CAN being the operative word, because at each and every trade show I went to this year, I would say 99% of the attendees were doing it wrong.  They created no buzz, no excitement, and brought no attention to their organization.  They were just another booth at a trade show handing out free candy and pens.  At the end of the 2 days, they wasted thousands of real dollars and hundreds of thousands of dollars in future opportunities.  Don’t be that company.  Here are my tips on how to achieve trade show success.  Feel free to share these with your team of trade show veterans, and watch the results quadruple.


#1) Build the Buzz

Don’t go to a trade show unless you are doing something at the event that creates buzz.  A competition (like Truck Tank), a giveaway, a dunk tank, a spin the wheel, whatever…but do something that causes noise and attention at your booth. Use your team to come up with new and interesting ideas that will differentiate your booth.

#2) Market the Buzz BEFORE THE SHOW

Make sure people have something to look forward to at the show they are attending, and therefore, tell them about your attention grabbing event!  Start at least 30 days prior to the show.  Get your salespeople pushing the show, letting clients know that your company will be offering a $1,000 gift card on Amazon at the show and that they must stop by the booth to enter the drawing.  Then follow up with a direct mailer and email campaign as you get closer to the date of the show.  Don’t assume they know to look for you…make sure they make your booth part of their destination.

#3) Dominate Social Media Before, During, and After the Show

This is so easy…because while most people will tweet or post about their dog or cat, they rarely do it for trade show attendance.  Your company can literally dominate the social media chatter by using the official hash tag of the show as well as any and all alternative hash tags.  My company just attended a trade show for towing companies, and we were literally 90% of the hash tag action on twitter.  That’s domination.

#4) NEVER, NEVER Get Caught Sitting BEHIND Your Booth!

Your 6 foot wrapped table should NEVER, I repeat…NEVER be in front of you.  You must position yourself in front of the table, and standing in the isle, drawing attention to your booth and your competition or give away.  If your booth is in front of you, it’s like a wall between you and your potential new customer.

#5) Collect Information

Your giveaway is not to make the world a better place.  It’s to get information from a potential prospect.  You must have a “drop your card” bowl, or a sign up to register page so that you can collect information from anyone and everyone and follow up.  Here is a little trick we use….Once the prospect drops their card into our drawing (we love fuel card drawings, because we can say…”let us pay for your fuel! Just drop your card here!”), once you have chit chatted and the prospect has left, just pick their card up and write a quick note of the highlight of the conversation on it for future reference.  This helps you remember the conversation and gives you talking points when you follow up.


Jump on the leads within the first few days following the trade show.  Don’t let weeks go by…they forget about the show and certainly you by that time.

#7) Become a Person of Interest

Want to really become a person of interest at a trade show?  Become a featured speaker.  I often speak at trade shows about truck and equipment financing, my core business for the last 20 years.  And you know what happens 100% of the time?  More than one person comes up to me and talks to me about learning more about my company and how we can do financing together.  Now that is a “high value activity”.

Trade shows cost A LOT of money, time and energy!   They cause us to miss time with our family, our coworkers and other clients.  If you make the commitment to do a trade show, give it the preparation and energy it deserves to maximize your chances trade show of success.

Click here to see how my company dominated GATS 2015 with our entrepreneur pitch contest, Truck Tank.

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