Tradeshow · Event Management

Our startup just spent $20K to attend a trade show. How do we acquire leads?

Lisa Falcone Rock Star Marketer available for company poised for growth

July 20th, 2015

Our startup just spend 20K to attend a trade show / conference this year, and as a marketer, I am looking for exciting and new ways to engage our audience and acquire leads from the event.

What has worked really well for you? or what have you read that sounded like a high yielding opportunity? alternatively, as an attendee of the event just walking around, what was your favorite booth doing?

Thanks in advance for all of your creative suggestions!

Morgan Brown Growth Oriented Chief Operating Officer

July 20th, 2015

Spend $200 more and get one of these for your booth.

You'll double any lead volume you would get otherwise. It's simple, inexpensive, and works. 

Alistair Davidson Eclicktick Consulting

July 20th, 2015

Most people make the following mistakes:

1. Failure to solicit people before the show.
2. Failing to followup quickly after the show.
3. Accepting contact information without understanding the client need and recording it as they visit.

Plus they wear really uncomfortable shoes.


Steve Everhard All Things Startup

July 20th, 2015

The problem with trade shows is separating the valuable contacts from the tire kickers. Handout attract tire kickers. Parties attract tire kickers. Afterwards you will congratulate yourselves on a busy show but attempts at follow ups - you did get contact details, didn't you? - will be frustrating. So instead on pulling people to the stand look at pulling the right people and that means a clear message about what you do and what you can do for them. Demo's are good but miked up demo's where you are a barker pulling people to the stand will make you unpopular with the folks around you and attract people who just want to lean in. Think less about stunts and more about your target audience.

I agree with Alistair that the work happens before the show, using the guide to target people that you are interested in. Try to make contact and book times for meetings on your booth or nearby. Draw them to you with targeted messaging and not freebies - unless merchandising is your business. I'm assuming you're a B2B business as this is a trade show. Structure your stand so you are folks off the stand dealing with people pausing but not coming onto the stand or with those folks who are interested but who might not be able to get onto a busy stand. Try and book people in for a meeting later after qualifying them. Respecting folks time will win your more friends than another trade show stunt.

Shingai Samudzi

July 20th, 2015

Throw a very memorable party one of the nights during the event. Thened events work well. Find a hot venue nearby, and see if you can get a deal to pay a set amount per head (say $20). Invite a limited number of leads, and you can use your booth to do this. Give out 2 or 3 drink tickets (they can only get free drinks with one) and then have walk the floor with more drink tix. People have to talk to you to get more drinks, so you'll get more intimate face time than at the trade show itself. If done well, it's a great way to make a positive impression and generate more solid leads than just collecting business cards at a booth. I'm assuming that if you have 20k to attend the show that 5 or 6k to host the party is not a hardship. Especially if you are selling b2b where one sale could return all of your sunk cost.

Robert Tolmach Entrepreneur and Social Entrepreneur

July 20th, 2015

Half the people I see manning booths at trade shows are totally unengaged: playing on their phone, working on a notebook, taking to their colleague, passively waiting for someone to come to them, and not even making eye contact--much less talking with--folks who stroll by. 

Make sure that whoever mans your both is energetically working to engage everyone who walks within 50 yards.

Peter Johnston Businesses are composed of pixels, bytes & atoms. All 3 change constantly. I make that change +ve.

July 21st, 2015

First thing I'll say here is that you aren't involved in a Start-up, but a 19th century business. Exhibitions became all the rage after the success of the Great Exhibition in 1851, but they have generally declined in importance as other communication methods have risen. But I'm assuming from the way you've written it that you have an old-fashioned boss, it wasn't your idea and you simply have to make the best of it. If it was your idea, you should cancel it and resign - it most certainly isn't the way to run a modern startup.

If your marketing is at all good, you should not meet any new potential customers at the Trade Show - they should already be aware of you and what you do, including what you can do for them. But there is an opportunity to turn those online contacts into face to face meetings, physical demonstrations and contacts into partnerships.

So start by building some hype. Make sure everyone who knows you - customer, influencer, trade contact, even competitor, knows you are going to do something exciting at the show. This means multi-touch teaser-style work to build excitement, to ensure they know where you are in the show, that something is going to happen and that they will get privileged access and first sight.

Then create that happening. People don't want to see "this is our standard line-up, first unveiled a year ago" - they want something new. And while it is nice to see physical products if you have them, they want to see what they can do - ideally what they can do for them. So turn the show into an action event. Host a launch. Do demos (if it is small and demos need to be one to one, get people to book their slot). Have a trade evening where you talk to potential suppliers. Or a media evening where you talk to the newspeople and help them generate stories.

And make it interactive. Create a "design our next generation of products" challenge. Find ways to get them to come up with ideas, tell you how they use it, what problems they have which it will solve and what problems they have which will not be solved and still remain.

Also target some key people, you know are going to be there. Try to use the "we're both there, so let's talk". Build a list of your top hundred potential trade customers, top 100 influencers, top 100 media people and try to use the show as a way to get to talk to them. Use the show also to generate stories in media around Launch, New, etc. And get it on your blog, multiple times with different angles - "why we lead the way in what the show's about", "how would you do things differently - come and talk to us at...", "ten things about this field" etc.

Finally, don't go phew, that's it, when it is over. Get out there and use those leads to meet people. Send them a thankyou for coming to our stand gift and voucher off a future purchase. Open up partnerships with the trade and exploit those new relationships with the media.

You can make a show into a media and partner event, which really puts you on the map. Or you can waste a week standing in an empty booth. Choice is yours.

Alex Eckelberry CEO at

July 21st, 2015

I don't look at tradeshows as "19th century technology", any more than I look at a car as 19th century technology, or a telephone, or mail. They are old technologies, but they still have their use. 

Tradeshows are certainly not and should not be the primary marketing tool of a company. But they shouldn't be cast off as an antiquated method of marketing.  You have to gauge the show, and what you're trying to accomplish.  Like every tool in marketing, they have their use in a marketer's toolbox. But they are only one tool out of many.

Richard Harris Top 25 Inside Sales Leader, Public Speaker, 40 Most Inspiring Leader, Sales Trainer, Start-Up Advisor, SalesHacker

July 21st, 2015

If you dropped $20k without having a strategy before hand then something is off. All of the suggestions are good and here are a few more.

1. You should have SDRs calling/emailing to drive attendance to the booth. At minimum if the person is not attending the show, it lets the SDR have something compelling to say so it's still a good "touch.

2. Have sales people at the show. It's hysterical that many people send only marketing people to trade shows. If a buyer is present why isn't sales represented?  Also, its not about quantity, it's about quality. Unless you have a strong ICP and a strong SLA with your sales team, you won't know the true value without input from sales.

3. Post show, SDR's need to have a 7-touch process in 10 business days to see if the leads are worthwhile. 

Feel free to ping me offline if you have other questions:

Richard Propper Founder of a Streaming Channels taking the old and making it new.

July 22nd, 2015

I've been attending 2-5 trade show/conferences for 20+ years!  (Can't believe its been that long).  Once a booth is secured you begin to think about the realities of being on the floor.  Our goal was to book every appointment slot every half hour with a qualified client.  Easier said than done.   If its your first event as an exhibitor, you'll need to set some goals so you don't come away disappointed.  Would 20 good meetings put a smile on your face?  5 really great meetings?  There will be idle time when everyone seems to be everywhere but your booth.  There is an ebb and flow to conferences.  Walk around and meet your neighbors, they are trying to get clients too and may have insights. Prior to the event, send a brochure or letter to the top 200 people you'd like to meet.  I know a letter seems very old school, but it works.  It's novel.  Most A and B level players are inundated with e-mail requests to meet at a show.  They usually will meet with those they already have a relationship with. Do something different. Contact the conference organizer and see if you can locate your booth to a high-traffic area or next to or across from a noted company.  Walk-by traffic is very important.  Be chatty and talk to everyone.  If someone isn't a viable lead/contact, politely send them on their way.  If you can, have a polished receptionist to take walk-by traffic while you're having meetings.  Nothing will disappoint more than having a potentially important client stand there unable to speak with you as you're occupied. With no one to take his/her card and schedule for a later time, that lead is lost.  Conferences get busy and letting a good lead walk away defeats your purpose of being there to begin with.  Have a bowl of Jellybeans for people to grab handfuls of.  Its cheap and it pulls people into your booth.  They'll feel obligated to chat for at least a minute or two. Practice your short pitch.  Be rested.  Keep track of every business card you receive.  Staple them to a notebook and write brief notes below each card.  You can fill in the bigger details later.  Be on the floor in front of your booth talking to as many people as possible.  Lastly, see if there are trade magazines you can advertise in that are dedicated to the event.  While these ads can be pricey, it does arouse attention.    Good luck! Richard Propper CEO/Solid Entertainment MD/WESTDOC

Rob Underwood Advisor and Entrepreneur

July 21st, 2015

This is not a perfect comparison but to me trade shows/conferences are red oceans. I get why founders go, and get why they are attractive in concept. But with some many people, including many of your competitors (both competitors for funding and outright market competitors) there, $20,000 is a lot to spend to be fighting for attention.

And while this isn't a new phenomena, I think there are lot of trade shows and conferences out there of only marginal (if that) quality in terms of speakers and participants. Lots of people getting rich selling pick axes in the gold rush so to say. I agree with Alex - "I just wouldn't expect much of them, and I would recognize their place as one additional tool in the marketer's toolbox."

My suggestion - which is not incompatible with conferences - is you create demand (leads) by demonstrating your expertise in your domain. From your site, it looks like you work in the software integration space. I'd be trying to find ways to talk about this area (while being mindful to not give away your "secret sauce" for free) at local meetups, on-line through channels like SkillShare, etc. When I worked at Deloitte, we used to talk about "being eminent" in your "value prop" which was just a very consultantese way of saying "be known far and wide for that which you know a lot about." If you do that, the lead generation work, while still hard, will come more naturally. So work to get paid, or at least invited to speak, at conferences (and don't be shy about asking conference organizers if they are looking for speakers and if they offer discounted or free admission to speakers).