Share this article

When it comes to planning and organizing a successful business event, there are a few best practices to follow. I’m not talking about the logistical and planning elements, but rather the actual show itself and what needs to be done onsite to generate a positive return on investment (ROI).

After two years of virtual events, we are gradually returning to face-to-face or hybrid trade shows and conferences.

But in the meantime, several factors and behaviors have evolved and you have to adapt to them in order to be successful at a commercial event.

In this article, I’ll share some of the best ways to get a high return on investment at your next commercial event.

What has changed for face-to-face events?

What are some mistakes to avoid at trade shows and events?

1. Chatting with colleagues

2. Handling day-to-day business

3. Distributing brochures

4. Spending too much time with clients

What are the best practices for making an event attendance profitable?

1. Establish clear objectives

2. Set the rules

3. Prepare adequately

4. Invite clients and prospects

5. Start the conversation

6. Qualify visitors

7. Add value to the conversation

8. Collect contact information from prospects

9. Follow-up after the event

What has changed for face-to-face events?

After 2 years in virtual mode, events are returning to face-to-face, but not everyone is yet comfortable being around crowds.

Some preventive measures – social distancing or hand sanitization – will certainly remain in place for several months depending on the type of event.

On the other hand, technology has become an increasingly important part of events. Whether it’s registration, badges, appointment scheduling or other aspects, technology is now central to all events.

 What are the mistakes to avoid at trade shows and events?

1. Chatting with colleagues

Some sales representatives see events and trade shows as a chore and a long period of time spent standing at the booth.

Often, conversations between colleagues are the central activity of the day, and the risk is even higher after 2 years of working remotely.

Attending a sales event is primarily a business development activity, so internal conversations should remain marginal.

2. Handling day-to-day business

Traveling to an event to handle day-to-day business is obviously a practice that should be avoided.

A business trade show is not the place to answer emails, make calls or have virtual meetings.

When you are at a business event, make sure you are 100% available to visitors.

3. Distributing brochures

Fortunately, this is a practice that is losing ground very quickly, but it is still in use, especially in highly technical and industrial areas.

The objective of a sales event should never be to distribute brochures, but rather to initiate discussions and collect information about prospects.

4. Spending too much time with clients

It’s important not to fall into the trap of spending most of your time with the customers who come to visit you.

Events are an opportunity to have conversations with new prospects, so don’t lose sight of that goal.

You already know what opportunities exist with your customers, so put the effort into developing new opportunities.

What are the best practices for making an event attendance profitable?

The investments made by companies to attend trade shows and events are major, which is why it’s imperative to make sure you generate an ROI.

With the following 9 recommendations, you have an excellent roadmap to make your events a success.

1. Establish clear objectives

Preparing for a trade show is very similar to preparing your sales plan.

It is essential to set quantifiable goals for the number of qualified opportunities to be obtained, the number of first meetings confirmed and the desired results (in dollars, in contracts) from the meetings that follow.

Usually, individual goals are set for each representative, but also collective goals. 

2. Set the rules

  • Define a schedule for booth attendance
  • Clearly assign roles (reception, demonstrations, service…)
  • Communicate the behaviors to avoid (managing emails at the booth, conversations on the phone…)
  • Communicate the process for collecting information from prospects
  • Communicate the key messages and approach to follow with prospects

Once again, preparation is essential to ensure a quality experience for visitors, but also to ensure that objectives are met.

3. Prepare properly

This is not about event planning, but about what sales teams need to do to prepare for a show.

To be successful, it’s not just about being at the booth, it’s important to have done some prep work that includes:

  • Scheduling an out-of-office message in your email box to notify that you will be responding to inquiries after the event
  • Blocking time in your calendar in the days following the event to follow up with prospects
  • Publicize your participation in the event on LinkedIn (individual posts in addition to company posts)

4. Invite customers and prospects

While events are a way to reconnect with prospects and customers you haven’t seen in person in a long time, you should also consider that they may be reluctant to attend.

To ensure that you can meet clients and prospects in person, invite them in advance so they can make arrangements.

If the event offers free tickets to exhibitors, be sure to allocate all of those tickets to prospects first.

5. Start the conversation

Break down that image we all have of a typical trade show where representatives wait quietly behind a booth for someone to introduce themselves or ask a question.

It only takes one or two good questions to start a conversation with a visitor. Generally, people are quite open to starting a discussion, because that’s what they’re there for!

Just go up to them with a simple question like:

  • What brings you to the conference today?
  • What drew your intention?
  • What are the most important issues you are facing with respect to (position something in your industry) right now

Avoid :

  • Can I help you?
  • Do you know our company?
  • Are you looking at a particular product?

If the visitor asks “What do you do?”, it is important not to go into presentation mode right away, but rather to use a positioning statement

6. Qualify visitors

When you start a conversation with a visitor, qualify them.

Here we’re talking about qualifying, but not in the traditional sense of whether the company a visitor works for fits your ideal customer criteria – it’s about qualifying by identifying whether the person has a problem that can be solved.

If you don’t have the right person in front of you, you can try to get the decision maker’s contact information to communicate after the show; or better yet, get an introduction.

Your questioning strategy is just as important at a trade show as it is in a sales meeting. The right questions asked at the right time will tell you if you have a potential customer, if they have a problem and if they want to solve it.

7. Add value to the conversation

People visit trade shows because it’s an opportunity to learn more about a solution that might meet their needs.

On the other end of the spectrum, salespeople often see it as an opportunity to showcase their products or services. Presentations and demonstrations are the activities in which salespeople are most comfortable.

However, don’t fall into presentation mode too soon!

Yes, it is relevant and even necessary to share some information in this context, but your role is to learn more about the visitors’ problems and needs.

Put yourself in consultative selling mode rather than presenter mode and add value to the conversation with questions.

8. Collect contact information from prospects

Today, the use of business cards is somewhat lost, but you still need to get contact information from prospects.

There are several ways to do this:

  • Use your cell phone to enter the prospect’s information
  • Use printed cards to fill out by hand
  • Have terminals with tablets at your booth
  • Offer a contest with prizes to win
  • Have a QR code to scan to download documents

Whatever method you use, it’s essential to collect prospects’ contact information and be able to add context to the conversation for the next steps.

9. Follow-up after the event

Last, but not least, is the follow-up.

What’s the point of doing all the good work you did before and during the event if you don’t spend the time necessary to follow up with the prospects you met!

For follow-ups, be sure to put the conversation with the prospect in context and set a next step.

If you can’t reach prospects over the phone, I recommend creating a short, personalized video to email them.

I always track my conversion ratios closely and especially want to know what investments are paying off. Historically, 20% of the leads I meet at an event become sales opportunities.

Final word

Be systematically prepared for your B2B events and trade shows and never underestimate the potential of a conversation!

Good luck!