To maximize trade show revenue, switch the mindset from, “I’m here to meet people and give away stuff” to “I’m here to collect leads.” This changes the entire dynamic. When she did that, she came back from the trade show, we were having a conversation and she said, “I’ve never had a show like that. I got so many leads. I have all these people I’m going to be following up with. You know, we had great conversations.”

And all it is, is a shift in the dynamic, a shift in the strategy and the overall approach. Going from “I’m here to be here and to see people and schmooze” to “I am here to collect leads, follow up on those leads and make sales.” If you do nothing other than that, you’re going to maximize your revenue from trade shows.

David: Hi and welcome to the podcast. In today’s episode, co-host Jay McFarland and I will be discussing how to maximize trade show revenue. Welcome, Jay.

Jay: Hey, thank you for having me on, David. I hope everybody had a wonderful holiday and have big plans for the great new year, and I’m sure trade shows, for a lot of people that’s part of their plan, so they should go in with some goals and some ways to make sure that they can maximize those benefits.

David: Absolutely. In last week’s podcast, we were talking about hitting the ground running in the new year. And today we will continue that trend with the idea of trade shows. In the promotional products industry, this is definitely trade show season, which is why I thought it would be a good idea to address this topic.

This week, in fact, the PPAI Expo in Las Vegas is going on. From the standpoint of promotional product suppliers, this is a really big show because that’s when they get to meet all the distributors.

From a distributor’s standpoint, they get to see all the new products that are coming out. They get to visit with the suppliers who decorate the products, and it’s a really big show. I sound like Ed Sullivan, “it’s a really big show!” Takes place in Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, and that’s going on this week.

And what we’re talking about today, because most of the people who take advantage of our materials are promotional product distributors. They’re walking the show this week. So what I’m talking about in terms of this topic though, is maximizing trade show revenue as an exhibitor.

Because a lot of our clients who are walking the show this week as attendees, also will very often exhibit at other shows and try to sell their wares there. And so I wanted to touch on that topic a little bit this week.

Jay: Yeah. And I’m really glad you are because I’ve been in both situations. I’ve walked a show trying to meet people, handing out cards. “Hey, this is what we do.” And I’ve also been an exhibitor.

There’s nothing worse than being an exhibitor and watching people walk by your booth all day long. You know, you almost need to have the old carnival barker out front, trying to bring people in. And that can be frustrating, because you paid money and you’re hoping to generate revenue.

David: Absolutely, and I’ve done the same thing, but on both sides of the equation. Walk shows, and also been an exhibitor at shows. And one of the first shows that we ever exhibited at, we had never done it before. So when you’re new at exhibiting at a trade show, you have no idea what you’re getting into.

You’re going to have a booth. You’re going to have some sort of backdrop, or you’re just going to have nothing and a couple of people standing there. But I don’t really want to get into all of that too deeply. I mean, whatever you decide in terms of the environment that you want to create there, obviously you want to create an environment that looks inviting, looks welcoming.

You probably don’t just want to have two metal chairs and stand there looking at people as they go by. They’re probably not going to want to approach. But, when you are not really familiar with what to do, you tend to just sort of go for cosmetics in some cases. Like maybe you’ll put up a nice booth and then you’ll stand there and wait for people to come by, that type of thing.

But what I’ve noticed is that many people, if not most people who exhibit at trade shows, take a very reactive approach. They show up. They set up their booth. And then they try to make eye contact with people as they’re going by.

And a lot of people, when they go to trade shows, they tend to do “the bounce.” They don’t want to stop at every single booth. So if they hit the booth next to yours, they’ll probably try to get by you to get to the next thing that they actually want to see. So there are a lot of things like that.

But, If we recognize that the goal is not just to inhabit space and try to encounter the people that we can encounter, then we can be a lot more proactive. Do some things in advance that are actually designed to get your ideal prospects and clients to the booth in advance of the show so that you’re not just waiting to see what happens.

Jay: Oh, I love this. I love this proactive approach. Cause I’ve done the thing where, you know, I’m walking along and I don’t want to make eye contact with the exhibitor. Because then I feel like somehow I’m going to get sucked in.

But if you’re proactive, and perhaps they’re expecting you to be there and even looking for you, boy, that could really change the experience.

David: Yes, it absolutely does. And I think one of the very first trade shows that I ever exhibited at, it was a local trade show, and it was for our promotional product business. And I had never done it before, but I had a general manager who was pretty adept at the idea of being able to get attention and that sort of thing.

And so he would come up with themes for the different events. And so, one of the themes he did sort of a mafia kind of thing, where everybody was wearing sort of pinstriped suits and he, I think he had like a violin case or something like that, we carried into the hotel.

He had an old Model T Ford as well, and he actually parked that out in front of the venue with a sign that said, come see us at whatever the booth number was. And so just something like that, it makes it a little bit different. And it gets attention.

So having a theme can be helpful. But, without the vehicle out front, they wouldn’t have known it until they would’ve gotten to the booth. But it’s something that makes it a little different, a little more unusual, you know, how are you going to tie all that sort of thing in? So that’s helpful.

But then, as I did more and more shows, I realized that if you can actually give people a reason to come to your booth first, they will actually do it.

And later on, when we started exhibiting at industry trade shows, one of the things that we would do is send out an email in advance and say, “stop by our booth,” or “be among the first a hundred people to stop by our booth and you’ll receive a free, whatever it was, audio CD, or you’ll get a free book. We would hand out physical books.

And we would send that out in advance, and what we found is that the show would open at 10 o’clock and at 10:03, we would have a line of people outside of our booth and everybody else in all the other booths were looking around and they’re going, “what’s up with this? Why are these people here?”

I’m like, well, they just like us, right, , because you’re not necessarily going to tell them everything you’re doing. That’s why we have a brand called Top Secrets. But there are specific things that you can do that are designed to get a result, but most people just don’t do them.

Jay: Why this is an incredible idea because you’re exactly right. I’m walking around the trade show, and if I see a booth with nobody in front of it, well that tells me subconsciously nobody’s interested in that product.

But if a bunch of people are gathered around, I’m looking, you know, I’m like trying to peer through the people. I’m like, what is going on here?

And they don’t have any idea that it’s because you’ve sent out this notice in advance.


Just little, little tweaks like that I think can be so powerful.

David: They can, and it really also ties into the whole idea of promotional products. Like people who own promotional product businesses should definitely engage in that.

What they can do is if they can get a list of the people who are attending a particular trade show, they could send something out in advance saying the first X number of people who stop by the booth will receive a, you know, custom imprinted, whatever the item is. Some sort of item that has a perceived value, something that people will want.

And then you can engage in conversation with people First of all, to qualify them to see if they have an interest in what you sell. And if they do, then you can further utilize products to engage them, get them completely qualified in, and then follow up with them after the show.

But each of those things is a separate step. So for example, one of the things that we recommend to our clients who are in the promotional products industry is you can use sort of a lower end promotional item to hand out to people who just happen to be walking by.

And if you exchange a low end promotional item for a business card and you talk to them and you find out that they actually buy the products that you’re selling, you could then have a higher end, little more expensive item under the table that you would then give to the person who’s better qualified. And then let them know that you’re going to follow up with them after the show.

So that sort of strengthens the relationship and sort of creates an ascension ladder, where you’re going from sort of the low end thing for the people who are less qualified to a higher end thing for the people who are more qualified. You give them a higher value gift of obligation and it just really allows you to strengthen the relationship right there at the trade show.

Jay: Yeah, and you know, we talk often about how it’s about relationships. And you’ve kind of created this subconscious thing where maybe they wouldn’t remember you, but they’ve now got something with them that’s got your name on it and that that imprints on them, right?

And so when you do contact them via email, again, they may not remember your face, but that one item is maybe still sitting on their desk. And so you’ve got a leg up. And the relationship has already started and they don’t even know it.

David: Absolutely. Another thing that I’ve noticed is that a lot of people who exhibit at trade shows, they think their primary job is to be at the trade show and to dispense things. Dispense business cards and dispense catalogs, or whatever it is that they’re doing there. They think that that’s their primary job. And I believe their primary job is exactly the opposite of that.

Your job at a trade show is to gather as much information from people as you can. Gather as many leads as you can, as many prospects as you can, so that you can follow up afterwards.

So many people who exhibit at trade shows totally blow that part of the deal. Some of them will literally spend three days or five days, however long the trade show is. They’ll travel to the trade show. They’ll put their people up in hotels. They’ll pay for feeding their people. They’ll pay for entertaining and all that sort of thing.

People will gather business cards at a trade show booth. They’ll get back to the office and then they’ll do nothing with it. They will totally drop the ball.

Now, for people who are serious about this, they’re going to think, “oh, that’s crazy. Who would do that?” But the reality is that most people do. They either don’t follow up or they don’t follow up as well or as consistently as they should. And at that point, all the money they’ve spent on all those other things is essentially wasted because you’re not converting it into revenue.

Jay: Yeah. And it’s also exhausting working a booth for five days, it is exhausting, right? And people forget, and I’m glad you’re pointing this out, that your most important asset is data.

Right? Google will tell you that. Facebook will tell you that. If you can get names and email addresses and those types of things, that is absolute gold. And add those people to your list. Create a CRM system. Put them on a drip program. Send them sample materials.

A lot of companies pay for that. They pay good money for those types of lists. And if you can generate them for just the cost of attending the show, well then it’s going to be worth it for you in the long run. .

David: Absolutely. And better than the idea of just buying a list is the fact that when you are meeting them in person, you’re initiating that whole “know, like and trust” thing that makes that meeting so much more impactful than if you were just going to send them an email or cold call them on the phone and that type of thing.

They wander by. They see your booth. They come over and say hello. At that point, they feel like they’re initiating contact. So it’s their idea as opposed to your. Now as you indicated, if you’ve got a barker inviting people, “hey, come on over here,” well then it sounds more like it’s that person’s idea. But if they do come over, they have to be the ones to say yes or no.

And of course there are people who will hire sort of ringers at trade shows. They’ll hire people whether it’s attractive spokesperson, kind of people, spokes models, both male and female. They will have people like that at the booth designed to get people’s attention, have them come over, introduce themselves, gather business cards, hand them something, whatever it is.

So there are lots of different ways to do it. Many people don’t really think about it. They think of the strategy as being “go to trade show.” And that is not the strategy. That is the first step. Once you get to the show, go to trade show. That’s what you do first. But it is by no means the whole strategy.

Jay: Yeah, step one, we used to call ’em Booth babes, just so you know. The, the, you know,


And I never felt like that was drawing people in, because you are, to me, you’re obviously saying that the booth babes are more important than the product. So to me, there’s already a message that is sent there that is contrary, I think, to what you want to do.

I’ve seen gimmicks that draw me in, you know, really cool displays. But they’re related to the product. And I think those things can be good. But the more gimmicky stuff, I think it comes off as you know, you’re not proud of your product. So you’ve got to kind of cheat the system to get people to come in and see what you have.

David: Yeah, I agree. And I was trying to be very careful with my words when I said attractive spokespeople, because I think there’s a big difference between that and what you’re describing. You know, what you’re describing is something that’s pretty gimmicky. It’s very 1970s , 1980s. I imagine there are probably businesses that still engage in it.

But I think in the time that we’re living now, that approach is probably not ideal. But if you have someone who is intelligent and articulate and reasonably good looking, and there are people that you can hire from agencies where they provide, I don’t know if they refer to them as spokesmodels or spokespeople, but they’re people who might be in the geographic area of where the trade show is. And you can hire these people. You can teach them a couple of things that you want them to say to people who come to the booth.

And it just provides an additional experience for the people, gets them over, gets them engaged, and they’re able to at least talk to somebody. To initiate a conversation that can then be carried on by someone from your own firm, who can then take its steps farther than the spokesperson might not be able to take it.

Jay: Yeah, I think that’s a great point, is often, I mean, maybe people would think going to the trade show is like the raw deal. Like, oh, I don’t want to have to go. But really those should be your best people, your best communicators, your best face, your best foot forward.

A lot of time it’s going to be you, because you’re the owner of the business. But other times ensuring that that is somebody who knows how to communicate and knows how to draw out information.

You know, just get a business card. A lot of shows, have the electronic systems now where you just, tap their machine and that takes in their information. But choose your best, not your mediocre or everyone goes, not it .

David: Yeah.

Jay: You know?

David: Mm-hmm.

Jay: that type of situation.

David: Yeah, I had a consulting client a while ago who was talking about the fact that she was going to be exhibiting at a trade show.

She has a promotional product business. She’d done it for a number of years in a row and she was asking about, well, what sort of promotional item do you think I should give away? And I asked her, I said, well, what do you have? Is there anything that you have now? And she said, well, I gave away, I think she said mugs the previous year.

She said, I still have some of those. You know, I could get something else. And, essentially what I told her is what I said earlier in this podcast. Which is the main thing is not so much what you give away. It’s going to be how you use it.

So whether you decide to get some sort of new promotional item or whether you decide to use what you had from last year, but instead of just giving them out like candy, qualify people in with it first.

Don’t just give it to anyone. Give it to the people that you actually want to impact with your message. People you can gather information from. And then be sure to follow up. And just turning the tables on the whole thing. Again, switching the mindset from, “I’m here to meet people and give away stuff” to “I’m here to collect leads,” changes the entire dynamic.

And so when she did that, she came back from the trade show, we were having a conversation and she said, I’ve never had a show like that. I got so many leads. I have all these people I’m going to be following up with. You know, we had great conversations.

And all it is, is a shift in the dynamic, a shift in the strategy and the overall approach. Going from “I’m here to be here and to see people and schmooze” to “I am here to collect leads, follow up on those leads and make sales.” If you do nothing other than that, you’re going to maximize your revenue from trade shows.

Jay: And that’s amazing. It’s just one tip of many that you offer. How do people find out more?

David: Well, you can go to That’s Schedule a call with myself or my team.

We’d be happy to have a conversation with you. Whether it’s something like this or whether you’re just looking to prospect in other ways. Because obviously trade shows are just one way of getting your information out there and meeting new prospects and attracting leads. If you’re doing it via direct mail, if you’re doing it via social media, if you’re doing it via networking or cold calls, whatever it is, we can have a conversation.

We can talk about what you’re doing, what you might be able to do better, because as we discussed, just in this podcast alone, there are so many little tweaks that you can make to the things that you are doing that can make a huge difference.

It just makes sense to have the conversation and see if we can help you.

Jay: Absolutely. Dave, thank you so much for your time.

David: Thank you, Jay.

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    1 Response to "How to Maximize Trade Show Revenue"

    • David Blaise

      If you’re attending a trade show, particularly a very large one,

      1. Schedule your most important meetings or booth visits proactively, early in the show, so you don’t get sidetracked. Since you can’t see everything, tackle your priorities first.
      2. Stay hydrated, wear comfy shoes and pace yourself. This is pretty standard advice for trade show attendees because it is consistently relevant.
      3. Get plenty of rest. It’s very likely you will need it.

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