5 Ways Exhibitors Sabotage Their Success

April 3, 2023

Marlys Arnold

With experience as both an exhibitor and show organizer, Marlys Arnold has a unique perspective on trade show exhibiting. Over the past two decades, she's consulted and taught workshops for events ranging from local consumer expos to some of the largest U.S. trade shows. She's written two books on the subject: Exhibit Design That Works and Build a Better Trade Show Image. She's the founder of the Exhibit Marketers Café and Exhibit Marketers Academy, an online education community. She also hosts the Trade Show Insights blog and podcast.

When exhibitors fail to achieve their desired results at shows, they often blame it on a bad booth location or not enough traffic.

But the truth is that exhibits in out-of-the-way locations can see amazing results, and even a ghost-town show can produce quality leads – IF exhibitors get strategic and avoid basic self-defeating behaviors like these.

1. Neglecting to promote the exhibit before the show.

Having a great display or being a household name in your industry doesn’t guarantee a busy booth. Make a plan to invite people ahead of time, either online or off. Give them reasons why your booth should be on their must-see list. For example, highlight new product debuts, special in-booth activities, on-site show special offers or whatever else you may be featuring.

2. Overstuffing the booth with too many items, signage or staff.

Don’t make your booth look like a flea market. Although this tends to be a problem with small booths trying to cram in everything under the sun, even large booth spaces are not immune. Always look at your booth from the attendees’ viewpoint and see if it looks cluttered or intimidating. There are almost always items you can remove without anyone noticing the difference. Also rotate staff so they’re not taking up all the open space.

3. Ignoring interested attendees who approach the booth.

I recently encountered an exhibitor who briefly looked up from the book he was reading to point out a feature of the product I was examining, then went straight back to his book. Needless to say, I won’t be doing business with that company. Another variation of this is when there’s a team of booth staffers huddled in one corner of the booth chatting away, completely oblivious to any attendees who enter the space. You’re paying to be at the show to meet attendees, so keep your focus on them.

4. Pitching instead of listening.

Entering this kind of booth is like being trapped inside a late-night infomercial. This booth staffer is so focused on plowing through a predetermined script that they fail to tailor to an individual attendee’s needs. Your conversation with each attendee should be guided by the questions you ask, paying careful attention to the answers they give.

5. Failing to do timely follow-up.

Generating leads and sales is ultimately why exhibitors do trade shows, so why are all those potential customers ignored after the fact? Sure things get busy after the show is over, but neglecting all those leads is like leaving stacks of dollar bills in the empty convention center. Make a follow-up plan before the show begins so it’s easy to implement after.

The sooner you spot and avoid these destructive behaviors, the greater your ability to maximize opportunities you’ve been missing.

Related: Listen to our Trade Show Talk podcast with Marlys Arnold here.

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