10 rules to success for startups exhibiting at trade shows

People often believe that the secret to success at trade show is the size of your booth.

While having a large booth certainly helps driving more traffic, it is certainly not the main element of your exhibition success!

Let’s review together the 10 golden rules for startups to make business at trade shows!


  1. Booth Design

As a startup, you will most certainly have a huge booth – it doesn’t matter! What matters is that your booth stands out.

Have your logo highlighted so it could be seen from far, use your brand colors for the decoration and keep things clean and neat: do not put text and small pictures all over the place. Go with large picture, short slogans or keywords, full colors or gradients.

Try to cover your booth furniture with your branding: foam boards are cheap and easy to install and will make your booth more prominent than a standard empty one.

  1. Marketing material

Prepare brochures, leaflets, catalogs, price lists, etc.

Have some printed material “in case” but make sure everything is in digital format as well: not only it will save you some printing & logistics costs, but it will also please your visitors who don’t enjoy carrying pamphlets around and avoid having your documents end up in a trash bin by the exit door.

Have all your marketing collateral in the cloud and make it easy for you and your team to share these files with visitors.

  1. Promotion

Traffic doesn’t build by itself.

Yes, you will enjoy the natural flow of visitors coming to the show, but professional buyers and investors prepare their visit carefully and know already which booth they must visit. Don’t be here only for people passing by, make sure to promote your booth ahead of time!

Have a dedicated page online to promote your participation, explain what you will be presenting, why people should pay you a visit and get them excited!

Make use of your email signature, website and social media to drive traffic to that page: make sure your direct and indirect network knows you will exhibit!

  1. Appointments

During a show you have up times and down times, you go from “extremely busy” to “bored to death”.

You pay for your participation, both with your money and your time, so you better make sure you get the best out of it!

The right strategy is to contact your existing customers as well as all the leads & prospects already in your pipeline and invite them to meet you at the booth. If possible, try to arrange an official meeting so you could have a clear schedule. This way, you build up traffic throughout the day. And remember: people attract people. An empty booth doesn’t look appealing, but always having a few people will trigger the interest of others.

  1. Targets

As a startup you are certainly used to KPIs and OKRs.

You most certainly don’t spend thousands of dollars on Google Adwords without having some objectives and targets. Same applies to trade shows: you can’t spend tons of money (and time!) and not track anything.

Your objectives should be divided in 4 categories:

  • budget (maximum amount to spend altogether)
  • leads captured (number of prospects’ details captured in your booth)
  • contract signed (total deals signed, post event)
  • gross revenue (total amount of money generated, up to 6 months post-show)

Having a clear objective isn’t only important for tracking purpose but also to motivate your team and give a clear direction for people to follow.

  1. Qualifying process

Ever heard the phrase “not every customer is a good customer”? The same applies to prospects – you simply don’t have time to spend an hour talking with each visitor, therefore you need to identify the potential of each visitor and consequently decide how much of your time he is worth.

To achieve that, you must build a qualifying process: a series of questions you will ask every visitor to understand better his background and potential.

These questions depend on your business but you may want to find out:

  • what is his profile? Investor, distributor, retailer, manufacturer, etc.
  • is he a decision maker?
  • does he already use / sells / promote similar products? Which ones?
  • is he based in your country?

You certainly don’t want you, or your team members, to talk for 20 minutes about your product only to find out that your visitor is a competitor looking for insights!

Have a clear qualifying process shared by your entire team. The right strategy is to always ask questions – if you keep talking, you will know nothing about the person you are talking to.

  1. Training

You think you don’t need training? You’re wrong.

Even experts & champions need training: that is how you keep being the best at what you do.

Have a training with your team. Review everything from understanding the product, making a demo, knowing technical details, to basic greetings, qualifying process, questions flow, ending a conversation, capturing the lead, etc.

Don’t assume people in your team know. Even if they do, aligning strategies is good practice.

Include a section of “dos & don’ts” to remind everyone of the basics: don’t leave the booth unattended, don’t chew gums, don’t eat in the booth, don’t play with your phone, etc.


  1. USP

Startups are often excellent at this – know your USP, practice your elevator pitch.

You don’t have time to explain all the technical specificities of your product. Don’t bore your visitors with unnecessary details, go straight to the point.

Figure out what your USP is and focus on it. If the visitor needs to know more, he will ask.


  1. Lead Capture

Collecting business cards to stuff them in your pocket isn’t the same as capturing leads.

Capturing leads means taking a couple of minutes, immediately after ending a conversation with a visitor, to take detailed notes: contact information, qualifying process results, product interest, details about the conversation and next steps.

Doing it manually with pen&paper is a mistake: it will waste some time in the booth and a LOT of time after the show.
Since all your leads must be transferred to a digital format anyway, better start with digital right away.

Do it right! Your lead capture should start with a business card scanner, to save time and reduce manual entry. Use categorizing tags to replace notes taking with boxes to tick: it will save precious minutes of recording but also ease the filtering post show.

Once your data save, move on to the next visitor!

The trick is to do it immediately, even if it means asking a visitor to hold on for a minute, while your memories are still fresh. Don’t make the mistake of delaying the lead capture to the end of the days or a more quiet time.


  1. Follow-up

Did you know that 35 to 50% of the contracts signed post-event go to the exhibitor following-up first?

You can’t afford to follow-up 10 days after the show. Your follow-up should go within 48h after meeting a visitor, but you cannot achieve that if you took pen&paper notes, because it would take you at least that time to transfer the data into digital.

If you can, follow-up on the same day or even instantly. But do it RIGHT! A good follow-up email should contain:

  • your visitor’s name (make it personal)
  • your company name
  • details of your conversation (show you care! This isn’t a automatic email sent by a robot)
  • additional information (a brochure, leaflet, link to your website, etc.)
  • a clear CTA (Call To Action: contract, call, meeting, etc.)

Additionally, it would be a good idea to have:

  • your photo (this person talked to you for 20 minutes, it would help him to remember the conversation if he could see your face)
  • a photo of your booth / products (it would also help remembering what was discussed)

These things might seem to be only small details, but you must keep in mind that your visitor has visited dozens of other booths, talked to hundreds of other exhibitors and seen thousands other products: helping him remember is essential.


You should now be fully equipped to find success at your next trade show! If you need tools to make it even more efficient, myfairtool offers a complete solution to do everything, from planning and promotion to lead capture and follow-up – try it out!


gitr-profile Julien Rio is the Founder of myfairtool, the online solution for companies participating in trade shows to maximize their results.