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The most common mistakes teams make at trade shows

Updated: Feb 27

It goes without saying that exhibitions and trade shows cost money and these days everyone is looking for as big a return on their investment as possible. Having spoken to a number of exhibitors over the years and worked at a lot of trade shows, we have some top tips to help you avoid the most common mistakes made, and turn your next exhibition into a positive experience.



Common Mistake No1 – Ignoring Prospects and Visitors

It is astounding how many times we have seen staff on an exhibition stand more concerned with talking to their colleagues than looking around for potential prospects to engage in conversation or welcome onto their booth. Some visitors will linger off the stand to work out what you do and the products you offer – if you and your team are not paying attention to your visitors, you can guarantee you will lose leads as a result. Sales teams should always be looking for opportunities to engage visitors in conversation and should be identifiable as a member of staff associated with that stand so they may be approached, rather than drive a potential visitor away.


Common Mistake No2 – Judging Visitors By The Badge They Wear

It is quite off putting as a visitor when sales teams are more keen to check out your job title and company on your name badge to see if you are worth talking to, rather than engage you in conversation. Not only is it rude, there is no subtle way of doing it, so the action is quite obvious. More experienced visitors at trade shows don’t complete these fields in accurately so they can avoid being jumped on. Anonymity as a visitor can afford you a much more productive show, however as a sales person, judging someone by their name badge can lose that all important lead so talk to each visitor, engage them in conversation and find out whether they are truly a lead of value or not; lets face it, it only takes 5 minutes to do!


Common Mistake No3 – Catching Up With Emails & Work

As exhibition sins go, this is one of the biggest! Yes, a trade show eats into your working week, but it is only a few days and most of your customers will be there anyway, so checking your emails and working on other projects when you should be paying attention to your visitors will not only make you look unwelcoming, but it also loses opportunities for sales growth. At a recent exhibition I visited a stand of a well known brand, when I walked on both sales people were sitting at a table, at the back of the stand on their laptops. They hadn’t noticed me at all and I had to walk up to them to disturb them. When I asked how the show was going for them, they replied that it was very slow and that their customers were just walking on by! The MD of that company later told me that they were not going to exhibit at that show again because they didn’t get many leads – well, there’s no surprises as to the reason why!


Common Mistake No4 – Too Many Late Nights

Whilst the whole point of trade shows is to entertain your customers in the evening and network, turning a dinner into a drunken night out tends to kill any potential opportunities the following day. Not only do you feel and look dreadful, your colleagues and visitors can tell too – there is no hiding from a hangover. Every customer is important, so curtail the late nights and drinking so that you can operate at your best when it matters the most.


Common Mistake No5 – Breaking Down Too Early

Ultimately, there is no good reason to break down your stand early. Not only does it look unprofessional, it can look as though you are out of business or had a poor show. It can also cause problems if you want to exhibit at that show again because organisers note those who do break down early (let's face it, there is no surreptitious way of doing it!). However, it tends to happen at the majority of exhibitions because people are tired and visitor numbers start to tail off. But consider this….. what if you miss the biggest lead of the show, all because you were feeling a bit tired and wanted to get home? The bottom line is that exhibitions cost money, don’t waste that money or your opportunities by leaving earlier than you should.


Common Mistake No6 – Sitting Down

Yes, exhibitions can be tiring,but sitting down doesn’t really show you in a good light. If you want to provide seating, try bar stools because they are situated slightly higher and if a visitor does come onto your stand, they don’t feel as though they are interrupting you. Chairs can also make people slouch when they are tired which again, portrays your team in a poor light, so think about how you want to organise seating and also think about giving team members proper breaks so that energy levels are maintained throughout the course of the day.


Common Mistake No 7 – Using Your Mobile Phone

This activity is closely related to catching up with emails or using your laptop. If you are looking down at your phone, you are not looking for potential prospects. It sends a message of disinterest to your visitors and that your phone is more important than your customer. If you do need to use your phone, step away from the stand so that you can concentrate on one task at a time and don’t misrepresent yourself or you company.


Common Mistake No8 – Eating on your stand

This one is a simple one to remember, but it is commonplace because exhibitions can be busy and you might feel as though you cant take a break for 10 minutes to eat a sandwich. However, think about it this way – if you wouldn’t go to your client’s office and pull out a sandwich to eat during your meeting, don’t do it on your stand! Obviously, if you are providing catering on your exhibition booth and you are having lunch with your customers, this is a different thing, but at all other times…… don’t do it!


It is highly unlikely that any of the above are ground breaking new ideas to anyone, but it is surprising how many exhibitors make these mistakes without thinking of their impact on the overall corporate image or opportunities at a show. Sometimes, evaluating how the most simple of actions get translated by visitors can be the key to making a trade show more successful for your company.

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