How To Stand Out From The Competition At Your Next Trade Show

Posted by Traci Browne 07/22/2016 1 Comment(s) Trade Show Exhibition,

5 Ways Small Businesses Can Stand Out From The Competition:


You are pumped and excited about exhibiting at your industry’s national trade show. You are going to have access to potential buyers whom you might otherwise never get in front of. Then, you look at the trade show floor map and your heart sinks. You think, is that really my tiny little space way in the back of the hall?


You’ve got a 10’ x 10’ or 10’ x 20’ space while your big competitor’s space takes up 600 square feet and is sitting front and center. Not only do they have a giant space in a prime location, but they also have an enormous budget to match. How will you ever compete for attention?


Good news! With a bit of common sense, creativity, ingenuity, a well-prepared booth staff, and some media outreach, you can stand out and capture the interest of the buyers walking the show floor. Let’s take a look at how you can accomplish this without breaking the bank.



Showcase What Is New


Purchasing decision makers and influencers who attend trade shows are interested in what’s new. Not new as in this or that widget comes in a new color, or new as in a minor update to the software, but new as in innovative. New as in something they have never seen or before.


According to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), 92% of trade show attendees say they are looking for new products.  For the last 25 years, that has been the number one reason buyers attend trade shows. Trade show organizers know that new products are a big draw for attendees and promote the availability of new products in their marketing and on the show floor.


Call your show organizer and ask about available opportunities to showcase your new products and services. Ask if the show has a new product zone on the show floor and how your company can take advantage of that area. Ask if they are highlighting exhibitors who have new products and services in the show’s exhibitor directory, or on the show’s event app. There may be a cost associated with these extra marketing opportunities, but it is usually affordable and worth the investment.


Focus on what’s new in your pre-show marketing. Many exhibitors make the mistake of trying to lure buyers into their booth with contests and giveaways. Stand out from the crowd by telling customers what they want to know, and that is where they can find the big innovations.


In your booth itself, highlight the fact you have something new to show buyers through eye-catching graphics or displays. When a prospect wanders into your booth, start your pitch by talking about your innovation and why it is better than anything else on the market.



  • Create a 30-second elevator pitch highlighting what is new in your exhibit
  • Create a one or two sentences message highlighting what is new in your exhibit
  • Check with the show organizer for new product marketing opportunities
  • Create pre-show marketing materials (postcards, email, social media images) that highlight what is new
  • Design eye-catching graphics for your booth that draw buyers searching for new products into your booth


Use Your Small Business Ingenuity and Creativity


Many Fortune 500 exhibitors have an entire department and budget dedicated to trade show marketing. That is not necessarily a good thing. These exhibitors often get bogged down in logistics and long task lists. They want to get as many people as possible to their booth, and they focus on quantity when they should be focusing on quality. These exhibitors often stick to the same game plan year after year. After all, if you are exhibiting at 20 or more trade shows every year, sticking to a formula keeps things from spiraling out of control.


You on the other hand, with your small 10’ x 10’ booth have fewer logistical considerations to worry about and can focus on the most important thing—how to get qualified buyers into your booth. As a small business, you have the advantage of being closer to your buyer. It is likely the people working for your big competitor making the trade show marketing decisions have never sat across the table from their buyer and had a conversation. They do not know what the buyer really wants, whereas you do because you talk to them every day. You know what is important to a potential buyer and can focus on communicating those points.


Ditch the swag and spend your money on events and promotions that appeal to qualified buyers. Host a dinner or cocktail hour and invite the top buyers who will be attending the trade show. Draw qualified buyers to your booth by giving away research reports and white papers. Promote show specials that buyers can take advantage of by stopping by your booth. Offer short in booth presentations by industry thought leaders that educate your prospects on how to do their jobs better and more efficiently. Serious buyers are more interested in these things than swag.


Use your creativity to make a significant impact, no matter how small your space is. You want to leave buyers with the impression that even though you are small, you are still an influential player in the industry. Transform your booth into a unique showroom using a DIY approach. For small exhibit ideas that get your creative juices flowing check out



  • Schedule a company brainstorming session to uncover what keeps your customers up at night and what problems they are trying to solve.
  • Create messaging, promotional materials, white papers, and reports that provide a solution to those issues you uncovered.
  • Start building your booth. Give yourself plenty of time so you can take advantage of sales and second-hand finds. Be sure any materials you use adhere to the show’s fire code regulations. For example, some halogen lights are prohibited by show venues due to potential fire risk, so consider LEDs or other types of permitted lighting instead (e.g. incandescent or fluorescent).
  • If you have space in your booth, prepare a five-minute in booth presentation addressing those issues. If you do not have the expertise in-house, hire or invite someone who does.
  • Create a “show special” or “discount” that will attract booth visitors and a plan to communicate that special offer.



Bring Your A-Team


The easiest way to stand out from your competition is to have a well prepared and enthusiastic booth staff team. The people who staff your booth are more important than anything else you do at the trade show.


Go to any trade show and wander the aisles. You will see bored booth staffers sitting behind tables scrolling through their phone instead of engaging with passersby. At many of the giant booths, you will see the majority of booth staffers engaged in conversations with their team members or the exhibitors next to them, instead of potential buyers.


On the other hand, you will instantly recognize a booth staffed by the company owner or one of the only sales reps in a small business. They are always engaging with people walking past them, working hard every second of the show. These people understand that the success of the show has a direct impact on their entire year. That kind of participation is what you should expect from the people you send to represent your company.


Most importantly, never send someone to the show who does not want to be there. Their bad attitude will have a negative impact on your show investment. Choose enthusiastic people who are comfortable talking about your product or service. The best way to make them comfortable is to arm them with information and prepare them for questions buyers are going to ask them.


You also want to choose your staff based on the profile of the shows attendees. Many exhibitors make the mistake of only sending their salespeople to work the trade show. If the show is attended by a lot of technical people, you may want to send one of your product engineers. They are more qualified to have the conversations technical buyers and influencers want to have when they come to your booth.


Always spend the time to train your staff on all aspects of your product or service. Make sure they thoroughly understand your pricing structure, turnaround time, availability, and payment terms. Teach them to ask the right questions instead of going into pitch mode as soon as a potential buyer comes into your booth. Communicate your goals for exhibiting at the show, and give them the incentive to achieve those goals for you.


Incentives can be a few days off, dinner, or a day at the spa for achieving their goals. Add in a big bonus for exceeding them. Support is also an incentive. Meet at the end of every day of the show to talk about what is working and what isn’t and answer any questions that arise during the day. If you are not present at the show, get on the phone to work through this process.



  • Select your booth staff at least one month in advance so they can prepare adequately for the show
  • Have a formal staff training a few weeks before the show to educate them on your key messaging, product information, pricing, ordering process.
  • Role-play booth conversations. Get your staff comfortable delivering your 30-second pitch, and then practice asking qualifying questions to help direct a productive conversation.
  • Set and communicate show goals
  • Create an incentive program to motivate and inspire your booth staff
  • Schedule daily post-mortem meetings to discuss what is working and what is not working and make adjustments as needed.


Communicate Your Strengths and Play the Long Game


When you are at the show, focus on showing potential buyers how you are different from your competitors. While you do not want to bad mouth a competitor, you do want to let your prospect know your strong suit and what you excel at. Instead of simply saying you have exceptional customer service, tell them a story using a current customer that proves that claim. In other words, demonstrate your excellence! Let them know what it is like doing business with your company by the way you handle yourself at the show.


Many small business owners worry about looking too small next to their giant competitors. Sure, you will always lose some business to the big guy when dealing with a purchaser who wants to play it safe. We all know the scenario; they are afraid to go with the vendor who is either new or relatively unknown because if something goes wrong, it is on their head. On the other hand, if they go with the big name and something goes wrong, they cannot possibly be to blame—everyone uses that company.


Let’s say something does go wrong. That play it safe buyer may just think about the small company they were impressed with at the trade show and call on them to save the day. Because of that potential need one day down the road, be sure to add booth visitors who have interest but no immediate need, into your marketing database to be nurtured. You never know what might happen a couple of years down the road.


Also, do not discount the number of companies who do not want to be the small fish in someone’s big pond. Many companies want to do business with the little guy because then they know they are important to you and that you will pay close attention to their needs. They want to be your big fish. Don't be afraid to make this a key selling point of your pitch...because it typically is a real competitive advantage you will have over the large players.



  • Create and have on hand case studies that highlight your company’s strengths.
  • Create paper or digital lead forms that booth staffers can use to classify leads as hot sales leads, regular sales leads, or marketing/nurturing leads.
  • Train and role-play with your staff on communicating your company’s strengths.
  • Identify a buyer’s most common objections and then train your staff on how to address them.



Work the Media


Trade shows do not just deliver qualified buyers; they attract the media as well. Just like buyers, they are also looking for what is new. Sure, they like to write about what’s going on with the key players in your industry, but they also are out hunting for the next big thing. A trade show is your opportunity to get in front of all the media outlets and journalists who cover your industry, and the organization running the trade show wants to help you do that. During a trade show, the playing field is level; all you need to do is catch the media’s attention. You do that by telling them what is new in your offerings, and why you are different from everyone else. Write up a press release that leads with that information, and include where they can find you on the trade show floor. Ask the trade show organizer how you can get your press release and media kits in front of the right journalists.


Typically, shows will have both a physical and an on-line pressroom where you can post your release. Most shows also provide a media list to their exhibitors so you can send your release directly to the appropriate writers and editors. Many trade shows also produce a trade show daily newspaper. While some of the articles are written on-site, many are prepared in advanced using press releases that were submitted by exhibitors. Check with your show organizer on how early the editors of their daily need your release. Often they start writing these stories four to six months before the show.


In addition to your press release, you want to have a digital media kit prepared. Your digital media kit should include company background information, key executive bios, quotes from key executives, short video clips, high-resolution photos, and your company logo. Check with your show organizer for the preferred format for your digital media kit, and how they want you to send it to them. In addition to the format the show requires, make sure to have several available on branded USB sticks to hand out to journalists who come by your booth. As a bonus, take all that information and put it on your website in a page dedicated to press information. This is the first place journalists often check for information on your company.


Finally, be prepared to speak to the press if they come looking for you. Make sure you have identified and prepped someone who is responsible for talking to the media. They should be available at all times during the show. If a journalist wants an interview with one of the company’s key executives, be sure to arrange that immediately. Journalists at the show are working on a tight deadline, and they want the story now, not tomorrow. A delay could cost you the coverage.



  • Call show organizer to determine publication deadlines for publicity
  • Contact show organizer to get a media list (two-three weeks before the show data for a complete list)
  • Contact show organizer to find out about media opportunities they provide for exhibitors
  • Create your digital media kit
  • Write a press release that focuses on what is new and/or innovative in your exhibit
  • Assign someone the role of spokesperson for the media


Every one of these ideas can be implemented on the smallest of budgets. You will never be able to outspend behemoth competitors, and it is not a smart route to take even if you could. You will have a much more successful trade show experience if you stick to and follow these five tips.


Good luck, and have a great show!


-Traci Browne


You can download a PDF version of the checklists here so you have them handy all in one place when you are preparing for your next show.


1 Comment(s)

11/01/2016, 06:58:54 PM

Great write-up, very comprehensive. Thanks for putting this together Traci.

Traci Browne:
11/03/2016, 10:21:14 PM

Thank you Roberto. Glad you enjoyed the article. FYI: you may download for reference a PDF version of the various checklists contained throughout the article (see link below my name at the end of the article).

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