Trade shows are a great way to get in front of your target audience. No matter who you’re selling to, shows are a rare opportunity to talk directly to your ideal customer.

But it’s easy for exhibitors to miss out on the full value of these events – and there’s too much time, energy and money invested for them to be a waste. If you want to prove your ROI, enabling you to continue participating in future exhibitions and trade shows, then you need to get into good habits.

Here are three of the most common mistakes exhibitors make at trade shows, and how to avoid them.

Mistake 1: Giving everything away

It’s common practice for exhibitors to give away freebies at events. You can see their logic – it creates brand awareness and attracts more visitors to their stands. Visitors to trade shows expect to get free stuff... and they certainly appreciate any resources or promotional materials you’re willing to share which can start helping them straight away.

But how does this really benefit your business?

All too often when we attend exhibitions, we see delegates going to stands, taking whatever is on offer and leaving again. This is a huge missed opportunity for the exhibitor to tell delegates more about their product or service, and get their contact details, capturing precious leads in return for their free merchandise. It’s also a missed opportunity for the delegate to find out about new solutions for their own business: really, no-one has benefitted and your brand will fade from memory, along with all the others they saw that day.

If you’re investing in free materials for delegates to take away, you should ask yourself three questions:

  • Will it be useful to the recipient?

  • Will it get me more customers?

  • Will it be easy to capture these leads?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, then you might want to re-consider before dipping into your budget. Anything you give away should be something that will be used (rather than left to gather dust in their office), and should benefit your business in some way.

Are you simply looking to create brand awareness? In this case, branded giveaways are a good option. Or do you want to generate actual leads? If so, then a free downloadable resource in exchange for an email address is an effective way to achieve this.

Mistake 2: Poor lead capture

Whilst not capturing leads at all is the biggest mistake exhibitors make, asking delegates to fill in a paper form is a close second.

Filling in paper forms

Paper forms are time consuming, both for delegates and your team. They’re also unreliable as they can be difficult to read – in our tech-forward world, how often do we practise our handwriting?

At ESM Inbound, we suggest a simple landing page instead. Create a form asking for each delegate's name and email address. Have a laptop or iPad with the form ready for delegates to fill in at your stand. Integrate this with your CRM so that the leads you capture on the day are automatically added to your email list.

HubSpot’s form function is an amazing feature for capturing leads, and if you’re not already using forms across your website, you really should be. They work, not just by capturing an email address and recording the lead as a new or repeat visitor, but by attributing each visitor with a tracking code personal to them, as HubSpot explains:

‘When someone visits your site, we put a tracking token on their computer with a unique token in it so that if this person comes back and visits your site, we know it’s them. This is especially powerful if someone comes back to fill out a second form and inputs a different email address (or accidentally types the wrong address).’

The only other consideration with this form of lead capture is what you’ll do if the WiFi connection is poor at the show, as this a common problem at big events. A dedicated app for offline lead capture is a good backup option. OnSpot Social and QuickTapSurvey can both be used offline, and the leads can be directly exported to your CRM.

You can always try the HubSpot mobile app business card scanner, if you’re a HubSpot user, too, should you want to keep things strictly digital.

Mistake 3: Failing to follow up after the event

The point of a trade show isn’t to merely collect leads in exchange for a useful offer, then wave delegates off into the distance. Once you’re back from the event with a CRM full of leads, aching feet and a sore throat from all the talking, it’s time for the real work to begin.

Trade shows businesses back at the officeIt’s tempting to put off following up on the leads you’ve captured. After a day out of the office, your inbox will be full, there will be meetings to attend and you’ll have a lot of work to catch up on. But resist the temptation to throw yourself back into the usual pace of the office and to let your new contacts gather digital dust in the CRM. The longer you leave it, the less effective any nurturing will be. Try to follow up within 24 hours, or even sooner if you can. This window of time is precious. As Capterra recommends:

‘Nearly half of all sales are made by the person who gets in touch with a lead first... You can’t sit by your phone monitoring leads every second, but you can invest in marketing automation software, which can send personalised, automated emails to your leads whenever they come in. These emails should include information on next steps to either get in touch with you or purchase your product.’

If you’ve used a landing page to capture email addresses, an automated follow-up email is the next natural step. You could offer a free resource that delegates receive when they complete the form. Then send a further follow-up email the next day, and perhaps arrange a connect call for later on in the week.

Obviously, businesses are busy – especially if attendees took a day out of the office to attend, just as you did – so you don’t want to be a nuisance. Any communication you have with your audience needs to be helpful. Reach out to businesses with free resources and useful advice that will make their jobs easier. This way, when they are ready to purchase, you’ll be the first people they call.