One of my previous blog posts (Planning a Great Exhibitor Trade Show as Part of Your Next Conference) outlines the steps to guarantee a great experience for your exhibitors. You might have asked yourself, “but how do I get quality exhibitors to attend my trade show?”. The first thing I will suggest is to change into your salesperson hat! Selling an exhibit booth is just like selling any other item and it is going to take some effort on your part.

Create a List of Quality Leads

The first step to securing exhibitors is to create a quality list of potentials (leads). I would really like to stress the importance of the quality of your list. For example, a list of 90 quality potentials is much better than a list of 400 companies that you found on google. Below are some examples of what I would consider to be a quality lead:

  • Past exhibitors/sponsors.
  • Exhibitors who have exhibited in the past, but didn’t attend your show last year.

Perhaps this is the first year you are organizing a trade show for your association. If that is the case you would be creating a list from scratch, which can seem like an overwhelming task. You can start creating your list using hot leads, which I further explain below.

Finding Hot Leads

An “info@” email address or “1-800” phone number would not be considered a hot lead. Hot leads are potentials who have a strong chance of exhibiting at your show. Hot leads typically already have some kind of connection with your association and are familiar with you. Below are a few examples of hot leads.

  • Suggestions from your board/committee members or other contacts in the industry.
  • Survey past attendees, this is a great way to see who your delegates want to see at the show. Plus, it is a great selling feature to be able to go to them and tell them that your delegates are asking for them to be at the show.
  • If possible, attend a tradeshow in the same market; it is a great opportunity to build relationships.
  • A company that you have a relationship with but they haven’t been part of the show in the past.

Share the Benefits of Exhibiting

The potential exhibitors that you are contacting likely get solicited to attend other shows, so you need to show them why they should exhibit at your show. Think about what makes your trade show great and what your exhibitors are expecting to receive from attending. Some examples of things that will entice exhibitors to attend you show could be; networking opportunities, new business opportunities, creating sales on the spot and building new relationships. Be sure to clearly communicate the reasons they need to be at your show, whether that be through emails or calls. Focus on their needs and how your show can meet them.

Create a Sense of Urgency

You will be more likely to secure booths if exhibitors are kept up to date with booth sales. In your updates to them make sure to communicate where you are at in the sales process and when you expect to sell out.

Determine the Best Form of Follow up

My rule of thumb is if I am sending any kind of communication via email, a follow up call should be made the next day or a few days later to ensure they received the information. We all get so many emails that it is hard to keep up with it. The follow up calls will help to ensure the information makes it to their priority list. If they tell you they haven’t received it, send it to them while you are on the phone to make sure it reaches them.

It is important to get to know your audience and when they will be most responsive. This will take some experimenting, but after a few rounds of calls/emails you will figure out what works best. For example, sending an email blast in the afternoon on Monday with a follow up call on Wednesday is much better than sending an email late Friday afternoon and calling on Tuesday. The email is likely to get buried in their inbox over the weekend and not make it to their priority list

It is also important to track when you speak to potential exhibitors. This is especially helpful when you are following up. For example, you can reference the date you sent them an email when do your follow up calls.

Make Your Registration Process Simple

For a trade show that we recently acquired, we were passed an exhibitor registration form that was four pages long and we couldn’t even understand how to fill it out. Whether you do your registration online or through paper forms, you need to make it as simple as possible for your exhibitors. This will demonstrate that you value their time and that they have signed up for a well-organized show.

Persistency is Key

Finally, don’t give up too quickly! As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post this is going to take effort on your part. Before you start diving into making calls set aside a block of time in your calendar each week and dedicate that time to selling trade show booths. Blocking the time off in your calendar in advance will ensure to make this task a priority and make sure you aren’t scrambling to sell booths at the last minute.