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Making the Most of Trade Shows
Volume 38, Number 1 - January/February 2014


Companies need to give direction to the attending staff as to what the reason is for attending. The reasons can be diverse:

  • Introduction of a new product.
  • All the major competitors are there.
  • A new CEO has joined the company.
  • Acquisition of a new company.
  • The president of the company has unexpectedly resigned.
  • Explaining to the market why the deployment of a newly developed product is not operational.
  • And most of all, “Our objectives for attending the trade show are …” Let the staff know why it is important for them to be there.

Whatever the reason might be, the sales staff needs to know why the company is attending. What are the goals for the show? If everyone knows the goals and objectives, then the show will have meaning and purpose. Who else from the company, other than sales and marketing, is attending and why? Let everyone know what purpose each staff member who attends will serve at the show. What are the measures used to determine if the show was a success? In order to accomplish the objectives, it’s important for the sales staff to know in advance what metrics will be used to determine how well the goals were accomplished in the post-show analysis.


I was attending a trade show and a major prospective customer indicated that he wanted to see me to review a new database the company had introduced. As always, I made appointments in advance to see key customers and prospects at the show. We settled on a time during the first day of the show. The appointed time came and went and he was a no-show. He called me that night, apologized, and promised to see me on the last day of the show. We spoke again and agreed to a breakfast meeting on the last day of the show. Stood up again!

The show was finally over, and as a result, we were packing up the booth and the literature amidst a sea of noise and impatient vendors and salespeople rushing to try to catch their preferred mode of transportation home. In the midst of all this activity, in walked my prospect accompanied by his wife. Both the husband and wife were professors at a local major university.

I was just packing up the last box as he was rushing into the chaos of the exhibit hall that was being torn down. “Mike, am I too late?” he asked.

Keeping my composure, I slit open the carton I had just sealed, took out some brochures, and flipped open my laptop in one smooth motion. We probably spoke for another 5 minutes above the noise and bedlam. At the end of the conversation he said to me, “Mike, send me whatever forms I need so I can buy the product.” This situation worked in my favor because I had the foresight to plan ahead. My prospect had every intention to show up for the planned meetings. It’s just that his organizational skills were somewhat lacking.


Before any salesperson is allowed the privilege to attend a trade show where scores of prospects are expected, sales management needs to know if the rep has properly prepared for the show. They will know this by reviewing the number of appointments arranged by each rep in advance of the show. If less than five appointments are confirmed by the rep, this person simply should not be permitted to attend. Many presidents of companies and VPs of sales require a specific set of appointments for every trade show attended by their sales staff.

It’s a privilege for a salesperson to attend a trade show. But it’s also an obligation on the part of the company to properly prepare their sales staff for the show. It is an expectation that senior sales executives will be present at the booth to meet and greet customers and participate in the scheduled meetings. If the senior sales executives are not at the booth all day, something is amiss.

Trade shows can be inevitably successful for salespeople who have planned appointments in advance of the show. Buyers of information have successful trade shows when they too have arranged appointments with key vendors ahead of the show. It’s all about planning.

I initially characterized trade shows as stage settings and participatory theater. I don’t recommend you describe your attendance, either as a librarian or a salesperson, in those terms when you are requesting permission to attend. Instead, couch your request in terms of the value to be derived, either from meeting face to face with key vendors or customers or from being able to see and play with live demonstrations of products. Above all, trade shows present you with the opportunity to build relationships that will help in future negotiations.  

Tips for Preparing to Attend a Trade Show


  • Know ahead of time what vendors you want to visit.
  • Prepare your questions.
  • If you want to be sure to talk with someone specific, make an appointment.
  • Devise a “road map” of the exhibition hall so you know which vendors you plan to visit.
  • RSVP to vendor events prior to the show.
  • Ask for a one-on-one demo of the products you are interested in.


  • Know ahead of time which of your prospects and customers will be attending.
  • Set up appointments with the ones you want to be sure to see.
  • Be knowledgeable about your audience; many trade shows are segmented by library type, so know your audience.
  • Be knowledgeable about your competition­—trade shows are times when big product announcements are made; make sure you know what’s going on.
  • Schedule time away from the booth for key prospects/customers; it’s often hard to have a serious one-on-one conversation at the booth.
  • Attend association seminars at the show to learn about the industry. You may even meet a key customer/prospect at one of those sessions.

Editor’s note
This article is derived from a chapter in Michael L. Gruenberg’s forthcoming book, Buying and Selling Information: A Guide for the Information Professional and Salesperson That Ensures Mutual Success, to be published by Information Today, Inc. in early 2014.

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Michael Gruenberg is president, Gruenberg Consulting, LLC. He previously had a distinguished sales career spanning more than 30 years with a variety of companies including ProQuest, CSA, OneSource, Oxford Analytica, and Disclosure.


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