Are you getting a good ROI on your healthcare trade shows?

Let’s face it … exhibiting is high-risk, high-maintenance marketing. Conferences are a huge investment of money and time, and the rewards are not always immediately apparent. The worst is when your sales team complains that none of the leads are any good.

But exhibiting at trade shows should not feel like gambling.

There are steps you can take to ensure you leave each show with solid, high-quality leads – and a happy sales team. This post will walk you through them.

What I wish I’d known …

When I was first given the task of handling trade show logistics, I was incredibly nervous. The costs involved seemed astronomical – $200 to use a wastebasket for 2 days?!? – and I had never before attended a trade show in the healthcare sector.

Over the next three years, I would grow to handle the logistics for dozens of shows, devise a shareable tool to help our team keep track of every detail for every show, and create the pre-show and post-show campaigns.

This is what I wish I had known then.

Since this is a long post, here are some links to help you navigate it:

Before the Event

The best way to ensure you get a good ROI on your trade show is to start preparing for it early. There are a lot of details to consider and much to coordinate in advance. Start your planning a few months ahead of time, although you may well reserve your exhibit space a year in advance.

Events continue to be a solid lead generation tactic used by 70% of respondents.2016 Demand Generation Benchmark Report

Choose the right conference – and learn who is attending.

You cannot generate good leads if you pick the wrong conference. And picking the right one starts with understanding who attends.

Look at the attendee list so you know who will be attending, what their role is, and how to talk to them. For instance, if there are a lot of Practice Administrators vs. CIOs, you need to speak with them differently.  – Susan Paulin Schubert, Senior Manager, Corporate Relations, MGMA

Susan also emphasizes finding out what attendees are interested in learning, and then addressing that.

Some are looking for solutions. Some are there for education – at MGMA, that’s the main goal. Then gear the conversation accordingly. – Susan Paulin Schubert, Senior Manager, Corporate Relations, MGMA

Smaller, regional conferences will have a different audience than larger, international conferences. Yet they can be just as effective if the attendees match your target audience.

Bigger isn’t always better … don’t get distracted by the glitz and glitter of large shows in fancy pants locations. – Kevin Springer, 13 Tips to Generate Leads from Conferences, Trade Shows, and Events

But sometimes, you have to take risks. I recall attending a pathology show specifically to test a new audience. Unfortunately, it was a complete fail. The show, itself, was not designed to promote the vendors, at all. Literally, HOURS went by each day without anyone but vendors in the exhibit hall. Worse, even when a non-vendor occasionally appeared, they were not even slightly close to interested in our product. My feet still ache thinking about it.

Remember, the role of physicians has shifted considerably.

When doctors become employees, they lose their ability to be final decision makers when it comes to buying medical services and products. Instead, they are part of a purchasing process comprised of a number of people and, most likely, a group purchasing organization. Doctors still have a key role as advocates, but others now make the final purchasing decision. – Pamela Lockard, 5 Healthcare Marketing Trends to Watch in 2017 

Take a hard look at your budget.

Can you really afford to do the show? Will you have to forego other shows in order to attend? Is the ROI worth it? Do you have comparison data, so you can know for sure if the ROI is worth it?

Factor in all your costs, plus staff travel (hotel, transport, airfare, baggage fees, meals). Sometimes it will be cheaper to buy items new and ship them to your hotel via Amazon Prime. Fees to factor into your budget include:

  • Booth cost (purchase or rental)
  • Carpet/pad (double padding is nice for long shows)
  • Furniture (wastebaskets, tables, chairs)
  • Electricity
  • A/V equipment rental
  • Lead retrieval systems
  • Shipping (roundtrip)
  • Materials handling fees
  • Wifi
  • Installation
  • Dismantling
  • Cleaning
  • Giveaways
  • Swag
  • Printing/postage costs

Pay strict attention to deadlines for each conference. You can wind up paying a lot more if your booth arrives late. This can also create logistical nightmares, as they may require you to ship your booth to a different location after a set date.

Many conferences will require you to hire them to install your booth if you cannot set it up on your own within 30 minutes. Know the details of each conference – and make note of any unusual regulations that could cost you.

Booth location is critical.

To the extent your budget permits, aim for well-trafficked booth locations. For instance, by food and drink stations, en route to the bathrooms, in aisle corners, by entrances or near meeting rooms. Lock desirable locations down early.

Seasoned exhibitors know the sweet spots and some of them even book for the next year as soon as this year’s show is over. – Kevin Springer, 13 Tips to Generate Leads from Conferences, Trade Shows, and Events

Shipping is governed by Murphy’s Law.

Pack shipping contact information with those staffing the booth, and also keep the coordinator (if they are not attending) in the loop. I once discovered that our booth had been shipped to the wrong city, and I had less than 24 hours to get it to Vegas for the show. It required calls all the way up the chain – and a good deal of last-minute internet searching to figure out who the top person actually was. It was an awful ordeal, but the booth arrived on time.

Keep a copy of your orders & bring them to show-site with you.  – Freeman and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, Exhibitor Success: Best Practices for a Great Event Experience

In the same document, Freeman and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement also give these material handling tips:

  • Group your shipments together.
  • Pack efficiently to avoid special handling surcharges.
  • Note the deadlines for sending to the advance warehouse vs. direct to show site.
  • Use the shipping labels provided for ease of identifying shipments.
  • Please have all tracking information with you at show site.

I remember fruitlessly trying to find cheaper ways to ship a – very small – booth. I was looking into FedEx and UPS, and was just about to use them, when I learned they simply aren’t show-focused the way Freeman and the other dedicated carriers are. That means, if they cannot get to the delivery location, they leave and make another attempt the next day. Of course, when you are arranging a trade show, there is no “next day” – you need the booth when you need the booth. As I recall, the cost was not much less than the dedicated carriers, but there was no getting around not being able to reliably drop off in the right location at the right time.

Know the rules of the show.

For instance, only certain types of promotions or giveaways may be allowed. Furthermore, you will likely have to have any promotions approved by the conference, which can cause unexpected obstacles.

When I was at OpenTempo, I created a conference postcard with a humorous take on Star Trek’s Dr. McCoy’s famous phrasing: “Damn it, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a scheduler.” Much to my surprise, they rejected the ad due to language – and would not even accept “darn” as a substitute. That led to some last-minute scrambling to re-word and re-design the postcard. So, pay close attention to all the conference rules before you finalize your marketing campaigns.

Make sure your booth is in good shape.

Take time to get your booth cleaned. Repair damage and replace parts, if needed. One exhibit I worked with had perpetual problems with a cabinet door. We tried several emergency fixes and, eventually, replaced the part.

Review your signage.

Has your messaging changed, or have you created targeted messaging for this specific event? If so, make sure your booth signage reflects that.

You will want an emergency kit.

Create an emergency kit and always pack it with your booth. Include screwdrivers, pliers, duct tape, Scotch tape, hand sanitizer, baby wipes, band-aids, chewing gum, pens, paper clips, stapler, and anything else you think might come in handy.

Have a backup plan.

I remember an entire show where only one of our two display terminals could get the wifi. We tried everything to connect it, but nothing worked. In the end, one terminal had to use a PowerPoint presentation. It wasn’t ideal – but it got us through.

Submit a speaking proposal.

Speaking on a topic of expertise to a targeted audience provides instant credibility. It also provides a great opportunity to cross promote your booth happenings as well as giving your booth staff something to talk to visitors about. The slide deck from your presentation can also be used as content to nurture leads and prospects after the tradeshow. – Tim Asimos, 9 Steps to Revitalize Your B2B Tradeshow Marketing Strategy

Getting a speaking slot at a major trade show is very competitive. Do your research early as the review process can be most of a year for large conferences.

Craft your pitch AFTER you read what they are looking for. There is no point trying to pitch them on value-based care if they are focusing on interoperability.

If you are looking to cut your trade show calendar back dramatically, follow this rule:

Never go to a show that you can’t speak at. Enough said. And sitting on a panel with 4 other people isn’t the same as speaking, but it’s better than nothing. If you can’t speak, make your own event that you can speak at and invite everyone in your database to come hear you speak at the show.
– Ken Krogue, The 12 Commandments Of Incredibly Successful Tradeshows

Never confuse a speaking opportunity with a sales pitch.

Company leaders often need help understanding that their talk should NOT be a sales pitch. Many is the time I have had a carefully crafted, educational speaking proposal get accepted – only to have the presenting CEO turn it into a sales pitch. Epic fail.

When you speak, don’t pitch your stuff. Grow your industry. If your content and research is really good, people will flock to you. If you sell your stuff on stage, they flock away from you. – Ken Krogue, The 12 Commandments Of Incredibly Successful Tradeshows

Set your goals and lay out your campaigns early.

Once you know the details of the conference and its attendees, you need to start thinking about your goals. What are you hoping to get out of this investment? What will make it worth the investment?

Be specific. Some ideas are:

  • Bring in 10 new leads already looking to buy your product.
  • Get 200 sign-ups on your drip campaign.
  • Add 175 followers on Twitter.
  • Schedule 15 follow-up appointments with qualified leads.
  • Gather 3 topic ideas for a webinar series.

(T)here are multiple paths to achieving a return on investment at a conference, and there’s no rule that says you have to pick just one of them. Here are a few possibilities:
• Meeting and networking with movers and shakers in your industry
• Developing marketing collateral (like pictures and video) for future use
• Pitching potential clients and investors
• Increasing your exposure by leveraging the media in attendance at the conference (read: score yourself some interviews with reporters)
• Using social media to raise your profile and get new followers
• Build up your marketing lists (newsletters, etc.)
• Using speaking opportunities to become a thought leader in your industry. – Content Factory, How to Market Your Business at Trade Shows and Maximize ROI

Determine the process and software you will use for tracking your goals. If you do a lot of events, event-tracking software may offer you more than your marketing automation alone. Above all, be clear on how you are following up with each lead.

A word about messaging.

Once you know your goals, you can start planning campaigns. Be careful to have one clear message or call-to-action that can be seen from a distance. Don’t clutter your booth with too much imagery or text. Resist the temptation to do something cutesy or overly subtle at the expense of clarity. You will only have a split-second to attract someone’s attention, so don’t make them have to guess what you do or work too hard to find out.

When people attend trade shows, they can get caught up in the moment and seem excited about your company. However, when they leave, that excitement may falter. If your CTA brings them back to your company’s website after the trade show, you are more likely to convert them from trade show attendee into a lead, and then into a customer. – Rachel Leist, The Inbound Way to Do Trade Show Marketing

Consider having a branded look for your staff – like company t-shirts or same-color shirts.

Avoid an overly promotional design, and instead go for something that will intrigue people enough to stop and see what your brand is all about. – Sarah Leung, Trade Show Tips for Generating More Leads

A word of caution for vendors in the pharmaceutical or medical device fields:

(A)n exhibitor was cited (and possibly fined) for being in violation of a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation that required text providing risk information — a sort of fine-print warning — to be visible at all times in the exhibit. The exhibitor was written up because booth staffers accidentally placed their briefcases in front of a graphics panel bearing the required “fine print,” thereby obscuring it from attendees’ view. – Pat Friedlander, Exhibitor Q&A: Help! Health-Care Exhibiting

Let people know you will be there – start promotions early.

The best assumption you can make is that no one knows you’re planning to be there – it’s up to you to tell them. I recommend starting your pre-event relationship building about a month and a half in advance. Any earlier than that, you’ll run the risk of people not yet knowing their plans. Any later, and you may miss out on driving leads to your activations. – Melissa Blazejewski, 10 Lead Generation Ideas for Your Next Tradeshow

Your goals will help you decide what types of marketing campaigns to implement for the show. Determine the standards for MQLs and SQL ahead of time and establish any necessary landing pages, calls-to-action and follow-up funnels. Build buzz around product launches and user events. Set up social media campaigns, create targeted hashtags. Consider setting up account-based marketing campaigns to target key prospects.

76 percent of tradeshow attendees choose which exhibits to visit before attending the show. – Dodge Communications, Strategies for Maximizing Your Healthcare Tradeshow Marketing Experience

Give attendees a compelling reason to visit your exhibit. Don’t just pitch products and services – focus on educating, solving problems, creating opportunities and delivering meaningful value from a visit to your exhibit. – Jefferson Davis, Competitive Edge

Plan for a bigger impact by hosting your own event.

Breakfasts, cocktail parties, customer appreciation, user groups, meet & greets can all be effective. Pay attention to the schedule and follow the conference hashtags so you know when others are hosting events. This will allow you to time yours to have the biggest impact.

Invite your own customers, inquirers and prospects to meet with you at the show. If they are not planning to attend the event, your invitation reminds them that you are exhibiting, and serves as a useful part of an ongoing relationship-building communications stream. – Ruth P. Stevens, How to Triple Your Trade Show Marketing Results

Notify your own database by email and, if feasible, by snail mail. For some, even phone calls. If you purchased a list, notify them, too.

Joe Hage of Medical Marcom suggests building intrigue into your invitations this way:

(L)et the prospect know about six relevant companies that are also invited. That’s relevant because the prospect (a) might want to network – who knows? – maybe a job change is afoot; (b) might have an opportunity to win some new business; or, (c) doesn’t want the competitor having information she doesn’t. – Joe Hage, Strategy for a Medical Equipment Trade Show or Event

Joe Hage also suggests including a self-addressed stamped envelope and an RSVP card, similar to what you would provide in a wedding invitation. He says:

The RSVP serves a secondary purpose. On it, you can give three options:
1. Yes, I will attend.
2. Yes, I’d like to attend but can’t. Please call me with a synopsis of the program.
3. Yes, I’d like to learn more but prefer you join me and my colleagues at [company name, variably printed]. Please call me to arrange an on-campus visit. – – Joe Hage, Strategy for a Medical Equipment Trade Show or Event

Consider hosting an event that gets people active and interacting with each other. It’s a great way to build strong connections. Some ideas include:

• 5k races and other healthy initiatives
• Corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives: building bikes, painting a playground, etc.
• Sporting events
• Cooking classes
• Scavenger hunts

Access, Creative Bravery: Face-to-Face Marketing Strategies for the Healthcare Industry

Social media is a networking goldmine. Use it.

Get involved in the conference on social media; don’t just passively share links to your latest blog posts. Start relationship-building with influencers and targeted prospects.

Follow the relevant hashtags ahead of time. Create your own hashtags. Check out the conference social media groups. Post facts about the city, good restaurants, impromptu meet-ups, fun things at your booth, upcoming talks and presentations.

If you know of a few potential clients or accounts that will be attending, find them, follow them, and interact with them a bit on social media – perhaps “like” one of their photos, retweet some of their recent news or subscribe to their newsletter. Simple Machines Marketing, How to Generate Leads at Trade Shows Using Social Media

Live Tweeting

For Twitter, always include the event hashtag for pre/post-marketing, and especially for live tweeting.

Live-tweeting from an event without the official hashtag is a missed opportunity of epic proportions. Ensure you also identify who the top social media influencers are and come up with a plan of attack for getting on their radar early and keeping them engaged throughout the event. – Chanel Benoit, Three Social Media Best Practices from 2017 Healthcare Tradeshows

If you are new to live tweeting, Sarah Dawley of Hootsuite gives an excellent guide. Here’s a sample:

Simply posting photos from an event using the hashtag doesn’t mean you’re successfully live-tweeting anything. Try to use different engagement methods and aim to post multiple types of content throughout the course of the event. Here are some examples:
• Tweet out quotes from speakers or presenters.
• Search for questions being posed using the event hashtag and answer them.
• Tweet questions or polls of your own using the hashtag to engage your followers.
• Share photos from the event using your image templates.
• Post videos of behind-the-scenes footage, or updates from the event.
• Retweet event speakers, presenters, or performers.
• Retweet humorous or insightful comments about the event from other Twitter users.
Note: If you’re planning on posting photos or videos from the event, make sure you have the proper consent and authorization to do so.

– Sarah Dawley, 5 Things You Need to Know to Successfully Live-Tweet an Event

In the same guide, she also suggests:

When you post a photo of a speaker, for example, make sure you include more than just a mention of their name and the hashtag in the Tweet. Adding context — whether it’s a quote or a link to more info — will ensure that all of your followers can find some value in your live-tweeting. – Sarah Dawley, 5 Things You Need to Know to Successfully Live-Tweet an Event

Make your life easier by scheduling tweets in advance, such as in the days leading up to the event, or right before a scheduled talk. You should also use a tool to help you track the event’s official – and unofficial – hashtags, as well as your own branded hashtag.

It helps to create a template in advance. Hubspot’s Lindsay Kolowich recommends:

]Create templates ahead of time. If the event has speakers, make images of these speakers ahead of time. Optimize them for tweets (876 x 438 pixels) and leave some whitespace so you can add text later. – Lindsay Kolowich, Everything You Need to Know to Successfully Live-Tweet Your Event

In the same article, she also gives a word to the wise regarding live tweeting photos:

Pro Tip: If you’re using Instagram to snap pictures at the event, make sure you’re uploading the image directly to Twitter — not using Instagram’s “share to Twitter” feature. By uploading photos directly to Twitter, your tweets will automatically appear in your followers’ streams — and that affects how your tweets perform.  – Lindsay Kolowich, Everything You Need to Know to Successfully Live-Tweet Your Event

She also gives great – and hilarious! – do’s and don’ts for creating your own branded hashtags in The Rules of Twitter Hashtags: Hits and Misses From 7 Big Brands.

Remember …

Be generous, retweet and favorite other posts to increase your social footprint. – Juraj Holub, 10 Easy Tips for Live Tweeting at Events


Follow other tweeters. This includes event promoters and organizers, speakers, and regular participants. You can get some great networking done after the event is over if you take the time to connect. – Lauren Dugan, 10 Tips For Tweeting During Live Events

Social media can help you connect personally with prospects you want to meet at the trade show. It is also invaluable for following up with people after the event.

Reaching out on social media is just like connecting in the real world. Use the network you have built to establish deeper connections with new prospects. Find like connections and ask for an introduction, better yet, ask a happy customer for a referral! – Rebecca Gecan, Using Social Media for Lead Generation in Healthcare

Marketing Sherpa gives an amazing case study of how Toshiba America Medical Systems used a video and social media strategy to increase engagement at 2014 RSNA:

There will be people who don’t post all year long and then, when it comes to RSNA, suddenly everybody’s on there and everyone’s talking and everyone’s got something to say. … The (Toshiba America Medical Systems’) team also decided to utilize video content during the pre-show phase as sneak peek teasers, released through Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn. This was opposed to using videos only during the show, when it is more difficult to make an impact. – Courtney Eckerle, B2B Social Media: How One Medical Company Used Video to Drive Trade Show Interactions

Ask the conference for help with the media.

If you will be making a splash at the event (breaking news, releasing a big new product, presenting game-changing research results), ask for the event media list.

Tell them about the news you’ll be breaking at the conference and ask if they’ll share their media list with you. Then, contact the reporters you think will be interested in the news and let them know what you’ll be announcing at the event. Say that you’re available for interview, and would be happy to schedule one. This probably goes without saying, but it’s important that what you’re pitching is actual news, not something insignificant or inherently self-serving. A reporter from the New York Times probably won’t care about your new ebook launch or the fact that you’ve rebranded. – Content Factory, How to Market Your Business at Trade Shows and Maximize ROI

Ask what resources the conference offers to help you attract leads. These resources may be put out solely by the conference or in conjunction with a sponsor. Either way, they can be very valuable sources of information. For instance, the RSNA put out the guide, State-of-the-Art RSNA Pre-Show Marketing: How to Attract Enough of the Right Attendees to Your RSNA Exhibit, which includes a handy chart for calculating Exhibit Interaction Capacity:

In another example, the 2015 RSNA offered a media guide that included tips on how to reach out to the media (before and during the show) and how to create a press kit.

Preferred method of media contact is email – according to PR Newswire media panel discussion
– Use a smart, short subject line to make an introduction
– What topics has this journalist recently covered?
– “News Jack” or inject your angel (sic) into a breaking story/trend/recent article written by this journalist
Official RSNA 2015 Online Press Office

The media guide also shows how to write a pre-show advisory:

]– Who? Who will be available for interview? Who will be demonstrating?
What? What will be on display?
Where? Booth #, hall, etc
When? Include your demo schedule, press conference schedule
Why? Include your “big picture” perspective, your bird’s eye view
How? book an appointment/ lead generation
Official RSNA 2015 Online Press Office

The media guide provides this press kit checklist, too:

Does your press kit includes:
– Booth number
– Current logo
– Phone number and email where you can be reached during the show
– Calendar of events
– All social network channels
– Product shots
– Video
Official RSNA 2015 Online Press Office

Allyson Wright of Dodge Communications suggests:

Print briefing sheets for each meeting with journalists with key messaging points, insight about the editor and goals for the meeting. – Allyson Wright, Countdown to HIMSS 2015 is on: Best Practices for Tradeshow Success

Ads and Sponsored Content

Review sponsorship and other marketing opportunities offered by the conference. Leverage the power of the conference brand – and their distribution list – by sponsoring a webinar or break-out session.

Company listings are generally worthwhile, though, as they are used as industry-specific resources.

Weigh the pros and cons of ads, both online and off. Before investing, make sure your expectations are realistic. Brand awareness is hard to measure, and hard to establish from a single ad. Running a series of ads will do better, but may still not generate the impact you want. Using conference banner ads or sponsored placements to promote a white paper or guide is much more likely to bring in qualified leads.

If you are offering a white paper or case study, HIMSS Media gives these tips:

Best Practices:
• Introduce solutions only after a significant case has been established, demonstrating a clear need.
• Include interviews with third party sources – readers like to see what their peers are doing.
• Include market trends and drivers – Remember, market drivers are about your industry and not about your solution.

Title Writing Tips:
• Make the title a promise, or a result the reader will achieve after reading the white paper.
• Be ultra-specific, unique and useful
• Use of keywords in the title (i.e. use keywords that are hot topics in the industry today)
• Keep it short
• Use a number in the title (i.e. 10 reasons or 6 mistakes)
• Include a lively and active verb (i.e. “eliminating,” “growing,” “speeding” and “enhancing”)
• Address the why: Does your title explain why readers should read your white paper?
• Use a colon: you can lead with a single word or catchy phrase and immediately follow through with a description of the topic.
– HIMSS Media, Solutions: Lead Generation

Hotel and Chair Drops

Depending on your budget, you may want to try a hotel drop. These require a strong CTA, as well as something memorable – one postcard among many is unlikely to give you the response you are hoping for.

A great example of a memorable hotel drop is this hangover kit from It includes everything from alka seltzer to a vial of 5-hour energy.

Melissa Blazejewski of NewsCred also recommends doing “chair drops” – in which you leave a targeted bit of swag with a CTA at a seminar, instead of the hotel.

Our chair drop during Content Marketing World took place the first day of the conference during the morning keynotes. The design was eye-catching and cleverly relevant to the audience in the room. It also helped that our CEO took the stage to introduce once of the keynote speakers and was able to plug the same call-to-action on the chair drop – which was to stop by our booth for coffee. – Melissa Blazejewski, 10 Lead Generation Ideas for Your Next Tradeshow

Schedule meetings ahead of time.

Set up meetings with customers and prospects ahead of time. Get them on the calendar. This takes time and follow-through but is too important to overlook.

To ensure your trade show investment will be as effective as possible, establish meetings ahead of time. Doing this during low traffic times can be a great way to make sure that your time is spent wisely. – Allen Malapit, 7 Best Practices for Your Trade Show Marketing Strategy

And, if you are still looking for a clear-cut way to determine if a trade show should make the cut, try this rule:

Never go to an event that you can’t generate more leads than you will need to pay for it… before you get there. We keep every contact and lead from years past and we reach out 6 weeks ahead of a trade show or an event and make appointments before the event even begins. – Ken Krogue, The 12 Commandments Of Incredibly Successful Tradeshows

Choose your apps.

There are lead capture apps, photo apps, business card-capturing apps, prize and giveaway apps (if you don’t have a big spinning wheel or the space for a large giveaway) and team organization apps. There are even apps that let you create surveys without an internet connection.

See “The Top 7 Apps for Trade Shows” from Lisa Bertaina of Expo Marketing.

At the Event

For each day, assign people to take photos and video. If it’s within your budget, send people to pre- and post-events, too.

Susan Paulin Schubert of the MGMA makes this very salient point about why you need a mix of roles at your booth:

The salesperson hears the question very differently. – Susan Paulin Schubert, Senior Manager, Corporate Relations, MGMA

Train your staff.

Too many vendors invest in expensive booths and detailed campaigns, only to send poorly trained staff to the event. Never assume that people know what to do at trade shows or how to engage prospects. I have been amazed to see even higher-ups standing around talking to each other at trade shows, as tons of prospects walked right on by.

Set up trainings ahead of time and make sure that everyone at the event knows what to say, what the CTA is and how to qualify leads. Role play it. Make sure everyone is comfortable giving a demo and answering basic questions, not just the sales reps.

While you’re at it, teach everyone to exercise some restraint when handing out marketing materials. You don’t want to run out of everything on Day 1, and some people just love to hand things out. Above all, make sure everyone knows not to give away your most expensive marketing pieces to just anyone; save these for only your best leads.

Much has been written about how to get the most from booth location, design and signage at a trade show. But to my mind, the single greatest leverage point lies with the staff that will populate your booth. This is where those all-important business conversations take place. If those interactions are missed — or flubbed — your event ROI will suffer. – Ruth P. Stevens, How to Triple Your Trade Show Marketing Results


Rules for what NOT to do:
a. No cell phones
b. No computer use within booth
c. No sitting down
d. No food (or gum)
e. Never turn your back to the aisle

Give staff sufficient breaks to sit, talk, recharge OUTSIDE of booth.
– Freeman and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, Exhibitor Success: Best Practices for a Great Event Experience


Booth personnel should know who is on the company’s “watch list” and how to handle them when they arrive in your booth. – Thomas Williams, 12 Things You Should Know Before You Work a Trade Show Booth


Be kind. Never be a jerk like many of the old timer sales types I see who still believe that outdated model of disqualifying is as good as qualifying. They almost push you out of the way if they don’t think you are important. In today’s age of social media one person’s disgruntled voice can carry far and wide. – Ken Krogue, The 12 Commandments Of Incredibly Successful Tradeshows


Make it about networking, not selling. You want to hear about what they do more than what you do. – James C. Gibson, 15 Trade Show Booth Success Tips

Be sure your team knows how to respond when competitors come to the booth.

How to handle competition, industry, consultants and the media. Booth personnel need to understand how to handle “visitors” that are not customers or prospects. Often times these folks are competitors that want to learn about your technology; industry consultants who are looking for work; potential distributors or manufacturer’s representatives that want to represent your product line; or industry analysts or the media that want information. Each has a specific agenda and each needs to be handled differently and prudently. When these people show up and they will- everyone needs to know how to handle them and who to direct them to in your organization.
– Thomas Williams, 12 Things You Should Know Before You Work a Trade Show Booth 

Consider some healthy competition among your team.

You can actually gamify the lead generation process among your sales team by setting contests and offering prizes. By tracking each sales rep’s progress and encouraging some healthy competition, you’ll also be creating visibility and accountability. –  Sarah Leung, Trade Show Tips for Generating More Leads

Send your staff to seminars.

Assign seminars to your staff so they can learn and network. Scout out the other exhibits and see what ideas you can apply to your own company.

Thomas Williams of Strategic Dynamics suggests keeping a master schedule to help coordinate staff meetings:

A published booth work schedule is critical. This allows each individual that is working the booth to inform their clients or prospects when they will be available. It also allows them to set-up other important company meetings outside their booth “work” schedule.
– Thomas Williams, 12 Things You Should Know Before You Work a Trade Show Booth

Working Your Booth

Give some thought to how you arrange your booth. Look at it from a distance, as well as up close. Ssee what jumps out at you – and what is not visible.

First, make sure your space is open and inviting and non-threatening to visitors who might be adverse to another “sales speech.” – Martino Flynn, Tips to a Successful Medical Device Trade Show



Push the table back against the booth wall if you have a table and stand up, be ready. – Ken Krogue, 17 Skills For Highly Effective Tradeshow Events


Don’t stand together and talk with your booth members. Most prospects won’t interrupt a large conversation. Keep in mind that most visitors are more comfortable asking a question one on one.
– Thomas Williams, Trade Show Exhibitor Do’s and Don’ts!


The old adage is “features tell… benefits sell!” But that is from old school sales trainers, who are right, but it doesn’t work at tradeshows . Cool features grab people’s attention.
Ken Krogue, 17 Skills For Highly Effective Tradeshow Events 


Divert a river, don’t dig a well: Have one of your staff stand out in the traffic flow and move them to the booth (divert traffic). Don’t sit behind the desk and yell out to them (create traffic.) 
Ken Krogue, 17 Skills For Highly Effective Tradeshow Events

Giveaways, Prizes and Donations

The latest thing is to offer a donation to charity for everyone who stops by your booth. Susan Paulin Schubert of MGMA says she sees this more and more. She recommends:

When offering donations to charities in exchange for a scan, put a maximum amount. Give people a clear opportunity to opt-out of follow-up. It gives you more traffic and an easy way to qualify them. 
– Susan Paulin Schubert, Senior Manager, Corporate Relations, MGMA

Thomas Williams of Strategic Dynamics also likes this approach:

Instead of giving away candy have your company make a charitable contribution. At least you’ll get a tax deduction.
– Thomas Williams, Trade Show Exhibitor Do’s and Don’ts!

Candy and coffee are still used as lures. It is amazing how many people cannot resist candy – especially a good brand of chocolate. I always smile when I see people attempting to sneak by my booth unnoticed, even as they grab a huge handful of candy right before my very eyes.

Drawings and giveaways are popular, too. Melissa Blazejewski of NewsCred Insights reminds marketers to think from the attendees’ perspective when choosing a lure or prize:

(C)onsider the conference environment: Will attendees be milling around a tradeshow floor, in back-to-back working sessions, or maybe both? If you were an attendee, how would you feel during this particular conference?
– Melissa Blazejewski, 10 Lead Generation Ideas for Your Next Tradeshow


Host a wireless charging station at your booth—and give them a fun activity to do while they wait.
– Mandy Movahhed, 22 Guerrilla Marketing Ideas for Trade Shows


And don’t forget about special swag for customers! We love seeing our clients, especially at large industry conferences. We offered a special giveaway just for customers who stopped by our booth – portable power chargers. Outlets were hard to come by, so this swag item kept our customers connected and moving.
– Melissa Blazejewski, 10 Lead Generation Ideas for Your Next Tradeshow

Activities and Experiential Marketing

The following example from OhioHealth shows how much impact you can create with well-coordinated, experiential marketing. It refers to an event sponsorship rather than a conference, but the concept could certainly be adapted for use by vendors at a healthcare trade show:

OhioHealth recently activated an experiential marketing campaign at a 5,000-meter race and walk that targeted moms. As part of its sponsorship benefits package, OhioHealth received a prime display space to engage with the hundreds of families attending the event. It promoted its maternity and women’s health line of service with a giant greeting card surrounded by kids’ coloring tables, two large boxes wrapped as gifts and a team of brand ambassadors to assist with activation. Moms, dads and kids were asked to write notes of encouragement to new moms and families and pin them on the inside of the giant greeting card. These handwritten messages were delivered by nurses and staff to new moms and babies in delivery rooms at OhioHealth hospitals. The sentiments shared on the cards and at the on-site activation were incredibly positive and provided strong brand awareness for OhioHealth.
– Maggie Ellison, Experiential Marketing in Health Care: The New Frontier in Advertising, Today


In-booth activities work best when the contestants are active rather than passive participants. When planning your contest, think about ways to get your participants engaged with your staff, product or service.

– Nimlok, How To Use Trade Show Contests To Drive Traffic To Your Booth

Tips for Engagement:
• Task yourself or a staffer with playing the role of a host or emcee to introduce contestants, make announcements and engage with the audience to keep the game interesting.
• Create games and contests that revolve around contestants inspecting, using or answering questions about your product or service.
• Connect your contest to the theme of your trade show campaign or to your brand’s image.

In the same post, Nimlok also lists 7 different contests to try, just be sure they do not violate any conference rules:

  • Prize wheel
  • Trivia
  • Counting Contest
  • Golf
  • Jumbo Games
  • Photo Contest
  • Arcade Games

Focus on building relationships, not making sales.

Don’t go in thinking, “I’m making a sale today.” It should be about making a contact today. Making that relationship. 
– Susan Paulin Schubert, Senior Manager, Corporate Relations, MGMA


Never pitch product. Instead ask insightful questions to understand real problems and opportunities. Discuss specific product attributes that tie to the visitors identified needs.
– Thomas Williams, Trade Show Exhibitor Do’s and Don’ts!

And don’t forget to pave the way to the next step:

(S)et appointments during the show so you are on your prospect’s calendar.
– Ken Krogue, The 12 Commandments Of Incredibly Successful Tradeshows

Gather testimonials and do market research.

Make use of face-to-face time at trade shows to get testimonials from customers (extra points if you get them on video!).

Trade shows are also an exceptional opportunity to do market research. Come prepared with questions. Take notes of the exact wording people use. Make sure staff are tracking what topics people are interested in and which demos they ask to see. This is the kind of information that will help you create future messaging and segment your leads for the appropriate follow-up.

If there are press there, snag an interview; stay in contact with the journalist.

Talk to editors. At one show, I ended up speaking with the editor of Radiology Today – and landed my company an article in their publication.

(O)ur team members dedicated to content analysis track the demos done at the show. We ask for feedback from our senior management team, to find out the key topics addressed in meetings (such as Meaningful Use, value-based care, analytics, patient engagement, etc.). Lastly, we work as a team to classify prospects and assign them by priority into the buying cycle.
– Dodge Communications interview with Lauren Tilelli, How to Maintain Momentum from an Industry Tradeshow after It Ends

Create a system for capturing and qualifying leads.

Program the lead machine to allow you to specify product interest and interest level.
– Ted Newill, Trade Show Pearls 2 through 12

But remember …

More scans can net more opportunities or devour a whole lot of fruitless follow up time.
– Steve Multer, Are Trade Show Giveaways Worth It?

And here’s a handy trick:

Learn the business card pocket trick: I keep my own business cards in my right pocket. I hand them to people and ask for their business card. I write notes on their card that qualify them. Then I put them in my left pocket. A little human ingenuity goes a long way.
Ken Krogue, 17 Skills For Highly Effective Tradeshow Events 

Booth babes are a deal-breaker.

It makes me sick that I still have to say this … but women are not props. Too many companies still think booth babes are good marketing and do not realize how many customers they turn off by using them.

Bring crowd gatherers (not booth babes).
– Mike Thimmesch, 100 Trade Show Lead Generation Ideas

Let me tell you about my first encounter with a booth babe.

It was at my very first healthcare trade show. I had just started a new job and was there with my (male) boss and a (male) senior sales rep.

The booth babe was a svelte 20-something, in a sea of middle-aged men, lying on an exam table with her feet in stirrups. Honest to god. (Guess which part of her was facing the traffic?)

I am pleased to say my boss was vocally disgusted by the display. Personally, as a buyer, I would never buy from a company that used women as props, let alone in such blatant positioning. Still, at the time, I recall feeling an internal pressure (not from my boss or company) to avoid being labeled “that girl,” the one who makes trouble. And I also recall feeling protective of the model.

Those are some pretty interesting sentiments to risk stirring up in potential prospects: disgust, protectiveness, embarrassment. And don’t forget the goal emotion, which, presumably, is arousal. None of these put people in a good frame of mind to buy.

So, consider that – assuming simple respect for other human beings is not sufficient to deter you from using booth babes.

And while I’m on the topic – why are booth babes even still permitted? Given all the fine print and regulations on every aspect of even the smallest healthcare trade show, surely a rule could be made about that.

Do a nightly de-brief with your team.

At the end of each day a de-brief meeting should be held. Usually this is done in a suite or meeting room so candid discussions can occur. During the de-brief sales leadership should review the show objectives achieved that day, number of leads received, hot leads, key contacts made, key presentations attended, objectives for tomorrow etc. De-briefs should be handled in a structured, organized manner. Be brief but thorough and ensure everyone contributes.
– Thomas Williams, 12 Things You Should Know Before You Work a Trade Show Booth

After the Event

Make sure sales reps follow up with hot leads ASAP. Enter all the MQLs in your database ASAP, too, so you can launch your follow-up campaigns immediately.

Delayed follow-up is the biggest mistake vendors make. It costs sales and undoes months of hard work. Assign leads right away and make sure everyone has a follow-up plan. Then make sure they stay on top of it.

Follow up, too, with reporters and other relevant contacts. If you gave a talk, post the slides to your website.
Compile your notes. Organize your videos and photos, and start planning the best way to use them. Decide on post-conference campaigns to further promote your message.

One of the biggest mistakes companies make is to wait until the show is over and then decide what to do with show leads. A plan should be in place for qualifying the leads during the show and for following up on them immediately after the show. Attendees will be impressed with a quick follow up, and it is important to beat your competitors to the punch.
– Expo Marketing, Exhibitors Guide: How to Plan for a Trade Show in 90 Days

Be persistent.

It takes repeated touches for someone to respond. Don’t let your team stop too soon – you’ll miss out on some great leads. Here’s a scary stat to help motivate you:

Only 27% of leads ever get contacted! 
– Ken Krogue, 17 Skills For Highly Effective Tradeshow Events

Analyze your results.

Above all, look at your data. Go back to those goals you set so many months ahead of time and see what actually happened. Compare your results to other trade shows, and to the same show from previous years.

Set up a tag in your CRM or marketing automation so that you know who attended the conference. This helps you track how many leads from the show become customers, even if you have a long sales cycle (which, in healthcare, you probably do).

the show with your team.

At the end of the show, go over the show results with the entire team. What worked well, what didn’t, and what should be done differently next time? Will you attend again in the future? Document this information, and use it when creating your tradeshow strategies for next year.
– Allen Malapit, 7 Best Practices for Your Trade Show Marketing Strategy

Keep the momentum going.

(W)e knew that the Meaningful Use Stage 3 rules would be published right before HIMSS. We went ahead and scheduled a webinar for two weeks after HIMSS, and promoted it during the show verbally with handout cards and tweeting out links to register. By driving people into something else, we acknowledge that they can’t absorb everything at the show – hot topics, experts and more – so with a very quick follow-up event about a timely topic, you can engage them again post-show.
– Dodge Communications interview with Lauren Tilelli, How to Maintain Momentum from an Industry Tradeshow after It Ends

Successful trade shows require a lead generation mindset.

Driving traffic to your booth is never as simple as just saying the right thing or setting up your booth the right way. Your marketing needs to be rooted in the needs and thoughts of your target audience.

If you need help creating that lead gen mindset, try my – totally free – ebook on How to Be a Lead Generation Machine.