Virtual Trade Shows: Five Answers Before Exhibiting

Virtual Trade Show

Virtual Trade Shows: Five Answers Before Exhibiting

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, I attended 20+ trade shows each year, including some of the largest conventions in the U.S. – the Consumer Electronics Show, National Hardware Show, International Builders’ Show, Farm Progress, the World Ag Expo, the National Restaurant Show, Cultivate and more.

All of these shows have either been cancelled or gone virtual.

No more happenstance encounters. No networking and relationship building. No more interaction with the latest technology. Now, I’m evaluating exhibitor proposals and pricing on behalf of clients – looking at participation and attendees as the marketing tools and lead-gen opportunities they always have been, but in new ways.

Most of the virtual shows are priced the same as their live-show predecessors. (Quelle surprise…) So, what’s in it for exhibitors?

Below is a series of questions I ask before recommending signing on the bottom line.

Question 1: What platform is the show using to facilitate the virtual show? 

Most exhibitors know little about the different virtual trade show platforms. This can be costly. Involving someone from IT in discussions with the show management can help organizations better understand the opportunities in various platforms. Identify the platform being used and do your own research to find reviews on its features and benefits. Some of the most common platforms include 6Connex, INXPO, VConfEx, VFairs and AirMeet.

Question 2: What resources do you need to tell your story, educate customers about your products, and set the stage for an order?

This is critical and where many virtual exhibitors fall short. With the advent of this new format, manufacturers and brands are relying too heavily on show management sales reps to guide them. Plan ahead as if this was an in-person event. If you don’t, it will show. Create strong messaging by going beyond features to talk about benefits. Identify the assets you’ll use and need to create. What do you want the customer experience to be like and how will you manage participation, interaction, lead generation and follow-up. Based on survey results I’ve seen, your best bet is to focus on 30-60 second “explainer” videos and easy-to-download single-sheet PDFs. Clearly label the videos and PDFs so showgoers know what they’ll learn from clicking on them. Follow best-in-class search engine optimization (SEO) guidelines to make sure all materials are tagged with keywords for easy online search.

Question 3: What options does the platform offer for your sales team to interact with virtual showgoers?

It’s make-or-break to know how specific platforms allow for interaction among booth visitors and your “onsite” sales team. The best systems allow booth visitors to schedule meetings with your team in advance of the show. The best systems also provide easy and seamless interfaces with your company’s preferred video meeting platform. And, the best systems allow you to survey showgoers about their experience before, during and after the show.

Question 4: What is the best way to create traffic to your booth?

Creating booth traffic at a live trade show without breaking the bank is a challenge. In a virtual trade show, it can be even harder. We recommend surveying booth visitors from previous years and customers to see what they value most and ask about their expectations for the show. This will help your pre-show outreach strategy. A related challenge is the show layout. Many virtual shows are organized alphabetically, not by the strategic, high-traffic locations a traditional show floor layout provides. Take this into account when deciding on show promotional opportunities, banner ads, pop-ups, sponsorships and other add-on promotional tools offered by show organizers.

Question 5: How long do you need to keep your sales team on call at the trade show?

Exhibiting at virtual trade shows does not run itself in the background. It’s important to recognize that participation is an interactive marathon of sorts for your sales and marketing teams, R&D staff and leaders. Beyond the show, virtual trade show participation can last 3-4 weeks after the show to maximize attendance. For some companies, this as a quandary because they feel their sales teams are chained to their computers waiting for showgoer questions that may or may not materialize. An easy answer is to automate conversation scheduling for pre- and post-show sales contacts and content blitzes using your marketing automation platform. You’ll capture leads and be able to provide answers to frequently asked questions in the process.

For more information or questions, email me at

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