15 Things NOT to Do in a Channel Tradeshow Expo Hall

As the 2024 tradeshow season quickly ramps up, I can’t help but reminisce over the past 25+ years of tradeshows I’ve attended and the many blatant blunders I’ve seen vendors (myself included) make. And since there is endless content online about how to have a “productive” tradeshow, I decided instead to share 15 of my favorite ways vendors regularly set themselves up for an unproductive event:

15) Unattended fish bowls: Oh, sure, go ahead and use raffles to gather as many leads as humanly possible. Who needs quality when you can have quantity? Just collect a bunch of unqualified leads from attendees who couldn’t care less about what you’re offering. I’m sure the sales teams following up on those leads will be thrilled! Brilliant strategy, really.

14) A table and two chairs: Nothing like walking past a booth to see the staff sitting behind a table refreshing their inbox. Pardon me while I drop a card in your fishbowl on my way by before never talking to you again.

13) “Can I borrow your packing tape?”: We’ve heard it enough that it has become the “you are on mute” phrase of every tradeshow. Tape is $2 at Office Depot or $15 at the conference business center, you pick.

12) Tearing down early: By all means, go ahead and start packing up your booth before the show is even over. Everyone else is. Besides, nothing says “I’m fully committed and interested in engaging with you” like leaving the remaining attendees with the impression that you couldn’t care less about their presence. Now where is that packing tape?

11) Vendors collecting swag from other vendors: Who doesn’t love freebies, right? It’s like a magnetic force that pulls us in. Why cover the booth when you can wander around collecting other vendors’ pens, squeeze-balls, and octopus charging cables?

10) The disappearing tablecloth: When you have so many pieces of content and swag on your table that you spend half your time rearranging the layout just to make it look somewhat organized. Do you realize how much of that stuff ends up in the hotel room trash can?

9) Hungover booth staff: What a great party last night! Bloodshot eyes and bad breath are not the way to greet early morning attendees at your booth. It’s true that many tradeshow veterans can show up hungover and you can’t even tell. Imagine how much more productive they could be clear headed. So, please, no hangover heroes allowed!

8) Eating at the booth: Let’s not underestimate the elegance of stuffing our faces in front of a crowd with mass-produced stale appetizers. It just screams professionalism, doesn’t it? I’m sure everyone will be in awe of your booth, the crumbs flying, and the wing sauce dripping down your chin. Maybe if you weren’t so hungover, you could have joined the rest of us for breakfast.

7)  Booth hours versus pool cabana hours: All the SWAG, raffle prizes, and product briefs handed out during booth hours don’t compare to the impression you make during a conversation at the lunch table or coffee bar. You may give a great pitch at the booth, but in my experience some of the best conversations happen in the hallways and at the lunch tables. Unless you’re at the pool instead.

6) Booth eye chart: While your solution may have a lot of great features and benefits, your booth backdrop and pop-up stand aren’t the place to list every single one of them. All the attendee wants to know is, in one sentence, what problem you solve for them. Focus on your core value prop/differentiator and save something for your solutions brief and product slicks, please.

5) After parties in logo wear: While we totally dig the idea of rocking it at after parties, let’s not forget that your social media game is like a mirror reflecting your company’s vibe. Posting stuff that’s not quite appropriate (I won’t be specific here) while covered in your company’s logo can totally cramp your professional style and make all that hard work building credibility go down the drain. Either party, or represent, pick one!

4) The left-over SWAG frenzy: Ever hear, “Take all you want. We don’t want to have to ship it home”? Being generous is great and all, but let’s not go overboard with the SWAG, okay? Somewhere, the person that owns your events marketing budget is wondering if you realize how much that stuff actually costs.

3) Spending more time in line at the open bar than at the booth: “Hold my beer” is a phrase best suited for the golf course or after party than the tradeshow floor. If the prospects are liquored up, now is the time to get them talking! Get back to the booth. You can make it another hour without a drink (I hope).

2) Vendors selling to vendors: Cross-selling, alliance marketing, and account mapping are very powerful strategies in the MSP channel, but blocking booth traffic during an attendee rush is punishable by death in 33 states.

1) Selling without qualifying: This is my biggest pet peeve. The worst question you can answer (and the most common one asked) is, “So, what do you do?” You certainly have your pitch memorized, but the unqualified prospect only came for your swag and to enter your raffle. While you were pontificating about your features, benefits, speeds, and feeds, they were probably blocking the five qualified prospects that just walked by. Take a breath so the hungover vendor you are pitching can ask to borrow your packing tape when they tear down early.

So, vendors, let’s not be “that guy or gal” at the next tradeshow, shall we? Remember, a successful tradeshow is about more than just the booth. It’s about having a pre- and post-event strategy that multiplies the return on investment of the event sponsorship, and it’s about getting the details right. Let’s put down our phones, step away from the packing tape, and focus on qualifying and engaging prospects, building genuine connections, and showcasing our expertise when the time is right. And hey, if we can do all that while avoiding the temptation of free swag and an open bar, well, that’s just icing on the cake. Cheers to a successful tradeshow, my friends! And reach out to us at Channel Mastered if you want a list of 15 things you should do at tradeshows to drive business.

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