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Tips for Tradeshow Success

<p>A successful tradeshow experience begins with strategic planning, followed by careful execution of the details.</p>

By Beverly Emerson, Contributing Editor

The 2013 tradeshow season is revving up. Whether you're planning on exhibiting at Expo West, SupplySide Marketplace, IFT, SupplySide West or any number of food and beverage tradeshows, a successful show begins with strategic planning, followed by careful execution of the details. Once your show objectives have been clearly identified and communicated to the sales and marketing team, and your booth structure and graphics (with updated messaging) are complete, its time for a final checklist to ensure success:

Exhibit booth: Is the structure ready for shipping? Has all the paperwork been filled out for furniture, trashcans, scanner, etc? Do you have a box packed up that contains sufficient pens, staplers, paper, packaging mockups, sales material and business cards? Consider the details of traffic flow. At any one time, attendees will be tasting samples, collecting collateral and wanting to engage in real dialogueboth scheduled and unscheduled.  Designate specific areas for specific activities.

Product: Will you be sampling product? Think through the details from initial request to tasting, providing feedback, to throwing out trash. If heating or cooling is necessary, make sure you have what you need to ensure microbial safety. If production is behind and product is not ready, consider bench-top prototypes that are selectively passed out. As a last resort, mock up packaging with strong sales collateral, and pre-set meetings will garner the attention of the retail buyer and you can follow up later. If you dont have a firm production date, youre introducing too early and losing valuable momentum. Interested buyers want to know when they can get product.

Marketing/sales collateral: Make sure your marketing and sales materials are ready, printed, and shipping has been arranged. Marketing materials need to communicate why the buyer would want to take on your product. Think through it from their perspective. Buyers have many choices why should they pick your product versus a competitor's? Communicate clearly and succinctly. Your sales materials should include key retailer information, including pack size, pricing, show discounts and policies. Are you taking orders at the show? Have your paperwork in order. Know when your product will be ready to ship. If you dont know yet, its too early to be taking firm orders.

Pre-show promotion: Do your key accounts know that you are unveiling a new product?  Emails and sales flyers help generate awareness and drive traffic to the booth, but dont underestimate the power of the human voice. Above all, the show is about developing relationships that lead to sales. Start setting up appointments with potential buyers. If you have one conference table and multiple sales agents, make sure everyone is aware of the ever-changing conference schedule so overlap doesnt occur. Make sure your PR person is sending out newsworthy press releases to the best news outlets. Its always better to have someone besides yourself praise your product; make use of industry media to generate third-party reviews. 

Sales force training: Make sure everyone in the booth is trained on the new product. Give your sales reps clear instructions on how to qualify leads, what questions to ask to get feedback on new programs and general booth etiquette. Buyers have little patience for sales reps who are focused on their sandwich instead of the buyer.  They also have very little patience for being shuffled from sales rep to sales rep, waiting in line to speak with the one person who has all the answers. Buyers will walk awaysometimes returning, but often not. Make sure that your booth personnel really know their material and can answer baseline questions from both a sales and a technical perspective.

Follow up: How, specifically, are leads going to be handled? Identify who is responsible for following up. Will it be a phone call, an email, or does it depend on the account size? Does everyone know their role? I like to have two follow-up meetings with the launch team. The first occurs within a week to quickly assess what went well, what was a surprise, and to document show insights. Mistakes and oversights can be turned into great training opportunities. Customer feedback (especially the critiques) can lead to product improvements. Begin measuring show resultsnumber of qualified leads, number of press interviews/articles, surveys collected, orders taken. Schedule a second meeting to discuss your objectives and the measured results.

Trade shows can be viewed as an expense, or they can be viewed as an investment. With budgets tighter than ever, you need to know that your presence at a show actually made a difference. The days of We have to be there because our competitors are" are long gone. Set specific objectives, execute the details, measure results and learn. Long term, that is what will help your product, and your brand, stand out.

Beverly Emerson is president of Olive Tree Product Development. For more than 25 years, she has been helping leaders of food and nutrition companies achieve significant growth through successful new product innovation. An accomplished CPG marketer and R&D executive, Emerson integrates consumer insights with technical expertise, creating products that make a difference to both consumers and the bottom line. Contact her at

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