June 27, 2023
By Julie Haddix

Hit by the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. B2B trade show market plunged to $3.9 billion in 2020 but bounced back in a big way to reach $10.2 billion two years later in 2022. That speaks to how critical trade shows are for many B2B companies. 

So, what's so special about these major events? What makes them so appealing for start-ups and enterprises alike? In this blog post, we'll answer these questions and explain why trade shows are so important, some popular B2B tradeshows, and how you can plan for them. 

trade show guide

What is a Trade Show?

Trade shows, often called expos, are significant events where companies gather to showcase their latest products and services. In the bustling world of commerce and competition, trade shows are more than just corporate gatherings—they are arenas of opportunity, acting as the nexus point for innovation, collaboration, and growth. 

Both in-person and virtual trade shows provide a vibrant platform for interaction, negotiation, and mutual learning and serve as melting pots of ideas where the latest trends and innovations are displayed, discussed, and dissected. 

These events usually take place in spacious convention centers or on a virtual trade show platform, with durations that vary from a single day to an entire week, primarily based on the scope and purpose of the event. 

Companies participating in a trade show often set up a booth or display where they can interact with attendees. It might involve product demonstrations, handing out promotional materials, or providing more information about the company and what it offers. 

Key Elements of a Trade Show


Exhibitors: Exhibitors are the lifeblood of trade shows, bringing many innovations, technology, and business solutions to the exhibition hall. These companies within a specific industry pay for space at the trade show to display and demonstrate their latest products or services. They utilize these spaces also to strengthen their brand image and build relationships with potential customers. 

Trade Show Booths: The booth or stand is the physical space that the exhibitor occupies. The design and presentation of this space are crucial because it's where impressions are made. Companies often invest heavily in booth design, incorporating engaging displays, interactive demonstrations, and branding elements. The goal is to attract attendees and provide a memorable, interactive experience. 

Here are some innovative trade show booth ideas for your next event. 

Attendees: These are the visitors to the trade show. They are often professionals from within the industry, including potential buyers, industry analysts, journalists, and even competitors. Attendees attend trade shows to learn about the latest trends, discover new products and services, network with industry professionals, and make potential business deals. 

Seminars and Presentations: Many trade shows feature a program of seminars, workshops, and presentations led by industry experts. These sessions offer educational opportunities for attendees, covering hot topics, industry trends, and practical skills. They also provide a platform for thought leaders to share their insights and experiences. 

Networking Opportunities: Networking is one of the most valuable aspects of trade shows. From casual conversations at booths to formal networking events, trade shows are ripe with opportunities to connect with industry peers, potential customers, and thought leaders. These connections can lead to future collaborations, partnerships, or business deals. 

Show Services: These include all the behind-the-scenes elements that make the trade show possible, such as logistics, technology support, event management, and marketing. These services are typically provided by trade show organizers or third-party vendors and contribute to the overall experience of both exhibitors and attendees. 

What Happens at Trade Shows?

Trade shows typically incorporate a structured event agenda that includes not just the exhibition but also keynotes, breakout sessions, and other engaging activities, ensuring participants are not merely wandering around the exhibition area for hours. 

Key activities usually include: 

  1. Workshops are discussions or activities focusing on a central industry theme or topic. 
  2. Breakout sessions are often part of a workshop. These are moments when smaller groups split off to tackle more specific themes before re-joining the larger group to exchange ideas. 
  3. Media opportunities. Although there might be additional costs, these offer you an extra promotion, which could result in media coverage and heightened interest. 
  4. Networking events. These are hosted by some trade shows or their partners during or after the main event, offering an excellent opportunity for relationship-building. 
  5. Awards. Some trade shows honor individuals who have made significant achievements or have dedicated years of service to the industry. 
  6. Speakers. Industry experts, thought leaders, and speakers can draw substantial crowds if they are popular or present a unique perspective. 

By actively participating in these activities, you can enhance your visibility and awareness while forging stronger connections during the event. 

Benefits of Participating in Trade Shows

Participating in trade shows can provide B2B companies with numerous opportunities for lead generation, brand promotion, networking, and learning. It's an investment that, when correctly leveraged, can lead to significant business growth. 

Here are the top eight benefits: 

  1. Lead Generation: Trade shows are excellent platforms for generating high-quality leads. As attendees are typically industry professionals with a genuine interest in your field, the chances of finding potential customers are high. 
  2. Brand Visibility: Participating in a trade show can significantly increase brand visibility within your industry. A well-designed booth, attractive promotional materials, and product demonstrations can all help to create a lasting impression on attendees. 
  3. Product Demonstrations: A trade show provides an ideal platform to demonstrate your products or services directly to potential customers. This opportunity to experience your offerings first-hand can often be more impactful than digital ads or brochures. 
  4. Networking: Trade shows provide an excellent opportunity to network with industry professionals, potential clients, and competitors. These events can lead to partnerships, client relationships, and other beneficial business connections. 
  5. Competitor Insight: Trade shows allow you to see what your competitors are doing, learn about their latest products, and understand their marketing strategies. This information can be invaluable for refining your business strategies. 
  6. Immediate Feedback: Interacting with attendees allows immediate feedback on your products or services. You can better understand their needs, preferences, and pain points, which can help you refine your product offerings and marketing strategy. 
  7. Educational Opportunities: Most trade shows host seminars, workshops, and keynote speeches on the latest trends and developments in the industry. These events can be valuable for gaining industry knowledge and staying up-to-date with emerging trends. 
  8. Building Customer Relationships: Meeting potential clients face-to-face at trade shows can help build stronger relationships. It humanizes your business, making it more relatable and trustworthy to your clients. 
Trade Shows Manager

Cost of Attending a Trade Show

Attending a trade show involves a significant financial commitment, encompassing various expenses such as the attendance fee, travel, and accommodation. Consider these costs while evaluating these industry events' potential benefits and return on investment. 

As an exhibitor, your key expenses are likely to include the following: 

  1. Booth Space Rental: The cost to rent a booth at a trade show varies greatly depending on the size and prestige of the event. Larger, more high-profile events typically charge more for booth space. 
  2. Booth Design and Production: This is the cost of designing and creating a professional display, signage, and other materials for your booth. You might also need to hire a professional booth designer. 
  3. Shipping and Drayage: You'll have to ship your booth and equipment to the trade show, which can be a significant expense, particularly for larger displays. Additionally, many trade shows charge a drayage fee to move your materials from the loading dock to your booth space. 
  4. Travel and Accommodation: You'll also have to consider the cost of flights, hotels, meals, and other expenses for the staff members manning your booth. 
  5. Marketing Materials: Trade show marketing material includes the cost of creating brochures, business cards, product samples, promotional items, and other marketing materials for the event. 

If you're an attendee, your costs might be lower but still noteworthy: 

  1. Attendance Fee: Most trade shows charge an entrance fee, which can vary significantly depending on the event. Some larger, high-profile events can charge several hundred dollars for admission. 
  2. Travel and Accommodations: Like exhibitors, budget for flights, hotels, meals, and other travel-related expenses. 

Given these costs, as a smaller company, you may choose to attend as a visitor rather than an exhibitor. That's a perfect trade show strategy that will allow you to network and stay abreast of the latest industry trends without the significant expense of hosting a booth. 

However, consider the potential benefits and return on investment that exhibiting can offer. Your physical presence at a trade show can substantially elevate your visibility and credibility within your industry. 

Examples of Trade Shows 

Here are a few examples of trade shows that illustrate the diversity and potential of these events: 

  1. Incentive Travel, Meetings, and Events Expo — Frankfurt, Germany | Las Vegas, USA
  2. Asia Pacific Incentives and Meetings Event — Melbourne, Australia
  3. Consumer Electronics Show — Las Vegas, USA
  4. Kentucky Exposition Center – Kentucky, USA
  5. Mobile World Congress (MWC) - Barcelona, Spain
  6. SaaStr Annual - San Francisco, USA
  7. Dreamforce - San Francisco, USA
  8. Infosecurity Europe - London, UK 

How to Plan For Your Next Trade Show?

Planning your next trade show is a multi-step process. It is pivotal to your business's visibility and growth. From pre-event planning to post-event follow-ups, here are some essential tips to ensure your trade show participation is a grand success and contributes significantly to your business objectives. 

  1. Plan

The key to a successful trade show lies in extensive pre-event planning. Start early for your team to secure cost-effective travel arrangements and timely accommodation. Beyond logistics, crafting a compelling pre-show campaign is critical. 

Consider aligning it with the event, whether it's a product launch or significant news. Start emailing your target audience about four to six weeks before the show to stir interest and set meetings. 

  1. Equip Your Teams

Ensure everyone involved—marketing, sales, and executives—are in sync and updated with all the necessary information. Mark meetings and booth hours in everyone's calendars, ideally accounting for the event's time zone.

Creating a comprehensive logistics document aids in setting clear expectations. Have a "prep call" the week preceding the trade show, covering all necessary details and updates. 

  1. Arrange Booth Meetings in Advance

The most rewarding trade shows involve pre-set meetings with prospects, customers, and partners at your booth. Setting an achievable goal for your team based on previous data and gradually increasing it is a good strategy. Also, maintain a shared calendar for the sales team visibility into booth schedules. 

  1. Stay Active on Social Media

Create consistent and engaging posts on social media before, during, and after the event to foster a sense of anticipation among attendees. Use this platform to invite them to your booth for a contest, giveaway, or demonstration, and remember to include your booth number and the event's hashtag

  1. Offer Enticing Giveaways

Fun giveaways can drive more footfall. It's worth spending a little extra on an intriguing giveaway or activity. An espresso machine or ice cream truck could serve as a great conversation starter, making way for potential opportunities. 

  1. Prioritize Badge Scanning

Before the trade show opens, ensure your team knows the booth layout, promotional activities, and how to use any trade show solutions, like a simple badge scanner. The badge scanner can prove invaluable for collecting details of every visitor to your booth, eliminating the risk of losing potential leads. 

  1. Follow Up And Learn From The Experience

Arrange a post-show debrief call to review the event's success and identify areas for improvement. This feedback is valuable for planning future trade shows. Also, prioritize post-show follow-ups by uploading all leads into your CRM system and sharing them with your sales team within 48 hours of the event. 

This data provides invaluable insights about booth traffic, lead quality, and potential business opportunities, justifying future trade show participation. 

Make Every Interaction Count

There you have it—our ultimate guide on trade shows. Equipped with this valuable knowledge, you can easily transition from a trade show novice to a seasoned participant.  

The world of trade shows is vast and varied, but the insight, preparation, and a dash of courage genuinely make it a game-changer. So here's to making the next show the best show. 

Julie Haddix Headshot

Julie Haddix

Julie Haddix is the Senior Director, Industry Solutions for Cvent, Inc. She has worked for Cvent for over 13 years and helped to build the company’s Enterprise sales and marketing divisions, including its approach to Strategic Meetings Management. Julie has also been a part of the planning team for Cvent CONNECT, Cvent’s annual user conference, leading the event marketing and content development efforts. In her current role, she oversees strategic content direction for the event marketing and management platform. Julie graduated from the McIntire School of Business at the University of Virginia with a B.S. in Commerce and concentrations in Marketing and Management. She lives in Westchester County, NY with her husband and 2-year-old son.

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