Successful Exhibiting Training Seminars


Objective Setting – A Key to Successful Exhibiting…

Exhibiting at trade and consumer shows can be extremely rewarding – or extremely costly. This is the first in a series of articles exploring what it takes to make “shows” really work for you – and some things to avoid too! The information is as relevant and effective in London, New York, Sydney or Auckland as it is in Beijing, New Delhi, Abu Dhabi and Buenos Aires.

The decision whether to exhibit at a show or to use other methods can be a difficult one. It’s considerably helped by first writing down exactly what your Objectives are. Yet surprisingly, that is exactly where the first hurdle lies.


Everyone knows that having clear goals and objectives are keys to success in most things that we do. The [1]Cheshire Cat made that clear to Alice when she asked “Cheshire Puss, can you tell me which way to go”? The Cat commented that it depended on what she wanted to achieve, to which Alice replied “It doesn’t really matter”. The Cat’s verdict - “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go!” And so it is at trade and consumer shows…

What’s the Objective? To feed passing booth beggars? To entice leading chefs to try the samples with a view to inclusion in their menus? Something else?

Shows are generally considered professional marketing venues so it may be surprising that studies[2] show that less than 50% of exhibitors actually have appropriate objectives – and of those that do, many (officially 25%) forget them on the show floor! Verify this for yourself at any show you visit. Consider many of the activities you see and ask yourself just what is achieved?

I recall visiting a food show and lining up at a stand for a sample of delectable coffee which a hassled exhibitor was giving away – complete with a generous slug of Bailey’s Irish Cream. It was delicious so I enquired where I could buy more. Could I buy it from him? Did he have a list of retail outlets on hand? Imagine my surprise when he asked me to move on as he had a long (and growing) line of people, each to serve a sample to!

This is not an isolated example. It’s critical to know why you’re exhibiting – and to keep your Objectives clearly in your sights. It’s extremely easy to lose sight of Objectives in the hustle and bustle of the show. Which is very good news for smaller and first-time exhibitors as you can be very sure that a good number of the “old timers” simply don’t have it together. You really CAN compete with considerable success!

Objectives must be[3]

  1. Specific
  2. Measurable
  3. Realistic
  4. Accountable

Know exactly what you want to achieve. “Collect leads” might be a good start but it needs to be more precise. What leads? Potential distributors? End users? Boil this down as much as you can so you’re as focused as possible. You’ll probably have more than one Objective but the less you have, the better results you can achieve with each. Try to limit it to three, no more than five[4].

You can’t manage what you don’t (forget “can’t”) measure. For example, determine how many new distributors you wish to appoint. Let’s say you want two. How many leads are you likely to need to collect to obtain those two distributors on the basis that you want choices and to appoint only the very best? Would fifteen be about right? So there’s your number. You’ll know when you have your Objectives simply by counting your leads. Easy!

What if your Objective is intangible – like “we want 20% of visitors to recall our company and product(s)”. You still can –and need to - measure your results. You might survey the show floor with questions such as “do you recall a company at the show that sells widgets?” Or “Do you recall this company logo? Do you know what their message is?” (Check the show “rules” if working off your stand).

Set your Objectives so you need to work really hard to achieve them. Yet low enough so you know that you can get there – as long as you keep the pressure on. It’s most important for staff and management to have these goals and to focus extremely hard to achieve what is vital and do-able. It’s a great idea to obtain agreement from all involved on your stand before the show begins…

Someone’s tail needs to be nailed to the floor – probably yours! Remember that staff have tails too. Every staff member MUST know the overall Objectives for your organisation’s show participation. Plus each staff member must have their own personal specific, measurable Objectives for which they are each personally responsible – each being a subset of the overall Objectives for your stand. For example Sue’s goal may be to collect four “distributor” leads, Tony six and Sandra five, total fifteen - the goal for the company.


Great Objective! Now filter prospective “agents” with appropriate questions and focus only on your desired Target Market

It’s just as critical to know WHO you are targeting. I recall an Australian exhibitor at a show in the USA expressing considerable satisfaction with the leads they had gathered. The future was bright! Three months later the same exhibitor was counting the costs as almost none of the leads had come to anything.

The problem was that while “collecting leads” was a priority objective, any potential buyer stating to be a “distributor” was collected. It’s essential to know the “demographic face” of the people you want to make contact with and focus only on those people. Company size, area of operations, sex, buying authority and niche are examples.
Others must be politely and firmly sent on their way (we’ll discuss how to do this effectively and positively in a future article).

Sometimes and for some organizations, it is very hard to define the Target Market. Nevertheless it is essential to know the demographic face of your Targets. Your pre-show and at-show marketing, the essential message that your stand conveys at a glance to the show audience, your initial qualifying question(s), lead collection, categorisation and lead follow-up and a lot more, all depend on knowing exactly who you are targeting and what you want them to do.


Reviewing your Objectives and keeping your Target Audience sharply in mind are vital in the run-up to the show, during the show and immediately afterwards too.

Write your Objectives and Targets down onto cards and ensure that you and your staff refer to them often. Convene a pre-show, on-site meeting on your stand before the show opens every day and review your Objectives and Targets – even if there are only two of you on the stand. Discuss how well you did yesterday and how you’ll handle things today. Ensure that you stay focused in everything that you do.

As soon as the show is over get those cards out again and focus on your desired outcomes as you work your leads and win the results that you came for. Remember that the show is not over until your Objectives are met and your constant referring to your Objectives and Target Market is a critical factor in ensuring your success at every show you do.

[1] “Alice in Wonderland” – Lewis Carroll
[2] Center for Exhibition & Industry Research ( “Staggering Stats” p3
[3] Exhibit Surveys Inc, USA.
[4] 100 sample Objectives and an “Objectives Worksheet” can be downloaded from here

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