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Step-by-Step Guide to Successful Trade Show Preparation, Delivery and Follow-Up

1. Why exhibit

Trade shows are a popular marketing component of business. Trade shows allow companies to interact and forge new partnerships with a diverse group of potential buyers and clients, all within one location. Many businesses recognize these advantages and incorporate trade show exhibition as an important part of their company's export strategy.

Fact: 76 percent of companies indicated their return on investment is the same or higher at participation in international trade shows compared to their participation in domestic trade shows. Source: EXHIBITOR Magazine, 2019

Trade shows are:

2. Building your marketing strategy

Once you have decided to participate and exhibit at a trade show, it is very important to create a marketing strategy to promote your brand both leading up to and during the event. Having a marketing strategy in place will allow you to take steps to increase your profile at an earlier stage and differentiate yourself from competitors. You want to give attendees a reason to visit your booth and do business with you at the event.

Fact: Attendees are more receptive and engaged with marketing messages at special events, increasing the likelihood of short term marketing at trade shows successfully converting to sustained brand recognition and value. Source: Center for Exhibition Industry Research

Identify your objectives and target audience

Common objectives include increasing brand and product awareness, expanding market presence, meeting new clients, researching industry trends, launching or testing a new product, and maintaining relationships with existing clients and partners. Defining your target audience will ensure a more tailored and efficient strategy.


Marketing is just as important as participating at the event and should be included as part of the overall budget. If exhibiting internationally, be mindful that some marketing costs may be incurred overseas and will be affected by foreign exchange rates.

Select the right marketing tools

Common marketing methods include:

Social media tools

Effective use of social media can boost your trade show strategy by providing real-time client interaction and tailored content for your target audience. It can provide attendees with new channels to learn about, communicate and recommend your company and products.

Fact: 91 percent of exhibiting companies currently incorporate social media into their face-to-face marketing mix. Source: EXHIBITOR Magazine, 2018

Businesses and consumers are increasingly incorporating social media as part of their marketing strategy to communicate, share and promote their brand, services and products. Popular tools include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Flickr, and YouTube.

Leveraging social media:

Canada Brand

Canada Brand is an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) branding initiative designed to help Canada's food and agriculture industry differentiate their products as Canadian at home and internationally. It includes a suite of tools including graphics, images and messaging that can help you brand your products and leverage consumers' positive perceptions of Canada.

Implement the strategy

The strategy must then be continually monitored and each marketing activity recorded and evaluated on outcomes achieved and lessons learned. Establishing a timeline for execution is critical to stay on track.

3. Choosing the right show

There are hundreds of trade shows around the world to choose from. Many companies spend time and money on travel and booth creation and fail to spend resources on researching shows, and setting goals. Research and careful assessment will ensure that the trade show selected aligns best with your objectives and goals.

Use Trade Commissioner and Agriculture and Agri-Food (AAFC) Canada Regional Office expertise

Trade Commissioners are stationed around the world to promote the Canadian agriculture and agri-food sector. Trade Commissioners located in your international market of interest, as well as staff at regionally located AAFC offices throughout Canada, are familiar with conducting business within specific markets, the key stakeholders, as well as international trade events held in specific locations.

Identify objectives and goals

The clearer your export and business goals, the better you can identify which trade show will offer the most value to your company, and the more focus your overall exhibit will have. Your goals can pertain to interested markets, theme, down to the number and type of quality leads you hope to generate.

Questions to ask include:

  1. Is your product or service ready to enter the market?
  2. What are your objectives in participating in a trade show?
  3. Who is your target market and audience?
  4. How will this trade show complement your export strategy?
  5. Do you have the necessary resources: people, finance, time, commitment?
  6. Do you have the capacity to follow-up on new leads?

Consult exhibitor and attendee information

Proactively contact show organizers, websites, and all other available sources well in advance of your commitment to exhibit. This ensures a well informed decision is made regarding whether the event will be a value added business activity for your organization. Understand your options – you may choose to exhibit or instead simply attend to gather contacts and market intelligence if you have insufficient resources.

4. Planning your participation

The effort and time dedicated to pre-show preparation may impact your success during and post show. Pre-show training sessions are often offered on-site prior to the show and during the show. This kind of preparation can benefit your level of efficiency and professionalism within a trade show setting.

Set goals that compliment your marketing objectives and overall business strategy

It is important to understand that trade show participation extends beyond the few days you are exhibiting; it is a marketing tool that must be integrated into your overall business strategy and one that must be done properly in order to obtain results. Setting goals and developing a roadmap are key ways to achieve this.

For example, your company may sell 100 different products, but through goal setting you choose to focus on 10 of your products for trade show promotion and sales development. Refining the items you plan to display, sample, or discuss with potential clients gives your exhibit a stronger, more cohesive, and tailored focus.

Inform clients of your participation

As you prepare to participate in your trade show, you should communicate with your current and potential clients:

Fact: 71 percent of companies say their primary reason for exhibiting internationally is to increase leads and sales and to build relationships with clients/prospects. Source: EXHIBITOR Magazine, 2019

To aid in pre-show preparations and ensure that you make the best use of your time at the trade show, it is a good idea to book appointments with prospective clients and buyers ahead of time if possible. Trade Commissioners in local markets and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Regional Offices can provide information on meetings that may be taking place with potential buyers that Canadian exporters can participate in.

Designing a booth display

Trade shows require professional displays, promotional materials such as product or service samples, staffing, shipping and travel fees. It is important for an exporter to budget for these expenses in designing their booth display.

The importance of creating a fresh, innovative and unmatched display and selling technique is vital to trade show success. A booth that is not accommodating or welcoming to attendees will reduce the time they are willing to spend at your booth.


Regardless of whether you are exhibiting independently or as part of a larger pavilion, it is important to pay attention to detail to ensure the impression and atmosphere you are creating is conducive to successful business activity.

Begin developing promotional material early


Customs and import regulations

Find the best methods and approach to getting your exhibit and samples or products to the trade event location. Consider the customs and import regulations, as well as licenses needed for your sample products. Knowing these requirements in advance will ensure a smooth transition from pre-show to at-show execution.

Understanding the market access issues in the market you are interested in will also help determine where you will have the greatest chance of exporting success in the long run.

Staff training

A pro-active, friendly and well trained booth staff member is often more effective in attracting attendees than a free sample or giveaway. Sample engagement and qualifying questions should be given to staffers prior to the show. Avoid a scripted feel, but ensure there are guidelines on appropriate staff/attendee dialogue.

Fact: The majority of exhibiting companies train their staff on how to qualify leads at trade shows. Source: EXHIBITOR Magazine

The clients you gain become your company's ambassadors. If attendees are happy with the interaction with your staff, they are more likely to think positively of your company, more willing to do business with you, and more eager to spread the word about your product or service to others.


Fact: Attendees spend on average 8.4 hours per show visiting exhibits. Source: EXHIBITOR Magazine

5. Participating on-site

No matter how much preparation goes in, there will bound to be changes and surprises. Be prepared for change and be prepared to adapt.


  1. Aim to arrive at the show at least 24 hours in advance. You may need to allow for extra time if exhibiting overseas.
  2. When you arrive, get in touch with your local contact if you have one to stay updated on what is happening locally.
  3. Check that you have all documentation related to shipping invoices, booth registration etc. with you.

Booth set up

  1. Ensure you obtain a floor plan and take time to familiarize yourself with the surroundings and other exhibitors.
  2. Check that your display is set up properly.
  3. Ensure all promotional material is ready.
  4. Organize a final staff briefing to go over objectives, plan of action, and schedules.
  5. Reconfirm your upcoming trade show appointments.

Understanding buyers

Trade show crowds exhibit certain behavioural patterns. Taking the time to understand the audience will ensure that you develop a good approach to getting them interested in your booth, products and services. Cues can be taken from the type of workshops or seminars organized in conjunction with the show, local events, as well as the local/regional culture. Trade Commissioners and regional office staff can also provide advice.

Your staff have to understand your organization's business plan and target audience and not just push a product. Their efforts will be lost on attendees if they are not able to transfer important product and company information as well as provide a professional and competent representation to prospective clients.

Spotting genuine leads

The key to garnering successful leads is being able to recognize a genuine prospect. Building a profile of your target audience beforehand and being aware of whether you are seeking local partnerships or international business alliances can aid staff in identifying the right leads. Developing qualifying questions beforehand can also help staff.

Fact: 95 percent of companies say lead acquisition is one of their most important exhibit-marketing objectives. Source: Center for Exhibition Industry Research, 2018

Clear business goals will assist in the identification of qualified booth visitors. For example, if you have decided to focus on business expansion into the United States, then all visitors to your booth from the United States have already met one important qualifying variable. The more variables met, the greater the significance of product samples and information.

Networking tips

Fact: Trade shows attract attendees who have a major say in purchasing decisions. Half of all attendees have a buying plan in place before their visit. Source: Center for Exhibition Industry Research

Lead management

Your exhibit should target specific prospects that are interested in the products you are selling. Once targeted, the next step will be to initiate person-to-person contact. A system should be developed to record down the contacts made. Capturing the leads generated can be done by filing away business cards received or noting down each interaction in writing or electronically.

Tips and best practices:

Fact: Nearly half (49 percent) of exhibitors are able to track what percentage of leads sourced at a given show ultimately convert to sales. Source: EXHIBITOR Magazine, 2020

6.  Post-show and measuring performance

After a trade show ends, it is easy to fall behind on lead follow-up. In most cases trade shows are about generating qualified leads and not about conducting final sales. The longer one leaves leads unattended, the less likely they are to evolve into business opportunities.

Within one month

Professional follow-up within a recommended 30 day period helps to ensure your business reaps the most benefit from trade show participation; otherwise the effort and time invested in participation can be lost.

Initial follow-up can be conducted in a variety of ways. It can be made by a simple phone call within a few days of the show, while more intensive follow-up should be made within the span of a month (timeframes can vary depending on the nature and seasonality of your business). Examples of follow-up include thank you letters or e-mails, trips to visit leads, and distribution of product samples and information packages.

You may also decide to extend your stay following a trade show to conduct immediate face-to-face follow-up with serious leads.

From six months to one year

Stay in touch with your leads by keeping them informed about new and upcoming products and services, as well as updates on existing ones. You may offer a newsletter for subscription or develop social media content to disseminate your company's latest news.

Are you thinking of attending or exhibiting at other trade shows? As your company plans ahead for future trade show opportunities, let your leads know which upcoming trade shows you are looking to attend, as they may be considering attending too, providing additional opportunities to connect.

Performance evaluation

However formal or informal, ensure an event debrief and show evaluation is conducted analyzing what worked, what did not, and what could be improved. It is best to hold a debrief soon after the event has concluded while the experience is still fresh in your mind.

Feedback can be useful to ensure that each trade show experience is an improvement from the last. It can also serve as the basis for selecting the "right" shows to attend in the future. The quality of the leads generated, sales revenue generated, as well as visitor traffic are examples of what can be measured to get a picture of the overall success of your booth.

A post-show report covering show description, market opportunities, new trends, lessons learned and recommendations for future trade shows can be useful for future event budgeting and planning. In addition, a debrief on your marketing strategy and its impact and correlation to results achieved can aid in crafting future marketing plans.

Use your trade show participation, however frequent, as an opportunity to consistently refine your approach to business within a trade show setting. Ensure it satisfies your business needs, fulfills your business goals and provides some form of return on your time and financial investments.

There is no definitive approach to trade show participation, only suggestions as to how to better approach this valuable marketing method. It is important to customize your approach to exhibiting to maximize your success.

7. The Canada Pavilion: Why exhibit with us

AAFC has a presence at several prominent trade shows around the world through its Canada Pavilion Program which aims to make trade show participation easier for Canadian companies at the world’s premier food and beverage events ‘where the world shops’.

The pavilion is designed to present a cohesive country brand on the international stage. The program provides streamlined access to financial support, with a focus on new to market, first-time exhibitors, and innovative products.

Your presence as a Canadian exhibitor at the Canada Pavilion gives your business an opportunity to interact with new and established contacts in the world's most dynamic markets backed with first-class support. Canadian exhibitors receive, at a competitive and reasonable cost, premium exhibitor space on the exhibition floor, as well as high quality services and one-on-one support from our staff.

Sample of Canada Pavilion services:

  1. High quality Canada branded pavilion
  2. Turn-key booths with basic furnishings: Panel graphics, company signage, common lounge and refreshments, telecommunications and meeting rooms, selected Canadian promotional aids, product showcase, counter, table and chairs, wastebasket, basic electricity and wireless Internet services
  3. Show and official directory registration
  4. Pre-show market intelligence and briefing
  5. On-site and on-going marketing support
  6. Printed catalogue of pavilion participants distributed prior to the show
  7. Networking sessions with potential buyers and invitations to key international buyers
  8. Opportunity to meet Canadian Trade Commissioners and buyers one-on-one

Canadian companies who wish to exhibit under the Canada Pavilion are advised to visit Agriculture and Food Trade Show Service for more information on how to register.

For additional funding opportunities for events outside the Canada Pavilion Program, small and medium sized Canadian companies can visit CanExport, while Canadian industry associations can visit AgriMarketing Program for more information.

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