Inbound Marketing for Manufacturers Blog

    Printable Trade Show Planning Timeline Checklist



    9 minute read

    Trade-Show-Planning-Timeline-Checklist

    Seeing a return on your massive trade show investment comes down to preparation. 

    If you wing it, you’re asking for paltry results. The following trade show planning timeline can be directly implemented for your next show or used for inspiration to customize your current process.

    What to do 12 Weeks Before the Trade Show

    Now’s the time to set S.M.A.R.T. goals for the upcoming show, so you can develop a plan to achieve them.

    Your goals should take historical trade show performance into consideration, along with any industry, market, competitive, or product shifts.

    For example, if you got 100 leads at last year’s show, but you’ve made massive progress in market share, you should take the market share gain into consideration when setting this year’s lead volume goal.

    Speaking of goals… Here are some metrics to focus on:

    • New contacts (leads) - defined as anyone that you exchange a card with, or have a conversation with. These folks may not be a great fit or opportunity yet, but they should be nurtured over time.

    • Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL) - defined as a lead that seems to fit the mold of a company you could and would do business with. They haven’t directly expressed a need or desire to be quoted.

    • Sales Qualified Leads (SQL) - defined as a lead that has expressed a problem or opportunity that you could help them solve, and a desire to explore your solution. They may want a follow up meeting, or to bring in other stakeholders to explore your solution.

    • Opportunity - defined as a qualified lead with a stated need, timeframe, budget, and decision authority. This is commonly a request for quote situation.

    • Revenue (influenced or direct) - defined as net revenue won as a result of the trade show. This should include revenue that was influenced by the show, meaning deals that closed as a result of a conversation or interaction at the trade show, even talks started before. This is the most difficult metric to measure because most manufacturing sales cycles last a while. It’s important to close the loop though! It might require you to attribute revenue to a show 6-24 months after the show took place.

    Once your goals are set, you need to document your trade show plan. Your plan should include all of the tactics that you will deploy to achieve your goals, with time lines, and responsibilities.

    The following weekly breakdowns will give you some ideas of tactics you should be deploying.

    What to do 10 Weeks Before the Trade Show

    At 10 weeks out the upcoming trade show is probably not very high on most attendees’ priority list yet. Promotion this early will likely fall on deaf ears. There are some things you should be doing though.

    Create Your Promotion Contact List

    When establishing your contact list, you need to mesh who you want to know that you’ll be at the upcoming show with people that could likely attend the show. 

    Your list should include:

    • General contacts,
    • Prospects,
    • Customers,
    • Lost customers/opportunities,
    • Last year’s attendees, and
    • Last year’s non-competitive exhibitors.

    If you use a CRM (and you really should…), pulling this list together will be easy. This list will be on the receiving end of your emails, social media, and potentially direct mail outreach.

    Build Your Email Marketing and Follow Up Content

    Start by looking at last year’s emails to see what worked well. Use your email marketing and tracking tools to see which emails drove the most opens, click throughs, appointments booked, etc.... Are there any insights you can apply to this year’s outreach? 

    Consider crafting some general emails that your whole list will receive, along with segmented messaging for subgroups within the list.

    For example, everyone should be sent your booth number, booth team intros, and general announcements. If you’re sharing a new innovation that is most relevant to one segment of your list, build some specific emails that speak more directly to that segment.

    To make sure your email marketing spreads a consistent message, you should create drafts of all of your emails before the real promotion blitz begins. The same applies to your follow up email marketing. Get them written now to make sure they get sent as planned, and you aren’t winging it week by week and after the show.

    If you need some email inspiration, check out our Complete Guide to Email Marketing for Trade Shows.

    Dig Into Active Social Media Topics

    Every trade show has a social media hashtag. It’s usually the name of the show plus the year. Some examples include:

    • #fabtech19,
    • #plastecwest, and
    • #metalcon19.

    The hashtag allows you to search for and follow conversations that are happening about the trade show. 

    While planning your trade show, it can be very helpful to search for the previous year’s hashtag and see what topics gathered the most attention. 

    Dig into the conversations that took place the previous year, and see if you can piggyback off of those themes this year to be a part of, or the center of the conversation. You might be able to identify some target prospects that were active in the conversation last year, that you could direct message or mention this year.

    Document your findings for use in social channels as the show gets closer.

    Schedule Blog Content

    You read that correctly. Your blog should be a part of your promotion plan. Attendees and prospects will undoubtedly hit Google with questions about the show, exhibitors, and geographic area. Do your best to show up when they’re searching!

    If you plan well, you can even use your blog content as fodder and click-bait in your trade show email marketing to get them on your site.

    Some example topics might include:

    • 5 Booths We’re Excited to See at [Name of Trade Show], 
    • Meet the Team Manning our Booth at [Name of Trade Show], and
    • 3 Themes from [Name of Trade Show] Last Year, and 3 Predictions for This Year.

    Remember your hashtag research in this process as well. Are there themes being discussed that you could share an opinion of on your blog?

    Make sure your blog posts are scheduled, and you know who’s responsible for writing, editing, and posting to the blog.

    Booth, Collateral, Cards, and Promos

    Now’s the time to make sure your booth components are still in good shape, and that you don’t need/want to change anything. 

    You also need to make sure you have the collateral, business cards, and promos in place for the show. If you plan to host a party or have in-booth attractions, now (ideally before now) is the time to get them booked.

    What to do 8 Weeks Before the Trade Show

    The 8 week mark is a good time to begin ramping up your promotion. Keep it basic in the first few weeks, but start to spread the word that you’re planning big things at the show.

    Be sure to do AT LEAST the following:

    • Email send to the list you created above
    • Send 1 to 1 emails from salespeople to highly desirable prospects to set meetings at the show
    • Announce your booth in social media
    • Participate in 1-2 conversations in social media with the show hashtag
      • If there aren’t any conversations yet, start one!

    Extra credit:

    • Shoot a video of your booth team talking about the upcoming show
    • Send mailers to highly desirable prospects requesting a meeting at the show

    What to do 7 Weeks Before the Trade Show

    This week you should review the performance of last week’s email campaign. Who engaged with the email? Did any prospects click through or show interest? They might be worth calling or following up with.

    You should also:

    • Publish one of your blog posts
    • Share the blog post in social media using the show hashtag
    • Participate in 1-2 conversations in social media with the show hashtag
    • Announce any giveaways or promotions in social media

    Extra credit:

    • Connect with highly engaged prospects from your email campaign on LinkedIn
    • Do research on people participating in social media conversations to identify potential leads

    What to do 6 Weeks Before the Trade Show

    Six Weeks out should look a lot like 8 weeks out. Consider doing the following:

    • Send your list another email. Remember, if you planned well, the blog post from last week may be the basis for this week’s email
    • Participate in 1-2 conversations in social media with the show hashtag
    • Proactively ask some questions in social media with the show hashtag

    Extra credit:

    • Send a postcard to everyone on your list, inviting them to your booth
    • Setup your booth for a test run, and shoot some video to share in social media

    What to do 5 Weeks Before the Trade Show

    Five weeks out will look much like 7 weeks out. Be sure to:

    • Evaluate the performance of last week’s email campaign - who opened, clicked through, responded?
    • Publish another blog post and share it in social media using the show hashtag
    • Start participating at least every other day, for 10-15 minutes in social conversations about the show
    • Document any social media participants that seem like potential leads or MQLs

    Extra credit:

    • Call some prospects that you think are attending the show and try to set appointments

    What to do 4 Weeks Before the Trade Show

    With 4 weeks to go until the show, you need to implement a more consistent outreach routine:

    • Send your list another email. Remember, if you planned well, the blog post from last week may be the basis for this week’s email
    • Participating at least every other day, for 10-15 minutes in social conversations about the show
    • Document any social media participants that seem like potential leads or MQLs

    Extra credit:

    • Send video emails or social messages to prospects you’d like to book time with at the show

    What to do 3 Weeks Before the Trade Show

    • Evaluate the performance of last week’s email campaign - who opened, clicked through, responded?
    • Publish another blog post and share it in social media using the show hashtag
      • This is a great time frame to post a “Meet the Booth Team” blog post, and send it in your email.
    • Send your list another email
    • Participating at least every other day, for 10-15 minutes in social conversations about the show
    • Document any social media participants that seem like potential leads or MQLs
      • Connect with them and try to set an appointment for the show

    Extra credit:

    • Send video emails or social messages to prospects you’d like to book time with at the show

    What to do 2 Weeks Before the Trade Show

    • Put together documentation and notes for appointments you have scheduled and make sure calendar reminders are set for your appointments
    • Evaluate the performance of last week’s email campaign - who opened, clicked through, responded?
      • Should you follow up directly with the engaged people?
    • Send your list another email
    • Participating at least every other day, for 10-15 minutes in social conversations about the show
    • Document any social media participants that seem like potential leads or MQLs
      • Connect with them and try to set an appointment for the show

    Extra credit:

    • Send video emails or social messages to prospects you’d like to book time with at the show
    • Send final direct mail to top prospects inviting them to your booth, party, or appointment

    What to do 1 Week Before the Trade Show

    • Put together documentation and notes for appointments you have scheduled and make sure calendar reminders are set for your appointments
    • Evaluate the performance of last week’s email campaign - who opened, clicked through, responded?
      • Should you follow up directly with the engaged people?
    • Send your list another email
    • Participating at least every other day, for 10-15 minutes in social conversations about the show
    • Document any social media participants that seem like potential leads or MQLs
      • Connect with them and try to set an appointment for the show

    What to do 2 Days Before the Trade Show

    • Put together documentation and notes for appointments you have scheduled and make sure calendar reminders are set for your appointments
    • Send your list another email
    • Document any social media participants that seem like potential leads or MQLs
      • Connect with them and try to set an appointment for the show
    • Finalize all collateral and materials to take to the show

    What to do the day Before the Trade Show

    • Finalize all collateral and materials to take to the show
    • Set auto-responders if necessary for the time you’re at the show
    • Send meeting reminders for the first day of the show

    What to do at the Trade Show

    • Send any email reminders necessary for appointments, demos, and events
    • Add new contacts in your CRM at the show
    • Get new contacts enrolled in email workflows or sequences if you’ve set them up ahead of the show
    • Stay active in social channels with videos, pictures, and highlights. Use the show hashtag!

    What to do the day after the Trade show

    • Add new contacts in your CRM 
    • Get new contacts enrolled in email workflows or sequences

    What to do 3 Days After the Trade Show

    • Do more serious follow ups now that people have had a chance to catch up
    • Post a “show highlights” post to your blog and share in social media

    What to do 1 Week to 6 Months After the TradeShow

    • Continue follow ups
    • Attribute any new business to the show
    • Measure show ROI at 6 months, 12 months, etc…

    A Trade Show Strategy is a Must

    If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail. How many times have we heard this famous Benjamin Franklin quote? It couldn’t be more true for trade shows. 

    Getting your tactics organized and planned well before the show will put you in a position to achieve a great return on your show investment, while reducing your stress! It’s a win-win!

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