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How to participate in SaaS tradeshows: Don’t make these mistakes

August 24, 2016 – Pavel Aramyan
saas tradeshows

How to participate in SaaS tradeshows: Don’t make these mistakes

Not to sound too much like your mother, but mistakes in life should be avoided, and one should receive punishment for making mistakes (though hopefully not with a belt). In the business world, you are punished when you make a mistake in the form of a loss of revenue, higher costs, harmful employee turnover rates, all of which have the same result: a bottom line decrease in company profitability.


Mistakes hinder growth and performance. That being said, mistakes can be part of the learning process, and may be converted into a resource for learning how to run a company. If you fail at a particular activity, but take note of what went wrong, you can identify and correct what went wrong in your operation, and then implement a strategy to avoid similar future missteps. But, one should not be seeking to fail, of course. An even better learning method is to circumvent mistakes altogether, by learning strategies (often from the failures a predecessor has experienced) that advise solutions to avoid a screw up in your company’s success. Hence, this article, here to help you have a better performing SaaS company than your competition, when it comes to participating in a trade show. Making mistakes is part of life. Nobody’s perfect, and not everybody should be. Life would be an endless sea of bland normalcy if everybody, and everything, was operating at an optimal level of productivity. That being said, you should hope that you leave mismanagement and flawed planning  to competitors, and maintain that your company stays at the head of the pack, developing a rapid pipeline of leads and customers. Trade shows have become a popular method for the young and developing SaaS industry to attract new customers. Like any business endeavor, proper execution and planning is required to achieve positive results. So, let us guide you on how to reap the greatest benefits from exhibiting your SaaS company at a trade show. First, we shall start at the beginning…

The trade show

The first incarnations of a trade show began several hundred years ago, dating back to medieval European exhibitions of goods and Middle Eastern bazaars, during the late period of the advent of merchant capitalism. Why? They became a business survival strategy, as a concentrated exhibition of wares and services in a single location made it easier for customers to survey what was available. They would purchase from vendors what was appropriate for their needs, or simply the most appealing, exotic item or service. The trade show of our modern times always has a specific theme, a focus on a singular industry with professionals displaying their particular abilities in an effort to court new customers and build their network.SaaS tradeshow.jpgAs seen above, cloud-based software services (read: SaaS companies) continues to grow in popularity among customers, and is paced to replace non-cloud software within the next several years. Thusly, SaaS trade shows have become frequent events, curated to attract potential customers for any of the myriad companies that provide SaaS today. By 2018, almost 28% of all global enterprise applications will be SaaS-based, so your company will only have increased competition at future trade shows. 81% of attendees at a trade show have purchasing authority for their company. This means that when you exhibit your SaaS company’s features, more than 4 out of 5 people walking past your booth are potentially instant customers of yours. The value of signing up for and exhibiting your company at a SaaS industry trade show cannot be underlined enough. Join us today as we go over the eight most common mistakes one should avoid to have the best display of their company’s services. You will learn how to woo potential customers, that will choose your company over the dozens, or sometimes hundreds, of other attending SaaS providers.

1. Not marketing before the show

Do not assume that simply showing up at a trade show is going to lead to new customers, success and profits. A common mistake is to plan for the trade show and make arrangements for travel, lodging, etc., while neglecting a marketing effort focused on your target market. Potential customers should not be surprised to see you there. Instead, they should be expecting to visit your exhibition booth. So, how to notify your target market? This may sound like “Marketing For Dummies” (not that you are a dummy, we hope), but putting in place a marketing plan before the show will increase your brand awareness. A highly effective example of decent pre-trade show marketing is profoundly simple: email your existing customers. It can be as simple as writing an email to your customers such as “X Corp. will be at the X trade show on X date. Tell your friends and colleagues so they can learn more about how we can help their businesses!” and include a link to your website or the event page. Of course, tailor your message to your customers. Also, particularly if you are showcasing a new service or feature of your software, include that in the message as well. No matter the method you use for contacting your existing customers (and it should include every outlet of communication your company uses, i.e. social media, direct mail, etc.), ensure that well in advance of the trade show day, that your existing and potential customers are well aware, and reminded on a regular, scheduled basis. Keep in mind that trade shows have fees for exhibitors, so by informing your customers, who will in turn use word-of-mouth to inform their industry-relevant contacts, you will reap a greater ROI for the costs involved with participating in the event.

2. Neglecting logistics budgeting

Trade shows cost your company money. However, they cost your company more than just basic registration fees. Forgetting to account for the logistical expenses can happen if you are overwhelmed with all of the other factors that go into planning and preparing for your design, message, pre-show marketing, and so on. Travel expenses, assembly of materials, and the purchasing of materials all add up to the total cost of participating in the trade show. Further, if your company is going to be representing itself for long hours, or plans to book a large booth, you may need to hire additional members of your staff to assist in the networking and dialoguing with attendees. Factor in these costs beforehand to ascertain whether your company has the financial resources to budget for the show. While trade shows typically provide a positive ROI, you do not want your company to be put in the red by neglecting logistical budgeting.

3. Tipping the ship with technology

iPad.jpgAt first it may seem like a marvelous plan to showcase your company with shiny gadgets and high-resolution touch-screens. If used appropriately, technology can demonstrate the modernity of your company. In the SaaS industry, cutting-edge = attractive. It is important to engage attendees to start a dialogue, and involving the latest technology in your booth can do such. However, technology costs money. In line with the previous mistake, spending too much money on technology is wasteful. If you have the budget for it, fantastic, but you need to assess whether you do or not in the first place. You can avoid the mistake of overspending on technological displays by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do we need this, or just want this?
  • Will this add value to our message, or will attendees ignore this?
  • Are attendees going to become distracted by this, or engaged?

If, for example, you want to purchase three tablets for displaying your company’s features and services in your booth, evaluate whether they will truly enhance your booth, and if your company can afford them.

4. Designing your booth without advance planning

The trade show sounds like a great way to elevate your business, right? You’re going to have your own booth, displaying how prestigious and successful your company has been for boosting your customers’ profitability. However, just showing up with some banners with your company logo and some brochures is not going to make you stand out – it will make you appear amateurish, and you will embarrass yourself and your company. The lack of a design plan well in advance of the trade show will result in a terrible experience for you, and the venue. Before you begin to design how you will display graphics and information for your booth, meet with your marketing team and define what your company’s vision is for visually attracting attendees to spend more than a few seconds to hear what you have to say. Work with several different visual arrangements (see below for an example), and collaborate with your marketing staff to determine which design will have attendees gravitating to your booth en masse.Variants to discuss with marketing team.jpgThe further in advance you begin developing your vision for your booth, the less you will need to redesign your display arrangement, saving you time and money. Take your team and attend a trade show, look at the designs of booths for inspiration. What story is each design saying about the company? Also, share the design as you are developing it with upper-level staff and managers, who can provide insights and contributions to the vision of your company, and advise how to incorporate those into the design. By assessing your company’s vision for displaying itself at a trade show, you will not only have a more coherent message in your display, but cut down on labor costs.

5. Wasting time & resources on unqualified leads

Check_Out_My_Free_Gifts.jpgUnless you are a maniac, you will not be at a trade show for 36 hours straight; your time is limited. You already know that time is money, so the limited hours and resources you have for a trade show are precious. It is easy to get caught up in the trap of getting anyone passing by your booth to pick up a free prize, or spend time listening to your entire spiel from beginning to end, when they happen to not even be in the market for what your SaaS solves. Be savvy. Many people are indeed going to be great leads, but not every single attendee, which is practically an impossibility. If you are giving out gifts like keychain flashlights or beverages, those cost your company money. Further, if you are asking every single person to drop their business card in a bowl or sign their email address, what if it turns out they are not interested in your service? Did you coherently explain what your company does? Wasting time on unqualified leads drains your company’s resources. Once you’ve engaged an attendee, you should try and quickly come to the conclusion of whether your company can benefit from spending time on them or not. If so, give them that glass of bubbly and begin your spiel, but if not, politely inform them that your services do not match their needs. As with most aspects of business, leads generated from a trade show are about quality not quantity. By qualifying whether the attendee is a valued lead or not, you will save money on your giveaways, and save time on following up with a lead that is likely to be a potential customer. Why give away portable cell phone chargers with your company logo to somebody who would never use your service? Save it for yourself.

6. Ineffective attendee engagement

Ask yourself, why did you even register and set up a booth at a trade show? If you didn’t answer “to engage with the attendees” then you shouldn’t be there in the first place. However, and this especially applies if the upcoming trade show is your first rodeo, a few practices of successful attendee engagement can be easily neglected. Make sure that you and your colleagues do not make the following mistakes, which impede attendee engagement at a trade show:

  • Eating while at the booth
  • Talking on their cell phone or texting
  • Standing inside the booth, instead of in front or to the side
  • Not making eye contact or smiling when an attendee walks by (smiling is vital)
  • Clustering in groups and conversing amongst themselves

At a trade show, you and your staff are your brand ambassadors. Customers buy from their experiences with people, not companies, so evaluate whether you and your staff’s behaviors are reflective of your brand in a positive manner.

7. Social media ignorance

Most, and especially larger trade shows, have a presence on social media before and during the event. There are usually hashtags associated with the trade show, so use them on your company social media accounts leading up to the show. Also, monitor the event page, and participate in the conversations. Things may be a bit more hectic than usual for you, as you prepare and plan for the trade show, but if you forget to have a social media relationship with the event, you are missing a tremendous opportunity to build brand awareness and generate qualified leads.

8. Slipshod booth assembly and arrangement

Whether you are setting up or tearing down, mistakes can easily be made regarding your booth display and your materials if you don’t pay attention to detail. Let’s be honest, SaaS is a pretty nerdy field, and nerds are smart; we pay attention to details in our work, and are inquisitive. If you or your staff are doing a rush job in your assembly, attendees will notice if a display is crooked, or if your giveaways and sign-up sheets are disorganized. Remember that you are a brand ambassador at the trade show, so a shoddy booth display will leave a negative impression on attendees, and hinder interest in your message. We get it, trade shows can be exhausting. Often you are on your feet for hours at a time, and haven’t had enough time to eat. Despite this, it is critical for you to assemble and disassemble your booth in a deliberate, thorough, careful manner. If you have participated in a trade show, the odds are you will do it again, so you should avoid damaging any display materials, and pack everything up in an organized fashion. This will save you time on your next show’s booth set up, and save company costs on repairing or replacing display materials.

Heed our advice

If you are participating in your first trade show, it can be nerve-wracking and you will certainly make a few mistakes at the very least. Even if you are a trade show veteran, things can slip your mind, or something unforeseen may interfere with your display. Don’t worry; nobody is perfect. That being said, after reading this article, you are now armed with the knowledge of the most common mistakes to avoid, and more importantly, how to avoid them. From your friends at Incredo, good luck at your next event, and rock on!


SaaS Sales
Pavel Aramyan
Post by Pavel Aramyan
August 24, 2016
Content manager at Incredo. I am a doctor who happens to have an MBA degree and generates content for an inbound agency. I am a do-it-all kind of person: When I am not writing, I am busy curing people, when I am not curing people, I tend to kill WCG competitions. Life is fun, and full of wonders: Do what you enjoy most, even if its everything at once