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Purpose of a Trade Show: Selling, Networking or Both?

Updated on February 24, 2016

If you have ever been an exhibitor or planned to exhibit at a trade show, you’ve probably been told that establishing goals before the show is essential to the success of your investment in the show. This piece of advice couldn’t be more true, but a lot of times exhibitors find themselves with goals that are either too narrow or too broad. This tends to happen when we don’t focus on our underlying purpose. In order to determine your purpose at a trade show it helps to determine the point of the business lifecycle that you’re at.

The business lifecycle consists of Start Up, Growth, Expansion, Maturity and Exit. Knowing where your business is at in terms of lifecycle, will help you determine what types of interactions will benefit your business the most.

Lifecycle Points
Trade Show Goals
Establishing Brand
Managing Sales/Growth
New Markets
Continued Expansion
Selling the Business

Start Up:

If your business is in the start up stage, then you are just getting off the ground and trying to establish your brand. Presence and reputation are key to establishing a good brand. If this is where your business lies, you may find that networking is your best course of action at a trade show at this point in time. People don’t know you yet, and this is your chance to establish connections and a memorable experience with your brand.

Knowing that your purpose at this trade show is to establish yourself, your goals should then reflect that purpose. Rather than lending efforts to selling 100,000 units or sign ups, you’re probably better served by putting your attention into increasing your social media following or designing an interactive questionnaire to get people thinking about why your product/service would benefit them in your life. Recognizing where your time and effort will be spent depending on your purpose and goals will add to the success of your show.


Maybe you have already made it through the Start Up aspects of your business, people know and recognize your brand and keeping up with demand is your biggest challenge right now. If this is the case, you probably already have a large Facebook and Twitter following and maybe even have a hard time keeping product on the shelves.

If the Growth stage is where you find yourself in, then your primary focus should be on selling. Trade shows are great arena for businesses that are in their growth stage. In many cases, a trade show can be the most profitable event of the year or season. If you’re focusing on selling, you may want to consider “show only” promotions or new member deep discounts. One thing you’ll want to be careful of though, is not being able to keep up with the demand. Make sure you have a clear understanding of the size of your audience and come prepared to handle it.


Once your business has surpassed the Growth stage, you may find yourself in the Expansion portion of the lifecycle. At this point, you may be considering expanding your product line or markets that you distribute to. In this scenario, focusing a portion of your efforts on networking and the other on selling may be a great option. The Expansion stage allows you to fully take advantage of branding and bringing in more revenue at the same time without falling short of one or both of your goals.

Remember, the networking crowd and the selling crowd, are often two different sets of audiences. Make sure that you are equipped to meet the needs of both. This may include different handouts or sales materials depending on what they are interested in.


Eventually your business will mature and you’ll have some decisions to make, but just because it is mature, doesn’t mean you can’t still make money. Whether you’re going to focus on selling or networking might depend on the industry that you’re in. You may even decide that a trade show isn’t the best use of capital or resources at this point in the game. Because there are so many different types of businesses and industries, it is hard to say what the correct approach is. You will have to closely analyze your business and determine what you’re wanting to accomplish at this point.

Not all businesses are created equal, and some points of the lifecycle affect some business models differently than others. This is a great reference point, but as with any business advice, it is important that you properly assess based on the unique characteristics of your own business. Trade shows can be a great resource for both networking and selling. Recognizing your current needs and strengths will help you plan a more successful event.

If your business was in the Expansion Stage, what would you focus your efforts on?

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