Networking Plan for Trade Shows

Why Your Sales Team Needs a Networking Plan for Trade Shows and Events

There is no bigger and more critical aspect of your trade show experience than networking.

We can all agree that networking is the key to the advancement of any brand. Everyone on the trade show floor should strive to be proficient at networking.  

So, how do you ultimately avoid being on the wrong side of missed opportunities due to a lack of networking or even misjudged networking tactics?  

You have a networking plan.  

These plans will set your brand in motion and could set you up for incredible success at your next event.  


Networking is the social practice of interacting with others, such as patrons or prospect clients, to exchange information, develop professional contacts, and build working relationships that can be beneficial for career advancement. 

However, at its core, networking is about building key relationships that could lead to advancement. It is not about selling but ultimately about building a social foundation that could lead to referrals or a long-term working relationship.  

The truth is that the long-term results of networking can be greater than short-term sales. 

Another added wrinkle to networking on a trade show floor that could be a huge benefit is allowing your entire team to be involved. Just because you specialize in sales or marketing doesn’t mean bringing another added-value employee, such as an engineer, to your trade show experience would be another layer.  

Bringing other employees from a different facet of your world to the trade show floor naturally adds another point of view that could be a key social connection.  

Now that we’ve established a basic understanding of networking and its uses let’s develop a networking plan.  


A networking goal could be as simple as aiming to have ten conversations with prospects who urgently need your product. Other examples include 

  • X amount of interactions with A, B, and C leads  
  • Collect X amount of business cards 
  • X amount of follow-up emails after the show

Having an attainable numbered goal, such as how many contact cards you collected, will naturally motivate your employees on a focused level rather than just “working the room.” 


Many event organizers will host fruitful pre-events or seminars prior to your main event. Look for pre-event networking opportunities.  

These pre-show events are on your typical trade show event website, usually labeled “networking opportunities.”   

This section typically contains the list of events leading up to or even at the show.  

Suppose your company writes blogs or articles in any form. You can also use what you write to inform another prospective client that you’ll be at a certain show. This allows prospective clients to connect with you through your company’s writing, which could be a fantastic opening to a fruitful relationship.  

Another practical pre-show tactic is a good old-fashioned email blast that could inform prospective clients that you’ll be at their next event.  


Create a list of people you want to work with or companies with business attributes with which a future relationship could benefit you. Reach out to them to schedule coffee, lunch, and dinner, or you could meet with them after the show for a drink.  

Most patrons have a set amount of time they’ve scheduled to meet with people, so you want to be one of those people who have a social appointment. This could be the difference between snagging another lead or being late to the party.  

This should go without saying, but remember you’re not the only person your contacts want to see, so make sure you’re getting them scheduled in advance.  


It’s important that before you even step foot into the networking world, you build your knowledge base.  

Basically, your entire team needs to study every aspect of your product or service prior to your event. You and your staff should brainstorm articles, review websites, read books on your product, and research the people you might be networking with. 

Your job is to stand out in the networking game, and having a base knowledge of your prospective clients and products should help you stand out naturally over someone who does no research.  


During the pre-show process, you should develop a list of questions to ask your prospective clients or patrons.  

These pointed but specific questions could be the opened door you need to advance your brand.  

This process of gathering questions is something that your entire team should be involved in and develop.  

Some sample questions include: 

  • “What are you looking for at this year’s show?” 
  • “What started you in this industry?” 
  • “What do you enjoy most about the profession you’re in?”  

Question development before your show removes the burden of having an improvised conversation. It also focuses on pointed questions that could benefit you by allowing you to hear from a different perspective. 


During the show, it’s vitally important you be approachable and friendly.  

Don’t view these events as a chance to close a deal; rather, it’s that first step down the long and profitable road of friendship and mutual benefit with a new word-of-mouth marketing partner.  


You should be strategic with your networking skills. Yes, it’s important to talk to everyone if you can, but you should also seek out industry leaders and position yourself in a room near them.  

Obviously, these are the folks who can advance your brand a lot more than someone at the lower level of management.  

Talk to competitors  

Another helpful tip is to take advantage of the breaks between seminars or conferences at a trade show to connect with other exhibitors, vendors, and partners in your industry.  

Your exhibit isn’t closed off to anyone at a trade show, so use that opportunity to see what other competitors are doing. We aren’t suggesting that you spy on your competition but adjust what you see to what they produce. These rivals could give you important and insightful industry trends that could be at the forefront of your next event.  

Be a listener 

Use the prepared questions you developed prior to the event to get them talking, and then it’s your job to listen and absorb the answer.  

Be a networker  

You should refer someone you know or have just met to someone who could potentially help in another avenue of the industry.  

Keep in mind that referrals go both ways, and that person can remember when they need you.  

Be thankful 

Lastly, to cap off the strategic side of your networking plan, it’s vitally important to be thankful. At the end of your show, showing gratitude can only put you in a positive light.  

Be thankful for the networking possibilities, be thankful to your staff, and be thankful for any opportunities afforded by your show.  


Prioritize the contacts you’ve developed over your event experience.  

As your contact base grows, evaluate which contacts to keep in touch with frequently or just periodically.  

Here at the Trade Group, we call this process “Creating a Sphere.” It entails breaking down your contacts into sections such as A, B, or C.  

The A group consists of contacts we feel we need to contact regularly. Group B could be someone we will only contact quarterly. Group C could be someone we really don’t feel we can contact at all.  

You can create this list however you want to prioritize those contacts, but make sure you reach out to them based on the group you’ve placed them in.  

This all being said, the golden rule for this contact, regardless of status, is don’t try to sell right away; Networking is all about relationships. You should be focusing on giving value without expecting anything in return.  

If appropriate, you should follow up with these certain groups with resources and possibly finish any conversation points you felt were left unfinished in the initial meeting, but keep in mind DON’T TRY TO SELL THEM ON A PRODUCT TOO EARLY.  

It’s about long-lasting relationships that percolate over time, not the immediate gratification of a sale.  

Those will come with the long-formed relationships you will develop.  

Trade show events present golden opportunities for your brand to expand your company’s reach with the common goal of driving business growth.  

However, these opportunities can easily be missed without a strategic networking plan.  

Equip your team with a robust networking plan, and watch them turn every trade show and event into a catalyst for success. 

Remember, networking isn’t about the immediate but the boundless opportunities that could be presented if you have a plan. 

For more insights and award-winning event strategies, contact our team of event specialists to design the perfect exhibit to amplify your brand. Connect with a team member here or give us a call at 972-734-8585. 

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