From Opera Singers to Definite Buyers: How do you identify and engage high value contacts at Exhibitions?

When we share the industry statistic that around 16-20% of the visitor population at any show will be in a position to buy from an exhibitor₁, we’re usually met with gasps or horror and shaking heads. Clients tell us they need 80-90% of visitors to be in their target market to make it worth investing in a show and are always disappointed when we suggest that’s unrealistic. Even if you’re in that fortunate position where 80-90% of visitors are you target audience, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ready to buy from you!  So why are we so obsessed with numbers?

Think about the number for a moment:

  • A show attracts 50,000 registered visitors (remember this isn’t how many will walk through the door but how many register via the website)
  • If you presume a 60% conversion rate (this varies widely between shows) that’s 30,000 visitors
  • 16-20% of that audience would be 4,800-6,000 people for your team to identify, engage and follow up with
  • If a squad member works a 5 hour trade show shift (presuming they get breaks) and they give 5 minutes on average per visitor (some will be longer, some will be shorter) they will be able to speak to around 60 visitors per day
  • Of those 60, around 10-12 per day will be in a position to buy from you
  • If the show lasts for 3 days, that 36 prospects in total per staff member
  • You would need between 133 – 166 people in your exhibition squad to meet all 4,800-6,000 visitors who are ready to buy from you
  • With the industry average of 2 people per 8 sq metres your stand size would be between 532 and 664 sq metres
  • And imagine if you had 6,000 sales leads to follow up – how would you start to do that? Have you got the capacity to keep up with production if they all convert? How many sales / marketing / operations and logistics staff would you need to service that?

For most exhibitors those numbers are wildly unrealistic (but if they seem achievable for you, then let’s talk!). So rather than focus on the quantity, let’s think about the quality and understand how you quickly recognise the 80% who are of no value to you and attract and engage the 20% who are. And before we’re asked ‘…but why are there 80% of visitors attending who aren’t useful to me?’’, exhibitions attract a huge range of diverse businesses so they will be useful to someone, even if that’s not you.

Spotting Your High Value Visitors

There are two main benefits that visitors can bring to your business – value and/or advocacy.  Some visitors may spend money with you, or in the case of suppliers, save money for you. Some visitors may shout great things about you, such as the media or industry experts.  Your ideal trade show visitor is one who delivers the most of both.

Low Value & Low Advocacy



Talk about ‘me,me,me,me’ telling you how brilliant their business is and never pausing for breath. Not remotely interested in what you do or how you could help.


Tyre Kickers


Mainly there to collect free swag, suck air through their teeth and tell you how expensive your product is. Unlikely to be interested in what you have to offer at the price you need them to pay.



Just coming over for a sneaky look but because they’re a bit nervous, let them chat away and they might just say something they shouldn’t have done… or you might want to recruit them!



New in post, or to the industry and is wide-eyed and in awe of everything around them. They want to work with every exhibitor and revolutionise their employer but haven’t really worked out what it’s all about yet!


High Value & Low Advocacy



Every industry has that one person who’s done it before, done it better and now wants to tell the whole world!  But you know what, they might just be right – maybe they do have some feedback that could be useful or improve your product or service. Or put you in touch with industry stakeholders. Unlikely to buy from you, could add some value but often prefer to talk about themselves than others.



Second time around newbies can add more value as they want to make changes in their new role and be seen to be innovative and progressive.  They are likely to talk about you to stakeholders and their organisation but they may not yet be influential enough to have a strong voice.


Low Value & High Advocacy



Event organisers work really hard to clamp down on visitors selling to exhibitors at trade shows… but as long as it’s free entry it’s always going to happen.  Suppliers may be able to add value to your business by offering a better supply solution, lower pricing or something that your business is missing so its worth taking their details.  If they’re keen to get your business they’re also much more likely to talk positively about you and if they’re working in your industry, may know some of your prospective customers.


High Value Advocacy – Your 16-20%



A fantastic resource to share your story and grow your audience reach. Trade and consumers media are regularly at trade shows looking for great content… just remember if you don’t want to see it in print, don’t say it!




May already know about and be interested in your product or service but could need some more evidence or information before making a final decision. Equally, they might not be the main / only decision maker and need more details to take back to the rest of the team.



Will have had previous contact with you and will be very close to making a buying decision at, or very soon after, the show. They may be looking to iron out the final few logistical or service details, be trying to shave a little more off the price, or wanting to meet your senior team.



Often left at home by many exhibitors, existing customers are more likely to buy from you than prospects and will probably already be talking about what a great job you do. Booking appointments at the start and end of the day with existing customers helps manage the traffic flow to your stand.


As we mentioned in our previous blog on Selecting Your Squad these are very general and exaggerated characters to make a point. None of the groups are ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it’s just some can deliver more value to you than others.  Your Opera Singer might be someone else’s Definite Buyer – as with all thing’s exhibitions, it’s very subjective.

Hopefully you can recognise some of the characters you’ve come across at trade shows and understand how the different groups might help you to drive a stronger ROI from your event. If you know who they are, but not how to approach them why not get in touch with us at ProExTra to learn how to engage and dispatch visitors or attend the next International Exhibitions event the DIT are running in 2020.

Written by Nichola Reeder at 12th Man Solutions/ProExtra

Do you want to learn more from exhibition experts at an event?
We’re hosting an interactive workshop in collaboration with ProExtra and Re-Formation Associates examining how to prepare for an exhibition:

  • Excel at Exhibitions, Sawbridgeworth, 13th February 2020 – REGISTER 

Exemplas Trade Services Ltd (ETSL) has delivered the contract for the Department for International Trade (formerly UK Trade and Investment) in the East of England for almost a decade.

For more information on how we can support your business in exporting overseas, get in touch.

1 – Exhibit Surveys – Industry Study