If you’re in charge of trade show exhibits at your company, you may be wondering: how should I manage all of those exhibitor logistics and deadlines?
Sure, spreadsheets, calendar invites and email may have worked for colleagues in the past, but if you’re anything like me, you’d rather not have to update all three every time an exhibitor deadline changes, which is often! With tech like mobile apps and Slack chats to automate so many tasks these days, isn’t there a better way?
You bet there is! In this post, I’ll share my extensive research and break down all the options for trade show exhibitor software that can help you automate tons of those mindless, redundant data-entry tasks that so often come with managing trade show exhibits.
But first... are you a show organizer or individual exhibitor?
It seems like a simple question, but if you go search Google for “trade show exhibitor software” you’ll find a case of widespread confusion. Many tools exist for event organizers, but ask any organizer or exhibitor and they’ll be the first to point out that their respective workflows are so very different.
Trade show software for organizers
To break it down, trade show organizers have workflows like building an event website so attendees can register and then publishing an exhibitor resource center (also known as an ERC) where exhibitors can select and sign up for a place on the floor plan. Organizers also need to create, update and share an up-to-date exhibitor guide with all of the show’s logistics in a timeline.
There are tons of great organizer software tools out there that can help you do these essential tasks, like pushing an interactive ERC and exhibitor guide online. One of my favorites (at least to use as an exhibitor) is Map Your Show, but a quick Google search will serve up many others.
Trade show software for exhibitors
As an event marketer and exhibit team lead here at EventGeek, I can tell you from first-hand experience that exhibitors have a very different set of workflows than organizers and hence opportunities for automation. While an organizer creates an ERC and publishes an exhibitor guide, it’s up to us as individual exhibitors to put plans into action.
Exhibitors select their spot on the floor plan using the ERC and put the logistics timeline from the exhibitor guide (usually a PDF) into calendars and emails to get the job done. Exhibitors orchestrate their teams and resources to meet the crucial show deadlines and (hopefully!) deliver a seamless experience for booth staff and event attendee visitors.
What’s in your portfolio?
Exhibitor workflows also vary by the size of their company’s event portfolio. Managing a single exhibit booth is very different than managing 10 exhibits... which, of course, is very different than managing 100 or even 500 exhibits.
Especially during the busy events season, when trade show and staff schedules overlap, scheduling and team communication challenges can add multiple layers of complexity with every new trade show added to the company’s event calendar.
When your event portfolio has 20 trade show exhibits or less in a year, you can quickly get overwhelmed by all of the show services that need to be researched, budgeted, ordered by a deadline and tracked to ensure they’re set up correctly. I’m talking about all the fun stuff, like ordering electrical, wifi, carpet and cleaning.
That’s already a few dozen emails, calendar reminders and rows to maintain on separate timeline and budget spreadsheets, not to mention all the files, like invoices and setup specs.
As a solo event manager, it takes a special talent to keep all this in your head. If you’re working with a team of event managers, forget it. You’re constantly emailing each other to get the latest updates, especially if your colleagues are working remotely or on-site at the show.
Good news! You can use trade show exhibitor software to make it much easier to manage all this and send you and your team reminders for the key deadlines. Delegating tasks can be easy with a software tool that allows you to assign tasks with due dates while automatically sending reminder notifications to your team members. You can even set up events in just a few clicks with smart templates.
Exhibitor software also lets you run post-event and quarterly reports, instead of having to go find and compile everything when your manager asks, “Hey, how much did we spend on that event?”
At 20-50 exhibits in a year, you would need a very special talent to manage all the show service checklists in your head or on a notepad, then folders full of attachments and spreadsheets tracking everything from shipments, travel, inventory to schedules… All that and really you’re only making your trade show planning process more chaotic at the very instant that you or a team member needs quick access to key info.
Also, what if you shouldn’t share everything with your team? Does that junior sales rep really need to know your full show budget? An ad hoc jumble of general tools makes it very challenging to filter and publish the essential info on a need-to-know basis. And let’s face it, in today’s super-soaked info world, your team members would rather not have to wade through long PDFs just to see what time they’re getting lunch.
A trade show exhibitor software can allow you to create a personalized schedule for each member of your team, with the opportunity to attach travel and meetings specifically for them.
With that sophisticated level of access control, you can give event staff access to their hotel and booth schedule but not accidentally share your budget for the whole show. Meanwhile you can give executives access to budget and ROI reports, without distracting them with on-the-ground logistics info since they’re not even attending these shows.
Whoa! If you’re exhibiting at 50 or more trade shows in a year, first give yourself a pat on the back. You are managing massive amounts of data and logistics! You owe it to yourself to find a tool that will make your job less stressful.
With an events portfolio of your size, you’ll have piles of business card leads, and the task of manually typing each of them into your CRM borders on impossible. Meanwhile you’ll need to chase down your sales reps to add meeting notes to each lead… or do it for them.
Your trade show exhibitor software should help you automate that process so that you can easily track leads and meetings and use the data to measure your event ROI. Imagine a software tool that would make it easy to schedule meetings and capture leads from any source including business cards, badges and meetings, while automatically syncing with your CRM.
For seamless collaboration, look for a tool that allows you to create event request forms and briefings that are customizable according to each team member’s role, while automatically syncing events with Outlook and Google calendars.
With 50+ exhibits to plan, you’re not just handling logistics - you’re handling a whole lot of people!
Which trade show exhibitor software is right for you?
Your first step in choosing the best software tool for you is defining your role.
If you’re a show organizer, you’ll want to check out software tools that allow you to publish exhibitor resource centers and exhibitor guides.
If you are an exhibitor, you’ll discover your ideal tool according to the size of your trade show portfolio.
- If you have a yearly portfolio of 1-20 exhibits, focus on finding a software tool that allows for task delegation, automatic reminder notifications, and streamlined reporting whether for specific events or an entire quarters.
- For 20-50 exhibits, you’ll want trade show software that integrates shipments, travel, inventory and schedules with your checklists, while offering access control and the ability to share personalized information.
- When you’re exhibiting at over 50 trade shows in a year, you should be looking for a robust software tool that automates input and tracking of leads, meetings and budgets while syncing with your CRM and simplifying your team’s collaboration.
Portfolio size is a big determining factor of the functionality you need from your trade show exhibitor software, but even among similar portfolio sizes, every trade show exhibitor has different needs depending on company goals and the unique way each team functions.
To further narrow down which trade show exhibitor software is right for you, download our free Trade Show Exhibitor Software Checklist. With it you can sort through a list of trade show exhibitor software features and refine your personal list of requirements.
Update: Santa Fe, N.M. – Aug 3, 2020 – Event management platform EventGeek relaunched today under the new name Circa, with an updated mission as the first and only event management platform built to help marketing teams adapt strategy and skills to succeed in the new world of virtual and hybrid events. While EventGeek was originally designed to help marketers coordinate logistics for dozens or even hundreds of in-person events, Circa adds virtual event measurement capabilities, ensuring that enterprise marketing and sales teams can adapt existing event programs effectively and unify engagement data across all their events, whether they are hosting or sponsoring an event, and whether events are in-person, virtual or hybrid.