An aisle seat

Top tips towards trade show success

How many teams does your company send to a trade show? Unless you work for a large company, the answer is probably one. So, the same small group of staff members has to pull double-duty at the trade show, acting as both booth staff and gathering relevant information.

Are you prepared to be an attendee? Getting the most out of a trade show requires careful preparation. With two important tasks to balance, planning becomes even more important. Thirty-nine percent of all trade show attendees spend less than eight hours visiting a showand exhibitors who have a booth to manage have a mere fraction of that time span available.

To get the most from attending a trade show, you have to have a clear strategy in mind. Knowing what you need to accomplish before, during and after the show is the first step toward success.

Before the show

Make a list of the goals you want to achieve: personal goals and those of your company. Every subsequent decision that you make should put you closer to achieving your goals. Read through the trade show promotional materials carefully. Make a plan for attending the show. Include a list of "must see" booths and "want to see" booths. Spend a little time researching the vendors, so that you'll have a clear idea of who you need to see, and what you need to learn from them. That way you'll have useful questions to ask, and will waste little time with small talk.

Decide how much time you want to spend at the show, and then allot an appropriate amount to each booth, making sure to schedule the "must see" booths first. Consider making appointments with those exhibitors you really want to meet with. If co-workers are attending the show with you, divide the show up into sections. Each team member can sit in on different seminars to maximize the amount of information gathered by the entire team.

Once you've decided who you need to see, get a map of the show floor and prioritize your route. Additionally, develop a lead form to record vendor names, products, contact information and any follow-up notes you'll want to remember after the show.

During the show

After getting your registration materials, consult the latest version of the trade show directory and revise your plans as necessary. Exhibitors may have dropped out or arrived unexpectedly, or seminar times may have changed. Collect the information that is of interest to you or that could be valuable to others in your company. Take regular breaks to make notes. The notes will help you write your trip report.

Trade shows are the ideal opportunity to gather information about what your competitors are doing. It's often the first glimpse you'll get of new product releases, special programs or fresh marketing initiatives. A simple: "So, what do you guys have in the pipeline?" may reward you far more than any carefully-worded queries about technical specs. Let exhibitors know that you are on a tight schedule. They want to make the best use of their time as well, and will gladly cut to the chase with you. Sometimes booth staff may not have the answers you require. In that case, ask who you should contact at their firm for follow-up.

Don't be shy about by-passing booths that do not interest you. The exhibitors won't mind. They want to devote their time to potential customers. At the same time, keep your eyes open for networking opportunities. Industry leaders haunt trade shows, and they're great people to know. Be social at receptionsthis is the time to hand out those business cards.

After the show

At the end of the day, take some time to organize the information you've gathered. If it's for co-workers, sort it into envelopes and address them to the relevant person. If the information is for you, sort it by priority, affixing sticky notes to jog your memory after you've returned from the show.

Take a moment after the show to make note of any exhibits or displays that you thought were particularly effective. What did they do that you could implement in your own company's marketing campaign? Be sure to follow up with new contacts and vendors after the show. Having a clear plan of action will make sure that the time you spent at the show was a worthwhile investment.

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