Tradeshows can be a great way to connect with clients, prospects and referral partners. It’s good to ‘be seen’ and to see what’s out there. However, if not handled well, a tradeshow can be an expensive waste of time. So, what can you do to improve your odds of success? Have a plan and work the plan.

The first step in tradeshow success is knowing why you are there. What do you hope to achieve? Are you hoping to do some prospecting? Would you like to make some connections with possible referral partners? Maybe you are look to grow you contact base and gain more newsletter readers. Whatever the reason, define it clearly. This will help you develop your plan for how you will handle your booth and the follow up after the show.

One aspect of tradeshow involvement that often goes unrealized is the pre-work. This is where you make sure you let people know that you will be exhibiting. Create an outreach plan to inform your prospects, clients, and associates of your booth. Give them a reason to stop by like a giveaway or information on a new product or service. Your goal is to drive traffic to your booth. You want people seeking you out.

The next part is to plan the format of the booth. What will your message be? This depends on who you are trying to attract. Like any marketing, you want your booth to be attractive to your target. How will you engage with the people who stop by your booth? What do you want them to walk away with? This is best determined early on. That way you can be sure you have everything you need at your booth on the day of the show.

For example, if you want to gather newsletter readers you need to have a way to capture people’s email addresses. You can have a sign-up sheet or a fish bowl for business cards. If you want to identify potential prospects you might want to have a giveaway form where they answer a couple of qualifying questions. This form is used to find a winner of the giveaway and provides you with great information.

If you are demonstrating a new product or service you might want to have a looping video playing at the booth. This is useful for providing information to visitors while you are talking with someone else. And while we’re on the subject of talking to visitors, be sure you have your 30 second pitch down cold. I suggest adding a question you can ask the visitor to quickly determine whether they are truly interested in your product or whether they are there for the giveaway. You don’t want to spend your time talking with the people who stopped by just to get the pen, mousepad, or other trinket. And believe me, there will be those people.

This, of course, speaks to understanding why people visit booths in the first place. As I mentioned, some come only for the trinkets. Others come with a real need for the product or service. They are taking this opportunity to gather as much information as they can. A reason you may not realize is the approachability of the booth staff. If the people staffing the booth are sitting behind the table talking to each other, or checking their email on their smartphone, or talking with another booth attendant, visitors will walk right by. They want to feel welcomed; they want to know you want to talk with them. This doesn’t mean that you have to be aggressive or obnoxious. Friendly wins the day. Look people in the eye with a smile on your face and say hello, or good morning. Stand in front of the table, not behind it.

And don’t sit unless there are no attendees walking around. When a tradeshow is paired with an educational event there will be times that the attendees will be in classes or seminars. At those times, the traffic on the tradeshow floor is very light. That’s a good time to visit other booths, check your email, or sit down. Otherwise, it’s a sales call and you are on!

Lastly, determine how you are going to follow up with the people you meet. This is an area where a lot of people fall down. They get back to the office after a couple of days at a tradeshow and they fail to follow up in a timely fashion. It begs the question – why even have a booth if you aren’t going to follow up?

Ideally you want to follow up with the qualified prospects and potential referral partners within a week of the end of the show. Keep the momentum going; don’t let the trail go cold. You want to connect while the whole event is still top of mind so you don’t find yourself reminding the other person of who you are and where you are from.

One way to plan for follow up is to have a hook, something that visitors can sign up for. When I shared a booth at a show with other coaches we offered 1 hour of free coaching to those people who put their business card in a bowl. There were three bowls designating 3 different types of coaching. After the show we divvied up the cards and reached out to those visitors. That’s just one example of what you can do. Remember the form I mentioned earlier? That form gives you information on who is interested in hearing from you after the show. Make sure you follow up with those people.

Planning for your tradeshow experience is the best way to ensure your success. Securing a booth at a tradeshow can cost time and money. You want to get the most out of it. So, identify why you are exhibiting, what you hope to achieve, how you will engage and follow up. You’ll find it more worthwhile.

Author's Bio: 

Diane Helbig is an internationally recognized business and leadership development coach, author, speaker, and radio show host. As a certified, professional coach, president of Seize This Day Coaching, Diane helps businesses and organizations operate more constructively and profitably. Diane is the author of Lemonade Stand Selling, and the host of Accelerate Your Business Growth Radio show.