So, you’re headed to the tradeshow.

Get excited! It’s a good opportunity to make a great impression on potential clients and customers.

Given that the AKHIA Marketing & Business Integration Outlook 2015-2020 survey found that only 19 percent of respondents indicated tradeshows will be extremely important in the next five years however, you may also have an uphill battle to prove to a skeptical boss that your presence at the show was worth the investment. No pressure, right?

Take heart. For companies with the right strategies, tradeshows still provide strong ROI. With a smart approach designed to engage prospects and demonstrate results, you can make more meaningful connections and even boost sales.

You’ll need to sell your brand, of course, but not come off as too pushy in the process. Remember, it’s about building long-term relationships so ease your way in. No one likes being swarmed by booth staff or looks forward to the cold call that follows because they tossed a business card in a fish bowl.

You must transcend expectations of the typical tradeshow experience, grasshopper… which is easier said than done, but far from impossible.

Here’s where to begin…

Master Pre-Show Planning

The best efforts start long before the show begins. There are several steps you should always take no matter where your travels take you:

  1. Strategize your strategy. This will sound simple, but set aside time to discuss the show with your team. What are attendees expecting from you? What questions do you anticipate? And what conflicts or controversies should you at least prepare for? (I’ve seen it before, where an organization’s “dirty laundry” is suddenly aired out in the aisles… Together, try to imagine your best- and worst-case scenarios, and everything in-between!)
  2. Get the list. Most show organizers will make a list of pre-registered attendees available to you (often as part of your exhibitor package). Even if it means forking over a few more bucks, this is the best tool to hone in on your target audience. Remember however, that other exhibitors will be reaching out to the same registrants—stand out by sending handwritten invitations to the individuals you hope to connect with. Attendees often are bombarded with show-related spam, don’t get lost in the inbox!
  3. Treat VIPs accordingly. Have top prospects in the pipeline you know will attend the show? Organize a special event to get them off site for a night. Your standard cocktail reception is fun for a moment, but won’t leave a lasting impression. Rent a yacht. Chart a culinary adventure. Or score tickets to the biggest show in town. That’s what your corporate expense account is for, after all! Never underestimate the power of playtime.
  4. Collect and store leads. You can do better than collecting a boatload of random business cards (half of which are collected by the promise of a free giveaway). For instance, a quick Google search offers links to dozens of tradeshow lead capturing apps for smartphones and tablets. Also, be sure you’re recording notes from each conversation—who people are, what they need, where they are in the buyer journey, etc.—to inform later lead nurturing.

Ace the Interaction

At the show, differentiate your booth and your brand by:

  1. Putting yourself in their shoes. If your exhibit lacks energy or your body language says, “awkward conversation waiting to happen,” attendees will naturally avoid you. Ensure staff members are approachable, but not overeager. Informative, but not overwhelming. Upbeat, but not over-the-top. Better yet, handpick your most engaging and personable people to represent you in the first place. “Be” the brand you want to be.
  2. Speaking to them on their level. Dig deep in your conversations with customers. Make the discussion about them, their needs and their knowledge. If they want to know about your company, certainly share—but be willing to listen at length (and take detailed notes) so that you can better target your outreach efforts after the show.
  3. Willing yourself through it. Okay so let’s be honest, no one really looks forward to a five-day international conference and exhibition. The travel, the taxis, the late nights, the indigestion—the struggle is real. And it’s evident by 3:00 p.m. on Thursday afternoon when your crew is slouched over the chic recliner you rented to impress your guests. Mix in an expresso or energy drink or agree to longer breaks (30 minutes isn’t enough to go anywhere in a place that size)—whatever it takes to race across the finish line. In fact, the best conversations tend to happen outside the chaos of the early morning hours.

Don’t Flub the Follow-Up

Work really begins once the show ends. Here’s how to ensure you’ve optimized your time:

  1. UPDATE YOUR SYSTEM IMMEDIATELY! Don’t leave stacks of business cards and pages of notes tucked away in that weird side pocket of your shoulder tote that you always forget is there—put them to work in your customer relationship management (CRM) and marketing automation platforms. It takes extra time, but the tracking and potential automation that follows are well worth it for effective engagement and tracking.
  2. Implement lead scoring protocols. Start by using your notes to score leads. Are they early in the sales funnel and seeking basic information? Or do you have a hot lead on the brink of a buying decision? Knowing this, you can treat engagement like a real campaign, contacting leads where and when appropriate and providing occasional content to others.
  3. Issue a conference recap. Most likely, most of your customers missed the show. Create a quick summary that hits the highlights and send it out in place of your monthly eNewsletter, for instance. Include your company’s news, of course, but focus on facts, figures and findings from the show that your industry peers would like to know. Simply being helpful can be a big help to your brand image.

Make the Sale… and Keep Engaging

Effective tradeshow lead generation and subsequent nurturing aren’t rocket science. Unless you’re planning NASA’s next exhibit, stick to the basics of sound planning, strong relationship building and purposeful post-show follow-up. Every conference is a passing opportunity to make a permanent impression.

Need help planning your approach, understanding lead generation technology or creating content that leaves a lasting impression? Send us a note—we’ve just about seen it all, and we’re happy to assist.