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In the age of smart phones and social media, tradeshows are still one of the most effective marketing channels your company’s services and products can utilize to drive brand awareness and gain new customers.

After paying for booth space, your company’s new tradeshow displays and collateral materials, not to mention travel, hotel rooms, food and marketing as well as shipping costs and/or booth set up fees at a tradeshow, can become an expensive investment.

With all that money tied up into a single tradeshow, there is always pressure to maximize the spend of those marketing dollars on your presence at a tradeshow.

As you plan for your next tradeshow, there are seven ways to maximize your return on investment (ROI) at these face-to-face events:

1. Have a plan! The worst thing that can happen to tradeshow marketing is a lack of planning. From budgeting costs of marketing materials, prizes for attendees at your booth, to choosing the right team members to work the tradeshow, down to the exact language about your best offer or newest product features, it takes serious work to plan a show. To set your company up for success, you need to have a plan for your tradeshow. The old adage is true with tradeshows:

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2. Get the best location! Just like real estate, a booth at a tradeshow is all about location, location, location. Usually the best locations are also the largest and often have an expensive price tag. There’s a reason why. They get the most foot traffic. They are the prime real estate spots that nearly every attendee will walk by. If you can afford it, get the best spot possible to maximize foot traffic to your booth. Upgrading from the middle of the trade floor to one of the prime locations can bring significant returns on that investment in terms of leads, sales and visibility.

3. Set goals. Got goals? You better have. Don’t get to the show, set up your booth and wait around for things to happen. You’d be surprised how many businesses expect success working this way. There needs to be specific goals set that your team is confident they’ll exceed. How many sales completed? How many visitors filled out the lead form? Decide on a number you want to reach and then proactively work towards that goal.

4. Make a visual impact. Let your presence shine! There are so many types of displays to choose from! The design for your tradeshow booth must be able to quickly communicate what your company is about and what you’re selling. People walking by need to be able to scan your booth and know what you’re about within six seconds. Identify a pain point in business or a customer need to get people’s attention and don’t be afraid to really work it. Design your displays around a clear message and a single call to action. It will help your company to stand out from the competition.

5. Maximize face time. You have a small window of time to interact with as many customers and prospects as possible. Train your staff to know how to ask questions to qualify if the person could turn into a customer. You’ll know after two or three questions that someone is not a serious prospect. Your staff should know how to transition them to sales collateral and move on before too much time is wasted or have a staff member who handles those individuals.

If more time is needed, see if you can schedule an after-hours meeting or have a space in your booth away from the main floor that you’ve designed for this purpose.

Keep all conversations to less than 10 minutes, whatever kind of customer or prospect it is.
Rather than making useless small talk, ask focused questions that move the interaction forward. Have great sales collateral to give them and be diligent about collecting contact info for everyone you talk with.

6. Host special events. If you’ve done your pre-show planning, you’ll know of customers or prospects who are planning to attend the tradeshow. Be in touch with them beforehand to invite them to stop by your booth. Social media is a great way to keep your customers or prospects in the loop and your company in their mind heading to the tradeshow. Having contests at your tradeshow for those people will show activity that will naturally attract others to see what’s happening. Invest the time to make sure you have a meaningful connection during the tradeshow with those special customers and prospects.

7. The “Fortune” is in the follow up. A tradeshow visit is usually just the first step of a sales process. Your team should come away from a tradeshow with a fresh list of people and companies to put in your sales funnel. What follow up strategies for tradeshow leads do you have? Every single one of those people MUST be followed up with as soon as possible after the show.

When you follow up, make sure that the interaction creates value and continues to build a connection. Follow up with a video course on your products or a white paper, or answer a question that they mentioned in plaguing their business. Avoid “just following up to say hi” and “setting up a time to chat to pick their brain.” That is a waste of everyone’s time.

Last but not least, be sure to track your results.

You can’t tell if your company is maximizing your ROI from a tradeshow if you don’t know the results of the tradeshow investment. Document how many leads were generated at the show, how many of the leads resulted in sales and/or referrals, and then, how long it took to make those conversions. Armed with this kind of data, not only will you be able to calculate your ROI, you’ll have a great set of benchmarks to help with setting goals for the next tradeshow you plan to exhibit at.

Timothy Carter is the Digital Marketing Manager for Nimlok Displays, a division of Orbus Exhibit & Display Group. He is also a columnist at Marketing Land, Small Business Trends and AuthorityLabs.

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