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by Charles Beshears | November 12, 2015

Charles BeshearsTrade shows are great opportunities to track prospective business and for companies to vet their competition. While it costs thousands for exhibitors to bring an entire team to the floor, there's a reason these costs aren't keeping marketers at bay: Trade-show marketing as a tactic has shown resilience.
 
Earlier this year, Forbes contributor Mina Chang wrote that face-to-face meetings are important because you do business with people, not entities. She stated, "The beauty of communication is found in the nuance that's only felt in face-to-face conversations. And when a whopping 93 percent of communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal cues, talking face-to-face becomes more important than ever."

Companies are catching on and allocating about 17 percent or more of their budgets to trade shows, according to research from Goldstein Group Communications. With this much money on the line, organizers can help exhibitors achieve a positive ROI by offering solid advice. We have found these tips can help marketers limit costs and get the most benefit from their trade show attendance.

1. Schedule appointments. Set meetings with customers and slot prospect appointments at the same time as customer appointments, so prospective business will hear what your current customers already have to say about your business -- positive propaganda, of course. Additionally, schedule appointments with editors and writers who are going to the show; these relationships can help with ongoing PR coverage.

2. Host a low-cost event. Holding something like a breakfast or coffee break is a great way to gather people, and you provide something of value (food or caffeine). Use targeted direct marketing to engage with prospective business. Consider co-sponsoring your event with a publication or another company with a complementing product or service to attract a wider audience and enhance visibility.

3. Include attractive trade-show signage. Resist the temptation to explain everything your company does all over your booth. Consider your booth more as a billboard on the side of the freeway. People walk by and take only a few seconds to read it, so it needs to be impactful, not a data sheet. Your booth is an environment for selling, so be sure to create a booth with a floor plan that flows with marketers ready to communicate key messages and product features.

4. Broadcast your messaging. Tailor your pitch or message to the needs and wants of the prospect. Once you've started the a conversation with them, qualify the visitor and broadcast with your benefits. If you find a good prospect, be sure to gather the following information:
• Is the visitor a client? A repeat customer? Have they heard of your company, and if so, how?
• What do they know about your company?
• Are they just browsing or genuinely interested?
• What are their specific needs?

5. Develop a solid system for tracking leads. OK, so you have an attractive trade-show booth complete with pop-up displays and literature racks and you've spoken to a few people. Now what? Before you start your marketing, you need to have a system in place for tracking leads. Proactively ask for business cards and take a moment to write down a note about your conversation on their card (this will make it much easier come time to follow-up). Prioritize your cards based on your leads by hot, warm or cold. This makes it easier for the salesperson to reach out to those with the highest potential as soon as possible.

Yield as much from your trade-show success as possible by ensuring you implement these five best exhibiting practices at your next exhibit. What are some trade-show practices you stand by and have tested and proven to work? Please share!

Charles Beshears is president and CEO of National Trade Show Displays in Dallas.