Trade shows can be grueling, both as an exhibitor and as an attendee. Exhibitors spend thousands of dollars on space, rentals, furniture, employees, flights, hotels, and more. And attendees are often lost in a maze of aisles, giveaways, mixers, and educational seminars. It can be difficult to stand out in the hubbub surrounding entertainment, sponsored meals, and keynote speakers. Seminars often start early in the morning, and the more interactive part of the events can mean late nights and poor sleep. So, are trade shows worth it? Well, the answer may not always be yes. As a matter of fact, the vast majority of trade show attendees and vendors do not think that connections made at trade shows get converted into real sales. But, after spending significant amounts of time and money, a trade show must have some quantitative value. Almost every exhibitor goes to increase brand awareness, but that is difficult to measure. However, there are ways to very specifically focus on increased sales from trade show participation. What Are Your Goals? Prior planning is necessary to extract the greatest benefit from a trade show. Consider your goals as you lay out your plan. Definitely try to measure the results of such a large marketing expenditure based on measurable indicators. This varies for everyone, so what makes sense for you? Maybe it’s the number of purchase orders, meetings with existing clients, or prospective client visitors to the booth. No matter your objectives, a good location will help your results. Trade show management companies have various formulas for determining booth location, so scour the rules and do what you can to be in areas near doors and other popular exhibitors where foot traffic will be greatest. Getting stuck in the dark back aisle will not help reach your goals. For new exhibitors, it can be difficult to manage location because prior vendors are usually given priority. Register early, therefore, and consider a strategic partnership with another vendor to share a booth and receive more space or a better location. Booth Design. Your company’s presence at a show has a few different impacts. First, it visually represents your company, so use recognizable logos on signs. Make your booth easy to find. Then, the booth’s purpose must reflect the design. You are there to get more business and so are attendees. This is the place where you will meet decision-makers, so have a place to talk in-depth if needed. Attendees are there to find new products and services, so make it easy with a welcoming, business-focused environment. Offer a New Product or Service. Time product releases to coincide with trade shows. This is the place to get industry coverage and highlight new service and products. Coordinate efforts with product launches and trade show schedules to make the most of the two. Over 90% of attendees come to see new products at shows, and nearly 75% of decision-makers by a new product at shows. Keep it fresh and new, and you will find measurable value in trade show product launches. Rub Elbows. If new prospects are your company’s objects, you can collect great leads at shows if they come by your booth, but that is not the only way to make connects. After years of walking trade show floors in nearly every major American city, I’m pretty sure that the majority of relationships are developed in the networking sessions and happy hours. These events seem to get people talking and communication flowing. The trades show floor demands direct product conversation, and the social events foster personal relationships. Specifically, schedule your staff to attend the events that best suit their personality and your goals. And don’t forget existing clients. It’s difficult these days to meet our global clients in person, but trade shows are an excellent place to reinvigorate client relationships over a cup of coffee or a local craft brew. Use Staff Effectively. Marketing and sales reps are usually the right mix to work a booth. But expand your ideas a bit. One of the best teams I ever used involved a general manager who was great with existing clients and knew their accounts and needs; a recognizable marketing person who was present at seminars and events; and a salesperson who was a night owl and thrived in the later night conversation. It worked exceedingly well. And let’s face it. Shows are exhausting endeavors. From planning to set-up, show events to seminars, the team gets pretty tired. Choose a solid and knowledgeable team that can divide and conquer based on skills and goals. Demonstrate Your Product or Service. If you have an actual product to touch and feel, show it off. A trade show is a perfect venue. I’ve seen soundproof booths used to demonstrate the effectiveness of hearing protection. The safety product buyers could be in a booth with measurable, loud noises and try products whose specifications met their hearing protection needs. Software companies can offer demonstrations of their products on large screens that allow a prospect to drill a little deeper into capabilities. We buy when we know something satisfies our needs, so remember that seeing (or hearing) is believing when you showcase your latest and greatest. Track Leads and Collect Data. Trade shows offer lead collection, or you can go the old-fashioned route and collect business cards, either electronically on your phone or with physical cards. The key, though, is to mark their value. Write notes in some way that works for your team. A-B-C rankings, or type of product, but add the notes right away so you can refresh your memory when you return to the office. Visit Other Vendors at the Show. Fellow exhibitors can be your best prospects. Develop a marketing plan for the show hours. Other exhibitors also have a vested interest in a successful show and have the money to back their efforts. But don’t add stress to an already long show; instead, set up early and make your rounds while others are not trying to engage customers. Follow-up. Follow-up. Follow-up. You’d think this wouldn’t need saying three times, but a pathetically low level of follow up occurs after trade shows. If you are not going to follow up, then you will not be able to quantify the sales results from the show. If you’ve collected data, asked the right questions, and know which leads are warmer; following up brings the payoff. Trade shows infuse fresh invigoration into our work lives. We hear ideas and plan projects to propel our organizations to success. Unfortunately, we tend to get caught up in our daily grind as soon as we return to the office. Make sure the follow-up is part of the pre-show plan. Schedule it ahead of time so that a singular person is responsible for loading leads in the CRM software. Ensure that follow-up emails focus on your new products, include links to your website and other social media. This can be almost entirely pre-written, too, so that it can go out a couple of days after the show. Email every contact, and send information as appropriate, but mostly, target the A-list of booth visitors so that marketing and salespeople direct their efforts to them first. The warmer prospects deserve personal attention in the form of phone calls and direct contact. Plan your trades shows well to meet your company’s sales goals. Launch new products, engage the right team to attend, and then follow up diligently. The sales will come, and you’ll be able to directly quantify much of the sales results for your trade show expenditure.