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Trade Show ROI: 12 Tips to Maximize It

Trade show season is upon us! Shows are proven, effective ways to discover new products and solutions, expand your network, and stay on top of upcoming trends. They bring together the major players of an industry and allow for cross-communication, increased learning and of course, business-building activity. But let’s face it – attending a show is also an investment, and you need to maximize your trade show ROI.

Even local shows involve some type of travel, and even more importantly, they require time away from the office and away from your clients. That’s why once you commit to attending a show, it’s crucial to make sure that you get the most return on your investment. There are ways to maximize your trade show ROI, starting before the show and taking you all the way through post-show follow-up.

Before the show:

  1. Know your goals. Are you looking for a solution for a particular client? Do you need to meet a new vendor with specific qualifications or experience? Do you want to learn new skills or keep up with industry trends? Perhaps you just need an opportunity for valuable face time and relationship-building with existing contacts. All of this and more can be achieved at a show, but you should go in knowing which ones are most important to you.
  2. Do some research. Don’t just show up. You’re investing time in this event, so prepare yourself the way you would for any other business engagement. Trade show hosts will post their floor plans and exhibitor lists ahead of time, so spend a few minutes familiarizing yourself with both. Be sure to note if there are any unique pavilions that you could benefit from visiting. Create a list of your must-see booths and map out where they are on the show floor. This is especially important for very large shows.
  3. Schedule appointments. Once you’ve set goals and reviewed the exhibitor list and floor plan, reach out to the exhibitors you really want to see and ask to schedule an appointment. This is the best way to guarantee that you will see everyone you want. Walking in without appointments means you’re leaving it up to luck that the people you want to talk to will be available when you show up. Also, build two or three 15-minute breaks into your schedule to give yourself time to sit down, grab a snack, or check in on email.
  4. Gather your materials. Make sure you have plenty of business cards, a notebook and pen, and a way to carry all the fun freebies you’re going to pick up.
  5. Prepare to be out of the office. Make sure you prepare in the days before the show so you don’t become overwhelmed. Let your top clients know that you’ll have limited accessibility and be sure someone back at the office can cover for you. Set your out-of-office message on your email and change your voicemail greeting to let people know that your replies will be delayed.

At the show:

  1. Dress comfortably but professionally. Yes, everyone says this, but that’s because it’s true. This is a long day of walking and standing, so be prepared. Wear comfortable shoes and clothing that’s appropriate for business and the conditions. Convention centers tend to be cool, even on hot days. Some shows have outdoor pavilions that you’ll need to plan for. Again, do your research and know what you’re walking into.
  2. Take good notes. You may feel like you’ll remember everything, but shows are long, busy days and by the end, you’ll find yourself having trouble remembering the conversations you had in the morning, much less a few days ago! Don’t risk forgetting anything – write down as much as you can; some shows offers apps with note-taking tools. Collect business cards from everyone you talk to and keep them organized.
  3. Don’t get distracted. With one glance at your phone, it can be very easy to get caught up in email and mentally check out of the show. Resist the temptation. If you prepared to be out of the office, things should run smoothly. You should have built time into your day to check email, so respond during those times. This will allow you to be more present and engaged with people, which is the whole reason you’re there. Obviously, emergencies happen, but try to limit your phone interaction on show days.
  4. Take advantage of everything the show has to offer. Take a look at any show schedule – there’s much more than exhibits. Attend networking events, sit in on courses and keynotes, and be sure to engage in any other special activities. Don’t have time to attend it all? Choose the extras that most closely align with your goals and be sure to hit those.
  5. Be prepared to change your plan. Shows are like live television – anything can happen, so be ready to react quickly. You may need to adjust your strategy once you arrive, but if you’ve done a good job preparing and scheduling appointments, you’ll be able to navigate unexpected turns and still make the most out of the day.

After the show:

  1. Review your notes on any new products, solutions, or technologies you learned about. Determine which ones would be good matches for which clients, partners, or departments/divisions and reach out for a meeting with that stakeholder. Do this right away, while the idea is still fresh in your mind.
  2. Follow up! This is easy to forget, because you’re back in the office and everything needs your attention. But don’t lose momentum here, either! You’ve met new contacts, so review your notes and business cards, and send them a quick note to reestablish the relationship in your normal day-to-day environment.

Contact us if you want to learn more about increasing your trade show ROI!