Top trade show booth tips for 2013, by Patti Rowlson

Thinking about showcasing your company at an event or trade show this year? Good for you!

Business-to-consumer networking at trade shows can be a great way to get your product or service in front of fresh new faces—if you choose the venue wisely, plan ahead and follow up.

Pick the perfect venue

Identifying the best trade show to join is important. You can have the nicest looking booth, excellent promotional offers and knowledgeable staff, but if you’re trying to sell to the wrong audience your efforts will be wasted.

Do a bit of research to see what types of people typically attend the show you are considering. Decide whether those folks are in your target market (who you sell to now or want to sell to in the future).

Ask the trade show organizer for a copy of last year’s program so you can contact a couple of vendors and talk with them about their experience.

Plan in advance and promote participation

Once you’ve picked the perfect trade show, it’s time to start preparing.

Ideally, you would have at least two months lead time to design your display, order marketing materials, coordinate booth staffing and promote your involvement. Not sure how to set up or decorate a trade show booth?  Check out these Pinterest boards for layout, décor, signage and display ideas.

Each trade show vendor should do their part to invite attendees. The more the merrier!

Promote participation using in-store signage, your website, industry blogs and social media sites. Update your email signature block to include a link to trade show information, share details in company newsletters, on invoices and receipts, etc.

Raffles and freebies

If you are using a raffle to capture attendee’s contact information, don’t spam them after the event. Allow people to opt in (or out) of future communication (promotional emails, company newsletters) by including check-boxes on raffle tickets.

When it comes to handing out freebies, it may be time to reconsider what companies traditionally give away at trade shows.

You may think consumers need more water bottles, reusable shopping bags and coffee mugs. But a quick trip to local thrift stores will make you think twice.

Their shelves are often full of corporate-branded bags, apparel and beverage containers that are unused and unwanted.

Consider skipping traditional promotional items that are picked up by people who are just “trick-or-treating” booths for freebies. Instead, hand out discount coupons or special offer certificates that provide real value to potential customers.

These types of offers give attendees a real reason to contact you after the show.

Three tips for the big day

There are things you can do to help make the big day a success. Here are three quick tips to keep in mind:

– Network with your tradeshow neighbors. Take a moment to introduce yourself and chat about how your product or service might complement each other.  Consider if there is a way to refer attendees to each other’s booths.

– Stand and engage. Standing near the front of your booth (off to one side) makes it easier to engage with attendees and hand out those valuable promotional coupons. Get out there to mix and mingle, instead of sitting at the back of the booth.

– Start with a conversation instead of sales pitch. Use an ice breaker with booth visitors. Ask them  questions like: “What have you seen at the show so far that caught your eye?”, “What did you think of XYZ company’s display?”, “Is this your first time attending this event?” or “Can I offer you a coupon for 50 percent off our widget?”

Follow-up and reflecting

You made it through planning, promoting, setting up the display and engaging with hundreds of potential customers. Next is time to follow-up and reflect on the experience.

Schedule an hour 2-3 days after the show to reflect and write a few notes about what worked and what you want to do differently next time. You’ll be very glad you did.

Following up on hot leads in a timely manner is critical. Have a plan in place that includes exactly who will be making the calls and by what deadline.

Don’t allow competitors to beat you to the punch. Get in touch with interested parties within days, not weeks.

With a bit of planning, organization and follow-up, you can maximize your tradeshow experience and fully leverage the investment of time and resources.

Patti Rowlson of PR Consulting Services is a publicist and marketing consultant located in Whatcom County. Her columns appear on BBJToday.com on the last Thursday of each month. Connect with PR Consulting Services on Facebook and Twitter (@pattirowlson) for additional marketing tips.

This article originally appeared in the Bellingham Business Journal.

Looking for booth inspiration?  Check out these trade show booth boards on Pinterest.  

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