Exhibiting at trade shows and conferences can involve a huge investment—of both human and financial resources. Regardless of how simple or elaborate your display, a little pre-show preparation can make a big difference in the number and quality of the leads you collect. Here are four pre-show efforts that yield big lead dividends: <!–more–>

<strong>1) Pre-Show Marketing</strong>
Let people know you will be exhibiting at the show! Put a promo for the show, including your booth number, on your company home page. If possible, get a copy of the pre-registered attendee list. A postcard mailing to attendees about three weeks before the show is a cost-effective way to let people know who you are and where you will be. Sponsoring a contest or prize drawing at the show and promoting it on the postcard is a popular way to attract booth visitors. If you have an opt-in email list of your clients and prospects, you can send a digital postcard.

<strong>2) Pre-Show Selling</strong>
Trade shows offer an excellent opportunity for salespeople to meet customers and prospects. Many shows provide free admission tickets for exhibitors to distribute. Your sales team can invite their best customers and prospects to the show and offer them the free admission tickets. Also, have the team review the pre-registered attendee list. This allows them to identify promising prospects and to book appointments to meet with them at the show.

If you can prearrange multiple sales meetings to take place at the show, you can potentially save thousands of dollars in travel expenses and still have the benefit of face-to-face contact. Make sure you have some seating in your booth and plenty of coffee or soda for these meetings. If you expect to have many on-site meetings, consider adding a small meeting room to your booth. A 10′ × 20′ booth space can accommodate a comfortable meeting room without sacrificing too much exhibit space. Another alternative is to rent a meeting room off the show floor or in the hotel for these meetings. Meetings at these locations are more difficult to schedule, but the locations are more conducive to longer, in-depth meetings.

<strong>3) Pre-show (and On-site) Public Relations</strong>
Most trade shows and many conferences offer a wealth of press opportunities. Industry journalists frequently attend and report on major shows. If you request the list of pre-registered journalists from exhibitor relations, you or your public relations firm can try to schedule appointments to participate in media interviews at the show. Also, if you have any company news in the weeks before the show, you might consider delaying your news release and making your announcement at the show. Make sure to put your press kits in the show’s press room.

<strong>4) Pre-show Training</strong>
Is your booth staff trained to talk about your products and your company? Can they clearly explain your value proposition and the features and benefits of your product? Are they comfortable talking to strangers in a crowded exhibit hall? Use role-playing exercises to practice answering the most common questions the staff will encounter at the show. Also, make sure they completely understand how to collect business cards or swipe the badges of show attendees who are interested in your product.
Now that you have collected your leads, do not forget to follow up promptly within two to three weeks of the show. It is very easy to let this slide as your sales and marketing team members try to catch up on the work that accumulates while they are out of town at the show. Once again, pre-show planning can make a difference. You can even plan and prepare your follow-up campaign before the show.