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posted: 3/18/2013 6:00 AM

Trade show success requires a plan

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There's more to exhibiting at a convention or trade show than plunking a booth down on your 10-by-10-space -- if you want the exhibit experience to be a good one.

With budgets still tight, you definitely want the experience to be good.

Trade shows "absolutely are an option" for small businesses, says Troy Trice. "We're seeing more of them getting into shows."

Trice is president of Tradetec Skyline Chicago. His Lombard company builds trade show exhibits, which gives Trice a stake in your interest in trade shows. The flip side is that he also knows how to make the exhibit experience successful.

Your first step is to determine what you want to accomplish at a trade show. Generate sales? Preview a new product? Show the company flag?

Determine your goal and you'll know the audience you want to reach. Then look at shows your targets attend, compare costs and potential results, and get to work.

Trice's thoughts will help:

• Figure the booth to be about a third of your total show cost, especially if the convention you choose is out of town. Travel and lodging add up.

The booth exists to create a professional environment that reflects your business," Trice says. "You have to have something that will draw (delegates) in." A demonstration of your new widget might work.

Staff in your booth should be "prepared to engage," Trice says. "You want extroverts, probably your sales and marketing people, in your booth."

• You can save money -- perhaps half the cost -- by renting rather than buying a booth.

• A marketing plan that includes pre-, at- and post-show promotion is critical. "Most companies focus solely on the booth," Trice says. "But the difference between having a plan or not is huge.

"Often, if you can convert one new client from a show, you can pay for the event."

The preshow mailing, sent by email or Uncle Sam, may be the most important piece of the trade show pie. "You want to get the message out that you'll be at the show -- and that people should come and see you," Trice says.

Prospects and current customers should get the mailing, but extend the definition of prospects a bit. You're spending good money on your exhibit; you want people to know your company will be at the show and to stop by your booth. Invite the best prospects, and customers, to meet for breakfast, lunch, or refreshments at the end of the day.

The post-show follow-up is what will turn many interested prospects into buyers. Your booth staff should make notes of the conversations they have (including names and contact information) and follow-up with at least an email and perhaps a phone call within a week of the show.

Too much time between the show and follow-up will kill the enthusiasm you created.

• Jim Kendall welcomes comments at 2013 121 Marketing Resources Inc.

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