If your company sells a product or service, typical advertising will only get you so far. In the world of B2B, or business-to-business, where you make deals with other companies instead of directly to consumers, there are limited ways of getting your name out there. A trade show is where most businesses go to shine. If you have a trade show coming up, your booth and company’s performance could spell the difference between success and catastrophic failure. Participating in a trade show can be expensive but worth the money if you market yourself and the company correctly. Making new contacts and gaining new professional relationships can be invaluable.

Why Are Trade Shows Important?

A trade show is your chance to market directly to your target audience. They are normally only open to those who register, company representatives, and the press. With such a crowd, you can generate meaningful conversation to benefit everyone. You make big statements with celebrity musical guests or foster small relationships by just meeting people face to face. However, trade shows can go wrong if too much effort is put forth. They have a historical reputation of being filled with booths of annoying salesmen. You’re not there to annoy the other guests and you certainly don’t want to waste your shot. If you’re looking to put an effort into your tradeshow, here are some tips:

Make a Budget

As stated, this is going to be an expensive adventure. You want to stand out from the crowd but not break the bank at the same time. While you’re figuring up how much the custom booth, promotional giveaways, celebrity guests and event advertising will cost, you can’t forget the little things. You’ll also have to make room in your budget for renting the space on the floor and employee salaries, accommodations, meals, travel expenditures, etc. Get a game plan started in advance. While you’re putting your trade show budget together, remember to not go overboard. You’ll have to leave some gaps in your planning for your employees to actually make some sales. Once you figure out a base goal for expected sales, you can also find the cost-benefit of the entire trade show. Running a cost-benefit analysis can give you a better idea of your budget.

Time Management

If this is your first trade show, you have to go into the planning process knowing time management is crucial. Preparing production on the trade show takes a lot of time. Even setting up the booth may take months. You’ll need to schedule coordinators, employees and guests around this timetable. Compared to the pre-production of your presence at the trade show, the event might even seem less daunting. You’ll also have to plan for a wide range of crises. Natural disasters or the event getting canceled, postponed or moved are broader issues to plan ahead for. You may also need to plan ahead for internal problems like delayed flights or sick employees. Missing a deadline at a trade show will hurt the company, so plan for all possible scenarios.

Perform a Dress Rehearsal

Acting out the trade show in advance may seem excessive, but you’ll have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Perform small skits with employees with one acting as a consumer to prepare your staff for anything a customer might throw at you. Improv acting will only help the staff, and the activity would even be great for company morale. You might also consider a full dress rehearsal before the big event. Stage fright could be a devastating thing for your or your employees to go through and acting out the event will get everyone more comfortable. Even learning the local culture and dialects can help you feel more at home and connect with the audience easier.

Build Relationships

You’re not just the owner of your business at these trade shows. You are now the face of the business. To connect to more people, come off as animated, approachable and engage customers with smiles. Talk to them instead of attempting to make a sale. They’re already there to observe and buy, so building a relationship is your biggest priority. Before the trade show begins, get a list of other companies and people attending the event. Use your Customer Relationship Manager, or CRM, to make notes on attendees which can be easily accessed at all times. Seek people out and speak to everyone approaching your booth, whether they’re part of your target demographic or not.

Have Supplemental Events

A supplemental event is something extra you bring to the show to build better relationships with people. For example, an after-hours cocktail party can get everyone mingling in a less stiff environment. You’ll also want to look into bringing events to your booth, like the aforementioned musical guest, to get people to stop by. The sign is likely what most people will see first, and you’ll want to stand out from the crowd. Get something attention-grabbing like retractable banners, floor decals, elevator wraps and other visual techniques to make sure people see your booth. Once the audience is there, keep them around with a caricature artist or coffee bar. Give them something to keep their attention so you’ll have time to make connections.

The Follow-Up

The event and planning took so much time, energy and money but don’t let everything go to waste because you did nothing after the show. Following up with potential connections is crucial to closing deals. The trade show is just about meeting people, but the deals will most likely happen afterward. Follow-up quickly, perhaps even the day the event ends, by sending e-mails and following on social media. Don’t be afraid to also send coupons or free ebooks. The last thing you want after a trade show is to be immediately forgotten. According to Statista, more than 80 percent of leads receive a follow-up after the event. If you don’t follow-up, you risk losing all of the connections you’ve made at the very expensive trade show, leaving a discouraging hole in your company. Don’t lose out on your rewards over a simple misstep.

Successful Trade Show Marketing Strategies

There are few step-by-step guides which will work for every company at a trade show. Your product and services are unique, so your approach may have to be unique as well. The most important part is going in with a plan. The time to start planning the event is the moment you know you’ll be at the trade show. Waiting until a few months before might be deadly. Go in with a well thought out plan, put your best foot forward, and the rest should fall in line.