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BusinessColumnistsJamie Herzlich

Make the most of your booth with trade show prep, experts say

Patrick O'Brien, a real estate salesman, tries out

Patrick O'Brien, a real estate salesman, tries out a golf simulator during a trade show on Thursday, May 21, 2015. Experts say that many trade show attendees know which vendors they're going to see, so exhibitors must be proactive to snag their attention. Credit: Barry Sloan

More than half of corporate trade show attendees already know which exhibitors they are going to visit before they enter the venue’s doors, according to industry experts.

That means exhibitors can’t just leave it to chance that customers and prospects will stop by their booth.

Driving traffic to your booth requires months of preparation and advance marketing, plus a strategic plan during the trade show itself to make sure you attract targeted leads.

“Trade shows are not the field of dreams,” says Laura Palker, CEO of Trade Show Solutions Center in Melville. “Buying booth space is just the beginning.”

Companies should start their strategic planning six months before the show, she says, with a comprehensive marketing program around the event. This includes efforts such as creating an email blast around something new and improved to generate interest, and a VIP invitation with a special enticement such as a discounted rate to attend.

Send information about the trade show out to “clients, prospects and suspects,” says John A. Hill, president of JAH & Associates Inc., an East Northport trade show strategist and business coaching firm, and author of “Tips and Tales from the Booth” (Legwork Team Publishing; $19.99).

You should have a database you can pull from, he says, and ask the show organizer who will be attending the show.

Send out this information at least five times in different ways leading up to the show, he says. For instance, the first email or mailing you send out is a “save the date,” Hill says. You can put in a teaser such as ‘I have something to show you that I think will be of interest to you.’ ”

Follow up with different subject headings and perhaps talk about the different people who will be at the booth, he says.

Be sure to staff your booth with people trained to ask open-ended, active questions that will allow you to identify prospects in less than five minutes, Hill says.

Drawing the right people to your booth requires a targeted approach.

For instance, at a typical business-to-business trade show with 5,000 attendees, only 10 percent might be true prospects for you, says Peter LoCascio, founder and president of Trade Show Consultants of Salem, Oregon. So you have to keep the other 4,500 people away from your booth.

“A lot of exhibitors believe quantity, not quality matters,” and that’s a mistake, LoCascio says.

Your booth offers two forms of communication, he says, and both are important. The first is nonverbal: Your physical exhibit has to communicate exactly why you are there and what you are trying to accomplish. The other is verbal: The people staffing your booth must have the right personality to stand there for hours, ask the right questions, take notes and get key information.

Technology has made this easier.

“Everybody is on their mobile phone, and the expectation is that most information will be mobile and accessible,” says Lauri Christiansen, director of marketing at SmartSource Computer & Audio Visual Rentals in Hauppauge. The firm, which provides technology solutions for events and businesses, exhibits at about a dozen trade shows annually.

SmartSource always does preshow promotions, including advertising in journals, Christiansen says. “It’s really honing in on the key messaging for that particular audience.”

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