The booth – it’s often thought of as the heart of every company’s trade show appearance. Yet true trade show effectiveness is determined well before exhibitors are gathered in their designated spaces in the exhibit hall and even well after the booth and the leftover swag are shipped back home. Here are five ways to plan for trade show success, both pre- and post-event:

1. Determine your goals. First things first; what do you hope to accomplish by exhibiting at a given trade show? While gathering leads is the primary goal for most companies at most trade shows, it isn’t that cut and dry. Put a number to your goal. How many leads do you want to generate? And keep in mind that leads aren’t the same as badges scanned. Badge scans measure your booth traffic, but you will need to determine some qualifying criteria for what makes some of those individuals leads. Also, keep in mind that some shows might not be about generating leads. Sometimes the goal might be to connect with customers or partners, for example.

2. Ensure everyone is on the same page. If you have a trade show booth, you will need people to staff it. For your event to be a success, ensure that everyone on your trade show team is on the same page. Here at ClickDimensions, we create an agenda for every show we exhibit at and distribute it to every team member who will be working a given show. This agenda includes venue information, exhibit hall hours, details about any parties or after-hour events we are sponsoring, arrival and departure information for our attending team members, assigned booth hours for every team member, dress code and other related essentials. Roughly a week before the event, we also hold a prep call with everyone on our team who is attending to go over the agenda and answer any questions.

3. Promote your participation. While it’s true that many trade show attendees will simply find your booth as they wander the trade show floor, don’t count on it. Conferences are hectic and sometimes schedules don’t allow for large chunks of time to explore the exhibit hall. Or attendees use those breaks to check email and catch up with work. To maximize my exhibit hall time, before I attend a conference, I make a list of exhibitors that I consider must-visit. Many exhibitors make this list because of emails or social media posts prior to the conference. So, make sure you build awareness in the time leading up to the conference and that you answer an important question for attendees – what’s in it for me? Why should they take time out of their busy schedule to visit your company’s booth? It could be a solution to one of their biggest pain points, a new product or service you’re showcasing, or even a great giveaway or piece of swag – or all of the above!

4. Schedule meetings. In your pre-show emails, offer attendees the opportunity to schedule a meeting with a member of your team while at the event. There can be different scheduling opportunities for different audiences. For example, an existing customer or partner might benefit from meeting with a member of your executive team while a salesperson or product specialist is a better fit for a meeting with a prospect. The value of face-to-face time can’t be underestimated, and these meetings can help your company form more meaningful connections than a booth drop-in. Just be sure that you check and recheck the event’s schedule and the schedules of those holding meetings to avoid double booking or scheduling meetings during important conference happenings, like a keynote.

5. Follow up. Have you ever visited a trade show booth, been very interested in a product or service, requested additional information and then you never heard from the company again? I have, and it’s very frustrating. The exhibitor should follow up with the attendee, not the other way around. Make sure that you segment your trade show contacts to ensure the best follow up. Some may get a general “nice to meet you, here’s some more info about who we are and what we do” email. For others, a more personalized email direct from someone on your team would be more appropriate. Also, make sure you follow up with your co-workers who represented your company at the event to debrief. Find out what worked and what didn’t, so you can optimize your trade show presence for future success.

Happy Marketing!