By Henry Schuck, Co-founder and CEO, DiscoverOrg

Participating in tradeshows requires that you make a significant investment, so the temptation to cut corners is everywhere. But before you succumb to the temptation of creating “one-size” says it all booth graphics or investing in 10,000 squeezie toys emblazoned with your company’s logo, here are some tips to maximise your tradeshow ROI without compromising your brand, or your sanity.

Tradeshows provide your company with opportunities to bump shoulders with thousands of your closest competitors, customers and prospects. With a strategic approach, you can use this gathering as a place to meet with target prospects, increase your visibility as a thought leader and increase awareness of how your solution is different from the rest. Every choice that you make before and after the tradeshow provides the opportunity to communicate something about your organization. Use these strategies to increase your impact and resulting ROI.

1. Get good real estate

Plan far ahead. Contact show organizers early and choose a good booth location while there is still plenty of choice. The more popular the show, the earlier you have to plan. For the bigger shows, booth planning for the next year starts the day after this year’s event ends.

2. Speak

Even if your company is only going with a 10 x 10 booth, bundle it with a speaking slot. A speaking engagement will be attended by people who are interested in your solution and can uncover prospects you had not approached or influence ones that you had.

3. Booth “A-ha.”

When it comes to booth graphics, less is more. Don’t try to design booth graphics to communicate everything you do, make, sell and stand for as a company. You want a clean and simple message that communicates what problem you best solve.

4. Giveaways are marketing

Anything that you put your brand on communicates something about your company. You don’t want your branding on a pen that leaks the first time it is used, or a squeezie ball that will be eaten by the dog. My philosophy is this: 1, 2, 3. Plan for three giveaways. 1 — For the swag baggers — cool pencils or inexpensive (but well-chosen) pens that you can leave on the podium. 2 — A useful item (you want the recipient to use the item and keep your branding in sight) to be given to people who have had a conversation with your booth staff. Good choices include stylus pens, charging blocks or post-it cubes. 3 — The executive branded item. These should be carefully chosen and reflect the relationship you are building. These are your most expensive giveaway and should be given to prospects that come to a scheduled meeting with you. These items can be sent to prospects post-show. That gives you the opportunity to use them as follow-up and flexibility to send items like wine.

5. Prospect pre-show

It is important to promote your participation in the show on your website, blog, and other communications leading up to the show. But what is most critical is identifying your ideal targets in advance. Build a list of prospect targets from the attendee list provided by the show combined with your own database, or use a sales intelligence tool — like DiscoverOrg’s datasets — which provides direct contact information for over 350,000 decision makers in 17,500 organizations. Reach out before the show with a targeted direct mailer or a note from your company’s CEO and give them a reason to want to see you. Ask for a quick meeting, tell them about your speaking spot or invite them to a coffee /cocktail hour or dinner you are hosting.

6. Staff intelligently

Staffing the booth is a tricky balance. You want neither too few nor too many company representatives in the booth. The temptation to save money is to skimp on staff, but overtired booth staff don’t represent you well. Bodies who can’t speak about what the company offers only take up space. Your staff needs to know what to look for in a prospect. Is there a single question that they can ask that will help divide the prospect from the traffic? Our qualifying question is, “Does your company sell to IT people?” Aim to talk to prospects about their needs, not about your offering.

7. Take names

Badge scanners offer the important advantage of spending less time recording data and more time engaging with the prospect, but this ease can come at the price of being able to record important notes about the conversation in the booth. Some shows offer systems where you can immediately print out the contact data, and offering booth staff another way to record notes from the conversation.

8. Host an event

Invite satisfied customers and prospects. Whether it is a morning coffee break or an evening cocktail hour, a hospitality event provides an opportunity where your happy customers can mingle with your interested prospects. A happy customer is far more influential in the buyer’s mind than a hungry sales person. Providing customers the opportunity to talk about their smart decision to work with you shows them how you value them and can be very beneficial in the sales process.

9. Follow-up immediately

A vital element to getting your return out of tradeshows is rapid follow-up. Your prospects return from tradeshows charged up and ready to take action. Speed up your communications by completing your contact list using a sales intelligence tool like DiscoverOrg’s Paste ‘n Go. These enable you to efficiently complete your contact list out of your booth traffic data. Statistics show that 45% of prospects hear from vendors only after a purchasing decision has been made. With the speed and ease of these tools, you will be having conversations while your competitors are still rubbing their sore feet.

10. Leverage your contact

Using organisational charts, you can leverage the connection you made with the junior IT person who was at the show to speak to the decision maker for an upcoming project. Continue to nurture leads by setting up triggers that will give you first-mover advantage when the prospect opens a new project or has other news you can turn into a conversation.

With careful planning, tradeshows can deliver reliable returns.