5 Steps to a Winning Trade Show Strategy

Some companies insist that trade shows are hit or miss -- but they don't have to be.

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By Michelle Finizio

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For a business owner, trade shows represent unparalleled opportunity. Exhibiting at the right trade shows can lead to press coverage, buyers, investments,and -- perhaps most importantly -- a buzz around your company that establishes your brand as the next must-have product or service.

Related: 10 Questions to Ask When Preparing for a Trade Show

Between costs to exhibit, transportation and hotel accommodations, however, a trade show booth can be a significant investment, especially for up-and-coming brands. To make sure you receive a healthy return on your investment, you need a carefully crafted trade show strategy that ensures you get in front of the right people.

Here are six key steps to take before and during your next trade show to make sure you maximize your ROI.

Step 1: Identify your desired outcomes and do your homework.

Before you make any commitments to attend a trade show, determine what you want to get out of the event. Are you looking for buyers? Investors? Press coverage? Within each category, create a list of your goals. Make sure to get specific about what defines success for you. For example, if one of your goals is press coverage, are you aiming for an article on a major publication's website or an interview with a local news outlet? If you're looking for buyers, are you hoping for purchase orders from retailers, purchases from individual customers, or both -- and how many?

Then, ask yourself if you are ready and able to receive these outcomes. Do you have the inventory you need to fulfill purchase orders? Do you have talking points prepared in case you speak to the press? If you are unsure of what you need, ask experts and peers so you can prepare for the big day.

Related: Unlike Many Things That Are a Lot of Work, Trade Shows Are Worth It

Step 2: Create your target list.

Based on the desired outcomes you outlined, create a target list of people you'd like to meet at the event. If you're not sure who's coming to the show, take a look at the event prospectus, website and previous attendee lists. If you're already in conversation with some of the people you'd like to do business with, add those names to the list as well.

Step 3: Ask for help.

Contact the show organizer to talk through your goals and target list. Ask if he or she can cross-reference your target list with the event's internal registration list. Are any of your targets already confirmed? Are they on the show's radar? If not, ask your contact if he or she could offer any benefits (e.g., free tickets, private events, matchmaking, etc.) that would offer value to and incentivize your contacts if you were to invite them. Or, delegate that task. Most show organizers are happy to reach out to invite your contacts and will make sure they are properly registered, so you can focus on getting ready for the event.

Plus, the more you communicate with your show contacts, the more front of mind you will be during the show. Your show contacts likely have relationships with the people you want to get in front of, so if you make them aware of your goals, they can direct the right people your way on show day.

Related: 6 Critical Trade Show Mistakes to Avoid

Step 4: Go big on outreach.

Too often, exhibitors arrive at trade shows hopeful but unprepared. In many cases, they haven't put in the effort to make sure their target contacts will be at the show. They haven't set up meetings, haven't done any outreach and haven't gotten their name out there as a must-see exhibitor.

There are several quick and easy ways to promote your participation at the show and set your company up for success. First, use all your external communications to your advantage -- social media, email signatures and email newsletters are just the beginning. Also, make sure to spend some time extending personal invites to your network (or even new contacts) through calls or emails. Make the show yours by going big on outreach to set meetings before, during or after the show.

Step 5: Bring infectious energy.

People like doing business with people they like! The more energized you are during the show, the more you will attract attention and goodwill from your target contacts. That means talk to everyone, everywhere -- in the elevators, during meals, walking to and from the event space.

And don't overlook interactions with other exhibitors, show organizers and staff. Collaborating with them will only increase your changes of honing in on your list of targets.

Some companies insist that trade shows are hit or miss -- but they don't have to be. With the right strategy and well-defined goals, you can maximize your return on investment and turn every trade show into a success.

Michelle Finizio

Chief Revenue Officer of FounderMade

Michelle Finizio serves as chief revenue officer of FounderMade's Consumer Discovery Show, connecting the world's most innovative consumer brands in beauty, wellness and food with active retailers, distributors, investors, influencers and consumers.

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