Every company has something to sell. Whether it’s a service or a product, there are many strategies to implement: cold calls, drip email campaigns, networking events, memorable ad campaigns, etc. Tradeshows, when it comes to a marketing and sales strategy, are in a league of their own. They’re exhausting, time-consuming and typically cost a ton of money when you factor in all the expenses. Nevertheless, depending on the industry, research shows that they deliver some of the highest ROI, if executed correctly. Below, I have my top 7 tips I have learned first-hand to maximize your company’s chances of accomplishing your objectives at a tradeshow.

Do your research:

Recently, the entrepreneurial development team at EDAWN (including me) headed to TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco. Disrupt SF is one of the largest tech conferences in the world. Startups, investors and community leaders converge over 3 days. There are hundreds of exhibitors, guest speakers, educational sessions and even celebrity keynotes (last year it was Ashton Kutcher, this year Will Smith). On the surface, it’s the place to be. However, upon closer inspection, the conference attracts a large amount of international folks. For us, since we were there to promote the benefits of moving a company to Reno, that was not necessarily the audience we were wanting to get in front of. It’s hard enough to get an SF-based company to move 3 hours, much less across the world. So, the lesson here is to ask probing questions before deciding to attend. The organizers should have substantial data from past years to present to you, breaking out attendees by age, gender, ethnicity, occupation, etc. Now, to our credit, last year the audience was different, so historical data only gets you so far, but at least you’ll have any idea of who is attending, and if it’s your desired audience.

Be creative: We’ve all seen the booths with a stack of pamphlets and a candy bowl. To be fair, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that if you’re attending a local career fair. However, if you’re going to travel and spend time and money, make sure your booth is memorable in some way. At the very least utilize creative tchotchkes. At Disrupt, we played blackjack with our Startup Deck which is 52 cards of people, organizations and events to help entrepreneurs in our area. It’s unique because it brings people to the booth (who doesn’t want to gamble with free “money”?), plays on our gaming history and shows the new and exciting things happening in Reno in terms of the startup community. Below is a picture of our setup. As you can see, we all look very friendly and approachable ;). Our booth is eye-catching, engaging and not overly “salesy.”

Plan ahead:

As an exhibitor/sponsor, you should get access to the attendee list before the event. This is GOLD. Be proactive and reach out to attendees and encourage them to come visit your booth. We sent out a series of three emails, starting two weeks before the event, with subject lines like “Try your hand at Startup Deck blackjack.” We also set up individual meetings for the evening of the conference with the subject line “Free drinks at Disrupt SF.” Because who is their right mind is going to not open that?

Maximize the PR opportunity:

In addition to the attendee list, you should also receive the media list. You’ll want to begin reaching out, pitching the journalists on why they should come to your booth. We used a PR team to craft the pitches and they were able to set up a number of meetings. Unfortunately, we were not able to put anything in the press room, but sometimes there is an option to leave material for them. If this would have been the case, we would have included signage to come by our booth to play blackjack and enter to win a two-night stay in a beautiful Tahoe hotel. Is it baiting them? Absolutely. However, we have a genuinely good story to tell; we just have to get them there.

Have a clear social strategy in place:

Make sure you’re active on social, especially Twitter. Tweet specific people/journalists who you want to come to your booth. Use the official conference hashtags as their social team likely has a close eye and may promote your posts.

Gather Leads:

Go in knowing your goals and objectives. Stay focused, as it’s easy to get distracted with so much going on. Many conferences offer a lead retrieval app, where you simply scan a badge and convert the names into an Excel doc. If that isn’t an option, there are quite a few tools that you can use. If all else fails, LinkedIn or business cards still get the job done.

Follow up:

This is quite possibly one of the most crucial components to ensuring ROI. Craft a unique subject line and message. You can even include a picture of your booth, so people remember who you are. Try to have some type of call to action whether it’s scheduling a quick 15-minute call or having them sign up for your newsletter. Remember that several others are reaching out as well, so make sure you do everything you can to not be ignored. Time your outreach so you don’t seem too eager, but at the same time don’t let too much time go by. Usually 4-5 days after the conference ends is optimal.

There you have it—my top 7 tips. Follow these and you’ll be set up for success at your next tradeshow. Oh, and get lots of sleep leading up to it. Good luck!