How to make the most of exhibitions.

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Events are hard work for exhibitors, can cost a pretty penny and many businesses often fail to get the most out of them. So, is it worth it?

Youre tired, the balls of your feet feel like theyre on fire, the permanent smile plastered across your face is starting to make your cheeks ache and youve got a splitting headache caused by the harsh fluorescent lights illuminating you. The question occupying your mind is: "Is it worth it?"

If this sounds a familiar scenario, youve probably been involved in exhibiting your company at a trade show.

Trade shows are popping up all over the place and in a variety of venues. You cant move in most offices without falling over a promotional stand, roller banner or a stack of corporate brochures ready to be sent out to the next show.

Events are hard work for exhibitors, can cost a pretty penny and many businesses often fail to get the most out of them. So, once again the question "is it worth it?" crops up.

If you listen to the organisers and show promoters, your potential clients are waiting with baited breath in the wings of conference centres across the country, poised and ready to pounce as soon as you set up your stand. Every one is an opportunity you cant afford to miss. But is that strictly true?

Theres no doubt that trade shows are great for some old-fashioned face-to-face communication and networking. But among the furore of such an exciting marketing opportunity, many companies fail to see the final result – the necessary and measurable return on investment. Alarmingly, less than 20 per cent of exhibitors actually track their return on investment.

There are many dos and donts to consider if you want to succeed.

Planning strategies beforehand is a key way to make sure youre not wasting your money.

The value of sitting down with your team and deciding what you actually want to achieve cannot be underestimated. Plan your approach to customers, decide how to gather data and create sales leads.

The stand says everything about your company, so make sure its top quality. Its no good turning up with a table and a few leaflets. Imagine your embarrassment if the stand next to you has a six-foot light display and interactive games.

As one of its top tips, The Exhibiting Agency, a UK-based consultancy supporting exhibitors, recommends that: "A discreet stand works better than a wide open stand. The stand can say an awful lot about you if it is enclosed and enables you to entice prospects that you want to meet and dissuades no no visitors from coming in."

The agency goes on to say: "Remember to create impact and drama with key messages on the outside, but beware, you will need appropriate staff on outside the stand too, qualifying prospects and inviting them in."

It sounds obvious, but once youve attracted people, captured sales leads and youre back in the office, its imperative to follow them up in a timely manner, as most will go cold after 24 hours. Its thought that 80 per cent of leads from an event are never followed up.

Think about the visitors themselves and dont overload them with information. People are becoming much savvier and increasingly reluctant to burden themselves with paper. Returning to their offices laden with carrier bags stuffed with brochures on subjects they have no real interest in and business cards from people they cant remember is not ideal. The fact is, most of it will be filed straight in the bin. If youre lucky, the bounty will be left neglected on someones desk and filed the bin. So why not save a rainforest or two and think about how to get your message across in a way that wont cost the earth.

One more thing, if youre running a competition in return for a business card, be sure to put up on your website who actually wins. Sounds simple, but the only way to get those valuable contacts is to display your honesty and prove the contest is genuine.
When done properly, exhibiting can really be worth it. According to a poll by market researchers Simmons Market Research, 91 per cent of decision-makers find exhibitions "an extremely useful source of purchasing information".