Since trade show season begins right after summer and continues until the winter holidays, now is the best time to review your upcoming trade show schedule and consider your strategy and goals for these events.

Here are the top 5 tips for improving your trade show experience:

Train your staff on how to work the booth

No company should send an unprepared, untrained staff to work its trade show booth, because that is a waste of everyone’s time and money. I’ve witnessed booth workers actively ignore attendees, by talking to each other, fiddling with phones, and more. A well-prepped staff will be able to screen the people they talk to and gauge their interest and sales potential. Send an adequate number of people, too. A short-staffed booth means that interested prospects might go walk away simply because no one is available to speak with them.

Develop pre- and at-show marketing

Once you’re committed to exhibiting at a show, you must create a marketing outreach program to announce your participation at the show. Email, social media, and direct mail should be deployed multiple times to create the biggest buzz. Prior to the show, you must also think about how to attract prospects and clients to your booth. Do you want to schedule appointments for demos? Offer an attractive give-away? Utilize various “attention grabbers” to generate traffic? Your pre- and at-show marketing efforts have direct impact on the number of people who frequent and patronize your booth.

Create marketing materials and promotional products to distribute

You definitely want attendees to walk away with information about your products and services, but you also don’t want to break the bank on the materials you distribute. Experienced trade show exhibitors will have two or three types of materials on hand, and will keep more expensive literature packages on the side for those with whom they have spoken and deemed to be sufficiently interested and qualified. Less expensive tri-fold brochures and promotional fact sheets can be kept on the table for individuals who are not interested in engaging, are not qualified, or are just passing by. Inexpensive promotional products with your name and logo, such as pens, mints, eye glass wipes, should also be on the table and can be used as a device to draw people in for a conversation.

Follow up after the show

I can’t say this enough: the follow up is key! In the days and weeks before the show you should prepare a follow up email or direct mailer that can be customized with the specific information learned at the show. Aim to follow up within 48 hours, when the show is fresh in people’s minds and you can leverage the impact and impression you made at the booth. The attendees’ interest and memory will fade each day, and while it is important to follow up with the most qualified and interested leads first, do not ignore the second- and third-tier leads that might require a bit more nurturing. Put them in your CRM and follow up with carefully times, value added touch points.

Debrief with all staff involved in the trade show experience

Within two weeks of the event’s close, meet with everyone involved with the show including staff that worked in the booth as well as the team that planned the pre- and at-show marketing. Evaluate what worked and what didn’t, what you would do differently the next time, and whether or not the show was a success. Keep in mind that quantifying the sales results from a trade show can take a long time; however an initial assessment based on number and quality of leads generated can be an early indicator of the potential back-end results.

Make no mistake. Trade shows can be very productive and offer an opportunity to engage with a great volume of prospects in a highly concentrated time frame. As with most business endeavors, planning and preparation are the keys to success. Are you planning on exhibiting at any shows this Fall? If so, start to prep now in order to achieve your best results ever!