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Six Steps to Forging Customer Relationships at Tradeshows and Conferences

by Kimberly Smith  |  
August 4, 2009

Tradeshow and conference sponsorships don't come cheap, but they do bring prospects face to face with your company and brand. And, in so doing, they offer a unique opportunity to establish stronger, more-personal connections with potential customers, which can, in turn, generate solid returns on your investment—if you know how to make the most of that opportunity.

As MarketingProfs VP of Events Susanne Sicilian explains, that effort involves much more than a good booth. "It...has to take place before, during, and after the event," she says.

The following six steps will help guide you to that customer-relationship goal.

Step 1: Start building excitement before the event

To make a strong first impression and begin building the relationship, use the weeks leading up to the event, when attendees' excitement is intensifying and it's possible to capture their full attention without competing against other booths or the buzz of the event.

Often the organization hosting and managing the event will supply a list of registered attendees, complete with contact information, a few weeks ahead of time. Sicilian recommends researching that list to understand your market and then reaching out to the registered parties via email or regular mail.

The key is to not attack the list, says Sicilian. Instead, take a non-soliciting approach that intrigues recipients and encourages them to visit your booth. For example, you might mention the freebies you plan to give away, offer captivating clues into what your booth will offer, or send out qualifying lead forms that inquire about attendees' needs and promise to help better serve those needs when you meet in person.

When event management doesn't come through with a list—and even if it does—you can also strive for pre-event engagement by running ads in industry publications, sponsoring billboards near the event venue, and leveraging social-media tools such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to help generate excitement and initiate the conversation early on.

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Kimberly Smith is a staff writer for MarketingProfs. Reach her via

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  • by Michael D. Barr Tue Aug 4, 2009 via web

    I have used reasons from humor to social good to get people into the booth -- great step. I some cases we need to completent that with a program to identify the time constrained buyer -- those that stop by late, came because of something they wanted to know explore -- these power buyers cut to the chase and you need a way to funnel them to the right people quickly.

    I would like to hear how people have dealt with these buyers.


  • by Doug Stern Tue Aug 4, 2009 via web

    Nicely done!

    In addition, remember that some booths aren't staffed by sales people. So, prepare them accordingly.

    Most professionals—especially attorneys—have a touch of perfectionism. Use that to your advantage.

    Put together a "study guide" for them. Offer some background. Tell them what's going on and why. Detail why the firm believes this is a good investment.

    Give them the sample ice-breakers listed above. Offer a bibliography. Make sure they know you're there to support them.

    Having something like this in writing will let them prepare for the test they believe they're about to get. And, they associate being well-prepared with getting an "A."



  • by Janet Quinn Tue Aug 4, 2009 via web

    Great article. In my experience, booth training and role playing are most important to success on the tradeshow floor. Practice the talking points on each other, practice customizing your pitch to the questions your audience asks rather than trying to repeat a memorized set of information. The way your staff interacts, does or does not engage their audience, reacts to the prospect's stated needs, etc. creates a lasting brand impression that is nearly impossible to improve or correct later.

  • by Kimberly McCabe Sun Aug 9, 2009 via web

    A great follow-up to this article would be how to make the most of conferences/tradeshows when your company is not exhibiting - only attending.

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