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