Trade shows are a proven marketing activity that helps companies build brand awareness and discover new business opportunities. But the companies that fare the best—and maximize their return on investment (ROI)—are those that realize that simply showing up isn’t enough. It’s the face-to-face interactions and connections made before, during and after the show that can take your show results from ho-hum to stellar.

According to a recent study from CEIR (Center for Exhibit Industry Research), “The Spend Decision: Analyzing How Exhibits Fit Into The Overall Marketing Budget”, 81% of trade show attendees have buying authority. So, how do you engage with these high-level customers and prospects in order to get the most from your trade show participation?

1. Plan in advance
The first step toward tradeshow success is creating an engagement timeline to support your company’s strategic marketing plan.

To achieve an action-oriented goal, look at the whole communications picture – advertising, online marketing, media relations, and public relations. Make sure your messaging aligns with your overall marketing strategy and clearly explains how your products or services can benefit customers and prospects. Consider including value-added and competitive information, such as research data and comparisons, that will help audiences solve a specific business challenge. And, always communicate user-benefits rather than self-serving propaganda.

2. Build quality traffic
“If you build it, they will come” is not always the case with trade shows. To ensure quality foot traffic, be prepared to reach out. Engage your customers and prospects well in advance of any event and make it clear how they stand to benefit from visiting your booth. Some great examples of incentives include special show pricing, access to exclusive research or information, a contest, or an in-booth gift or activity that provides a meaningful experience to prospects.

There are several ways you can promote your trade show participation and in-booth activities. First, put the information on your company’s website. Social platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest make it easy for brands to engage with customers and prospects – often and instantaneously. Integrate your trade show activities with these powerful engagement tools to help drive traffic to your exhibit.

Contact the show organizer to obtain the media list of those confirmed to be at the show and reach out to the press with news and information about your company. Purchase the attendee list and use email or direct mail to invite visitors and make appointments. Include your own customer and prospect list as well. In addition, you can consider sponsorship opportunities to co-promote with the tradeshow organizer to help boost traffic to your booth and buzz around your participation.

When planning a pre-show marketing strategy, consider a variety of new and traditional communication channels such as social media, video, and email, direct mail or print advertising in order to reach your audience through multiple touch points.

3. Engage on-site
So, you’ve planned ahead and have succeeded in driving traffic to your booth. But, what happens when no one greets a visitor as they enter your booth? And, what impression of your company does a visitor get when they see booth staff that looks bored and uninterested in being there? Don’t let your efforts fall short with an undisciplined booth staff.

You’ve put in a significant amount of time and money into the show, staff performance will have a significant impact on your overall success. Invest the time and effort to train your on-site staff. Get staff excited – make it fun, but ask for a personal commitment to reach preset sales goals. Consider using an incentive program to encourage your sales team to attain your goals.

During the training process, clearly articulate the criteria your sales team should use to qualify visitors and determine whether they are high-quality leads. Develop a protocol for ensuring a smooth process when VIPs show up. For “tire-kickers”, or unqualified visitors, provide the sales staff tips on how to disengage with them politely, but quickly.

4. Follow up
Communication with customers and prospects shouldn’t end when the tradeshow closes its doors. The show itself may be just the starting point of the sale, which could happen months later.

For a more effective follow-up, take action at the show. Clearly annotate the leads (list the actions you need to take) and rate them based on your sales and closing criteria to ensure the “hottest” leads get immediate attention.

All of your contacts should be organized into a centralized database (segregated by type, if needed) to facilitate regular, ongoing communication. For example, add your contacts to your distribution lists for company announcements, media mentions, or relevant news to show that you’re engaged with their business. And remember: Never ignore a lead. You never know who will turn out to be the most beneficial connection.

Read more: Audience Interaction: The Why, When, Where and How