Even in the digital age, trade shows continue to have a place in the marketing mix. For many businesses, trade show participation is a great way to generate new pipeline, build prospect relationships and create brand awareness.

But before you print out your conference badge and grab your lead scanner, make sure you’re ready. Here are 7 common trade show pitfalls to avoid.

1. Going in blind.

Make sure you plan, plan and plan some more. Set proper expectations for the event, including training for staff, review messaging, and do your research on the exhibitors prior to arriving. Details matter. It is a big investment to attend a trade show, so make sure to everyone is on top of their game and that you know who, what, where and why way before the actual event.

  • Who: Know who is going to be at the event, both internally and externally. A well trained staff member can be the key to a successful event. Also, knowing who’s who at the event is critical in targeting. Consider printing the exhibitor list and highlight the customers, prospects, and then coming up with an action plan to get the most out of the interactions.
  • What: Many exhibitors don’t know what their purpose is at an event. If you are there to hand out collateral and stress balls, you probably didn’t plan for success. Make sure you have a purpose for being at the event, understand the audience and why they/you are there, and then position yourself accordingly.
  • Where: Location is key. Know where the event is located, where your booth is on the show floor, how you and your staff will get there, and where the local hot-spots are.
  • When: Don’t show up late for setup! Get to the event at least 30 minutes before registration begins to ensure there are no loose ends. Keep an event agenda handy so you can manage booth staff during high and low traffic times.
  • Why: So your company is 100% certain that exhibiting at trade shows is essential to brand awareness, generating pipeline, and closing business. Or do they? Did previous trade show ROI influence your decision to exhibit? It must absolutely make business sense to make the investment, so do your homework before signing up.

2. Under- or over-staffing.

Ever been to a trade show where you feel like the staff outnumbers you five to one? Nothing looks worse than a bunch of guys in their company polos sitting on their thumbs and checking their Blackberries every 30 seconds. Not only does this decrease your productivity, it cuts the amount of real estate you have to hold decent conversations with prospects. On the other side of the spectrum, you want to make sure you have enough resources to effectively represent your brand and engage with prospects. Not only does the quantity of staff count here, but the quality matters most. You want to have at least one product superstar there to field product and technical questions.

3. Holding onto a conversation for too long.

Ideally people will be lining up at your booth to talk with you about your product. Don’t keep ‘em waiting. If your conversations last for more than five minutes during peak traffic periods, you are going to miss many more conversations. If you feel a conversation is very interesting, there’s no problem with scheduling a follow-up to discuss their interest in depth. After all, you’re at the show to represent your brand, not to do a discovery call.

4. Forgetting relevant conversations.

So let’s say things are going great at the show and you’re having conversation after conversation. Will you remember what was said in the first conversation? Sales reps cringe at the idea of a lost opportunity. Make sure your staff logs the key points of each conversation, either on the back of their prospect’s business card or on a sheet of paper you can staple to the card for reference. This will make it easy for you to insert notes into your CRM for a targeted follow-up based on your conversation.

5. Missing Deadlines.

We all know trade shows are expensive to begin with. The cost of missing discount deadlines will come back to bite you in the place it hurts most: your wallet. Many events have early bird specials for registration, shipping, hotels, A/V and electronics, etc. If you procrastinate, you may be essentially be paying double the price. So plan early, bookmark or print your exhibitor kit, and make sure you stay on top of all deadlines.

6. Blending in with the rest.

It doesn’t matter if you have the prettiest booth; if it doesn’t draw traffic, you will not be returning next year.  What have you done to promote your presence at the event?  Think of ways to create a buzz. This can be in the form of social media (tweeting from the show floor); booth swag and other giveaways; or launching a new product, service or feature at the event. Remember, there are other exhibitors and sponsors at the event who are trying to connect with the same audience you are. Make sure you give that audience a reason to come and talk to you.

7. Not following up in a timely manner.

One of the most critical factors in turning your trade show participation into revenue is your lead management process. The best time to plan for follow-up is before the show. The longer a lead sits untouched, the colder and less interested they will become. Develop a systematic lead handling (collection and retrieval) system, set timelines for follow-up, and measure the results. It is critical for marketing to own this piece of this process, so hot leads will be distributed appropriately and Sales can prioritize their time and follow-up promptly.

It takes a lot of time and effort to manage a trade show from pre- to post-event. Success depends not only on the people you scan, but the people you staff as well. So keep these common mistakes in mind the next time you exhibit at an event – and then, go get ‘em.