If you don't maximize your trade show efforts before you get to the show, while you're there, and in the follow-up afterward, you may have sunk in a lot of cash for nothing. While strategies can be as simple as sending out follow-up faxes to leads, very few companies actually take the time to fully capitalize on trade shows, which is surprising, since the smallest effort can increase returns exponentially. Look at the following three company examples:

  • Frank Candy, president of the American Speakers Bureau, wrote personal notes to lure 200 prospects to the Orlando, Fla., company's booth. The invitations, which looked like greeting cards, cost the $494,000 company less than $1 apiece. Thirty-seven prospects showed up, boosting show-generated sales by more than 300% over those from the previous year's show. "It was by far the most effective tool I've found in 15 years and at hundreds of shows," says Candy.
  • The sales staff of Insight Imaging Systems, a San Carlos, Calif., manufacturer of dental technology products, draws up a list of questions to ask prospects at the booth to focus sales pitches better. Before the last show, the group attended a role-playing seminar on how to get information from potential customers without turning them off. The result? The $20 million-plus company wrote $1 million in trade show revenues, up from $600,000 at the show held the previous year.
  • I/O Data Systems, a computer reseller in Bay Village, Ohio, converts leads into paying customers by sending booth visitors a monthly broadcast fax of sale prices. The $2.4 million company spends about $1,000 a year on follow-up faxes and phone calls. It usually breaks even on a show within three months. "The rest of the year brings in about $20,000 in profits," says CEO Tom Tont.