Sure, business is gravitating to the Web. But face time is still crucial in the sales world, making trade shows an integral part of any growing company's marketing plans.

The number of trade shows hit 4,800 in 2000 alone, up 6% from 1999, according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research in Chicago. And an estimated 112 million people attended those shows, up nearly 10% from the previous year.

But trade-show experts say smaller exhibitors make mistakes, often wasting $15,000 to $20,000 a show on the effort. Steve Miller, a Washington, D.C., show consultant, says just 20% of exhibitors are doing a good job. "Thank goodness," he adds, "Guys like us would be out of business."

Here are some tips culled from various experts and entrepreneurs:

DO be more efficient by using the Internet as a preshow marketing tool. About 60% of attendees use Web sitesto plan their trips, double the number from 1998, according to a survey of 250 trade-show attendees by Allen Konopacki, a Chicago consultant. "Fewer attendees are aisle cruisers and more are selective shoppers," he adds.

DO keep your booth design as open as possible. Any table you need should be off to the back or the side, sothere's no barrier between you and the potential sale.

DO avoid raffles, "booth babes" and magicians. They attract mostly unwanted people who crowd your booth,possibly deterring quality leads. "Traffic is a fallback for exhibitors who don't know how to measure anything else," says Steve Miller, the consultant.

DO figure out whether the person you're meeting is useful to you within 60 seconds. Time is money. The best qualifying questions to ask: "What do you do with XYZ company?" "What prompted you to stop by?"

DO schmooze the trade-show organizers. Amy Lewis, president of Perfect Practice.MD of Sandy, Utah, says at a Medical Group Management Association convention, the keynote speaker canceled at the last second. She volunteered to take over and received invaluable exposure, she says.

DO follow up. Mr. Konopacki, the trade-show consultant, says it's amazing how many companies don't. Keepworking your leads for up to two years after the show because you never know when they might need you, he says.

DON'T ignore lapsed customers when prepping for a show. Amy Peters, a Pismo Beach, Calif., jewelry seller, says prior to recent gift shows, her sales staff called not only current customers but also those who hadn't purchased in more than a year. She regained 16 old customers, bringing in more than $10,000 in orders. "It's a lot easier to regain old customers than get new ones," Ms. Peters says.

DON'T spend gobs on freebies. Again, "trick or treaters" come by and waste your time. "How many more trinkets, notepads and pens do you need?" says Lambert Jemley, vice president of marketing at Accessline Communications Corp., a Bellevue, Wash., provider of voice-communications services. Nonetheless, at the Internet Telecom show in New York City last month, Accessline offered the biggest buzz -- literally. The company gave away bottles of Heineken beer.

DON'T spend much printing and handing out brochures, pamphlets and information packets. Most attendees get laden down with so much junk, they'll throw it out before hitting the airplane home. Mail the information out later to solid leads, preferably within two weeks.

DON'T clutter up your backdrop. Keep it simple, with dramatic graphics and a message 10 words or less. Define clearly what you can do for the attendee's company. Philippi-Hagenbuch Inc., Peoria, Ill., a maker of accessories for mining trucks, uses images of trucks at its booth with eye catching messages: "Helping you move mountains" and "More profits per payload."

DON'T lose sleep if you don't write new orders at a show. Trade-show encounters are often brief introductions for potential long-term relationships. "You don't get married on your first date," consultant Steve Miller says.

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