Industry gatherings can be an ideal way to meet prospective customers. Almost every industry has at least one trade association that has an annual conference with exhibits.

Effective trade show marketing through exhibiting requires forethought and hard work at the show. Here are some tips:

Choose the right trade show. Before deciding to exhibit, make sure the audience is the one you want to reach. Review show sponsors’ materials and decide if the show would be interesting to your target customers. Also, choose shows that attract decision-makers. Even if you end up selling to a lower-level person, the CEO or decision-maker will probably be involved in the process.

Make sure there will be enough attendees to justify your costs. If a show sponsor says there will be 500 attendees, ask how many of that group will be other exhibitors.

Obtain a list of attendees before the show. Most sponsors will make a list of attendees available. Getting the list is usually worth the cost. You can identify existing customers and likely prospects. That done, you may want to make special arrangements with a good customer for dinner or at least a discussion, or mail a letter or brochure to select attendees before the show. If you can get their attention before the show, they will be more likely to search out your exhibit.

Make sure your exhibit tells your story. Simple graphics with minimal text can work very well if they convey your message.

Attract your most likely prospects. Many exhibitors use drawings for prizes or trinket giveaways to promote exhibit traffic.

Highlight your company’s participation through social media. You can use social media channels not only to encourage attendees to visit your booth, but also to post photos and updates during the event, showcasing your industry commitment to both attendees and potential customers who aren’t in attendance.

Be strategic about the information you hand out. Avoid the temptation to overspend on large packets of materials for everyone. A lot of trade show materials get tossed in hotel wastebaskets without ever being read. A better idea is to have a simple handout for most exhibit visitors while having a more complete packet for serious prospects.

Follow up, follow up, follow up. Just like with any sales process, following up is critical. Keep track of which prospects deserve special attention by making notes on the back of their business cards. Be sure to ask good prospects how they would like you to follow up, and then do it.

Exhibiting at trade shows can be an effective marketing strategy. However, it can also be hard work and frustrating. If you choose to exhibit, be sure to be prepared, use your best sales techniques and go well rested.

This news is provided as a service to you by Marlin Business Services Corp., a nationwide leader in commercial lending solutions for the U.S. small business sector. Marlin’s equipment financing and loan programs are available directly and through third-party vendor programs, including manufacturers, distributors, independent dealers and brokers, to deliver financing and working capital that help build your success.