If you're sitting in your exhibition booth reading this, it's probably time for atonement. Oh, and put down that bagel. On your feet!

You've just committed some of the cardinal sins of the conference exhibition hall.

Sure, it's the home stretch, traffic is slow and it's the last day, but see that guy right there? The one who's walking slowly down the middle of the showroom aisle? He's a $500 million advisor looking for software just like yours. And he has no idea who you are.

Now, stop reading, and go shake his hand.

"If you want to reach advisors-and reach the right ones-there is more to tradeshow exhibiting than just showing up," said Nicholas Stuller, president of Discovery-The Financial Information Group of Shrewsbury, N.J.

To get the best return on investment, the work of the conference showroom floor must start long before exhibitors leave the home office, Stuller said.

The first step is getting the list of attendees as soon as possible, he said. "The sooner you have this list, the sooner you can analyze the demographics of your target audience and begin selling and marketing to your top prospects," he said.

Such planning should involve staff from sales and marketing working together to deliver an integrated message. "Plan why you're going. How does it integrate with your overall strategy and what you are going to do?" said Susan Friedmann, The Tradeshow Coach. "You have to ask, What are the outcomes we want, and what do we need to do to make that happen?'" said the Lake Placid, N.Y.-based consultant. "Many, many companies do not take that seriously enough."

Since the top prospects are those who will most likely yield the best ROI, they should get the more expensive marketing brochures, folders and material, or be invited to a meal at some point during the conference, he said.

Once at the conference, leaving personal notes on the message board or inviting the prospect to the booth just for introductions can not only help initiate a working relationship, but build a crowd-and not the speed-walking, tchotchke-grabbing kind.

"Other people see that, and it creates a buzz," said Edythe McClatchy Pahl, executive director of the Investment Management Consultants Association of Greenwood Village, Colo.

As for tchotckes, something may be better than nothing, but a useful report or white paper trumps a yo-yo or stress ball.

"If you do it wrong, you run the risk of sending a message or subliminally telling the advisor you're not serious," said Stuller. "It distracts from why you're there."

Especially clever giveaways can generate chatter, though, he added. "It should be something related to your product or service," Fried-mann suggested.

Pahl's favorite thing to give away is information. "If you have a good, single page with the website, it's enough so that they won't have to carry around all this paper," Pahl said.

Another memorable gift is anything that can help attendees sort through the deluge of data they face, Freidmann said. "In this age of information overload, how helpful would it be if I helped you get through the clutter?"

Winnowing out good leads from dead seeds is challenging but critical in order to determine which prospects are most likely to yield business.

Stuller recommends having a computer at the booth to help capture data, which can later be sorted. Even in the absence of a computer, Friedmann notes the importance of basic qualifying questions, rather than monologue-like sales pitches.

Most importantly, exhibitors must remember that goods leads come to those who wait.

"You must never break down your booth early," Stuller said. What he calls "agenda advisors" often use the exhibit hall for surgical strikes, and save their walk through for last. After all, even at the end of a conference, an extra 20 minutes can be priceless if it means meeting a $200 million advisor, he said.

IMCA does not allow exhibitors to break down early at all. "If they do, they can't come back the next year," Pahl said.

Once the show is over, follow up is essential. "The most scary statistic is that 80% of leads are not followed-up," Friedmann said.

That follow-up should be timely and judicious, Stuller said. Three days generally allows advisors time to catch up at the office, he said. And while everyone can get a postcard or e-mail, the most expensive packages should be saved for the most promising prospects, he said.

Likewise, exhibitors must review the conference results, comparing the average demographic of the tradeshow to the leads generated and contacts made, Stuller said. Such "gap analysis," he said, "is crucial for maximizing results for future tradeshows."

"You've got to improve what you're doing," Friedmann said. "If you're not, then something's wrong with the plan."

(c) 2007 Money Management Executive and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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