As business owners know well, a trade show often represents a significant investment for companies, particularly new businesses and small to medium enterprises (SMEs). As such, it’s important to make sure that you have a clear set of goals so you can measure investment against return. Goals also help at the planning stage, enabling you to tailor your strategy to your aims.

At the most basic level, all businesses will be looking to increase sales and profits. However, this is too vague to have as a goal. As when coming up with any business strategy, it’s important to have not only the ‘what’ element of your goals, but also the ‘how’.

Depending on the particulars of your business, you may be aiming to increase your brand visibility, focus on a target demographic, or simply attract high quality customers who will make repeat purchases or sign ongoing contracts. At this stage, research into the particular trade show can reap dividends, as you can work out if your aims are compatible with the show’s largest demographics and attendance rates.

A booth that knows its goals is a booth than can target face-to-face time with potential clients and customers effectively. If you want to improve brand visibility, you can steer interested parties towards signing up to mailing lists, and make sure everyone leaves with your business card. Don’t forget to follow up on people who express interest with either targeted marketing or personal communication, depending on the nature of your product.

On the other hand, if you’re working on attracting high quality clients, you can plan to take the time to build customers’ relationships with the brand. This includes making the effort to deliver a level of post-sale engagement and care, which helps build positive associations around your brand.

Another reason for a business to attend a trade show is to launch a new product. If this is your goal, make sure you have an engaging booth, and a display model of the product (or perhaps a component of it) if at all possible. If actively demonstrating the product is not feasible within the venue, consider bringing equipment to show videos of it in action. The bigger the screen, the more likely it is that you will draw people in.

Trade shows can also offer the opportunity to solicit customer feedback. The vast majority of visitors at trade shows plan to buy, or at least to consider the possibilities available to them.

Large numbers of people who are open to hearing about your product under one roof represents an excellent opportunity to ask them about what they’d like to see in your product. Try to keep rough notes, so that you can spot any recurring themes. This information can be invaluable in staying ahead of your competition.

The key thing to remember about preparing for a trade show is to lay out what you want to achieve, then take the time afterwards to assess how reality measured up to your plan. This also helps you develop your strategy for subsequent shows as your business continues to grow and develop.