Attending a business conference is a great way to promote your company and meet new customers and prospective partners. Exhibiting or putting up a booth for your company at a conference can be very expensive, and it’s important to be able to get the most from it. Getting the best return from investment in a conference is about planning, having clear goals and leaving a lasting impression and the following five tips will help your company get the most from your next conference.

1)      Have a clear goal in place.

This may seem an obvious point, but you should always be clear why you are attending a business event. Is it to generate sales leads and capture customer details to follow up at a later date? Is it to engage with existing customers and build loyalty? Having a clear goal makes it easier to plan everything from who will attend to what your stand will look like.

2)      Promote your presence.

Smart businesses let their customers know they will be at a conference long before the event. There are many ways to do this, including adding details to your website and asking your sales and customer service teams to mention it to customers. If you promote your attendance in advance, you won’t have to worry about waiting for people to visit your stand.

3)      Make your conference stand unique and attractive.

The larger the event, the higher the competition for attention gets. Think about ways to make your stand unique, and have something to attract people over to talk to you. Chocolate fountains, free massages and the chance to play a game are more likely to attract visitors than just a laptop showing a business presentation. Visitors will be in a better frame of mind to talk about your business if you engage them from the beginning.

4)      Offer practical giveaways.

Promotional giveaways are a great investment for a conference, and can bring returns for months afterwards. Promotional pens, jotter pads and mugs can sit on a customer’s desk as a daily reminder of your company and brand. Include your telephone number and website address on conference giveaway items as an easy means for customers to be able to contact you. Invest in good quality giveaways, as inferior items will reflect badly on your brand.

5)      Follow up on leads and take action.

A prize drawing is a great way to capture sales leads at a conference. Ask visitors to place their business card into a box, or offer a form which captures their name and email address in return for entry to the drawing. Make contact soon after the conference to offer sales literature and request an appointment. Smart businesses track the leads and business they generate from a conference and are able to quantify the return on investment.

For some companies, attending conferences is all a part of working within the business. Some industries have exhibitions and events which all relevant companies are expected to attend, but you can be more selective about regional and smaller events. It’s better to plan and prepare thoroughly for a few large events and leave a lasting impression than to attend dozens of conferences for the sake of it.

Duncan Johnston is a marketing consultant. He enjoys helping businesses shine at trade shows and conferences and his articles mainly appear on marketing sites and blogs.