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Recently, the lottery in NY — the state I call home — reached a record jackpot, larger than ever before. When I penned these words, the grand total of funds just waiting to be won was over 340 million dollars. As you can imagine, this got people talking. Almost every local newscast covered the huge jackpot. People were lining up at convenience stores across the state, hoping against hope to cash in and win big.

This got me thinking about the two types of people: gamblers and planners. Both would like to have the big bag of cash, but they take different routes to achieve it. A gambler might plunk down a dollar — or two, or twenty, or two hundred — in hopes of winning big in a lottery, while the planner follows a less exciting route of saving and investing. At the end of the day, who’s more likely to have the big bucks? Chances are, it’d be the planner.

Tradeshow exhibiting works the same way. You can gamble on having a good show, approaching it in a frenzy because ‘everybody’s doing it’ and you’ve heard there’s big money to be had, or you can approach it methodically, making a plan, doing your research, and making those actions that are prudent and improve your bottom line.

Some gamblers win. That’s what keeps lotteries going, after all. Some exhibitors show up with only half an idea of what they’re doing, a horrible exhibit and only fledgling show skills, and yet still have a triumphant show. But the odds are against most gamblers. For every winner, there are thousands of losers. For every successful ‘We just wing it’ exhibitor, there are hundreds who look at the time and effort expended and realize they could have done much, much better — if only they’d taken the time to learn what they were doing. Are you willing to take that chance?

I’m not much of a gambler myself, but even I know you should never lay money on the table without knowing what’s at stake. Ask yourself, what could happen if I leave my tradeshow performance to chance?

You could luck out and have a fabulous show.

You could also:

– Miss out on great sales opportunities because your booth staffers didn’t ask the right questions.

– Alienate would be buyers with pushy sales tactics, off color humor, or crass booth behavior.

– Make any of a dozen common mistakes that cost companies customers.

– Ruin your standing in the industry by appearing inept and poorly prepared next to your peers.

– Discourage would-be partners from considering doing business with you: after all, you obviously don’t have your act together!

– And even more!

Losing this wager doesn’t appear so inconsequential anymore, does it? When the real life cost of poor show performance is spelled out, the planning route suddenly becomes far more attractive.

Ideally, tradeshow planning begins twelve to eighteen months before the event. This is the best way to ensure your staffers know what’s expected of them, and have time to develop and practice the skills they need to do the best job possible.

What happens if you’re within that window? Do you just throw the dice and hope for the best?

You can: or you can choose to do the best you can in the time you have. Any preparation, even a few hurried hours before the event, is better than none at all. Obviously, the more you have, the better off you are.

Priority items to cover include goals and objectives: Why are you at the show and what do you want to accomplish? Go over qualifying questions: what type of attendees should your staffers be spending time with, and what type of information do you want them to collect. Establish a lead collection and follow up procedure to maximize your return on the show.

All of this is obviously a lot of work — which is why the planner types start well in advance of the show. However, when you consider the alternative — winging it through one of the highest profile marketing exercises you’ll engage in all year — you’ve just got to ask yourself one question:

Do you feel lucky?

This Marketing article was written by Susan A. Friedmann on 3/26/2007

Written by Susan A. Friedmann, CSP, The Tradeshow Coach, Lake Placid, NY, internationally recognized expert working with companies to increase their profitability at tradeshows. Author: “Meeting & Event Planning for Dummies,” and “Riches in Niches: How to Make it BIG in a small Market” (May 2007).