A few months into 2012, some manufacturers I have spoken with mention tangible signs of improvement in the economy. They are getting more requests for quotes and converting some of those quotes into orders, which means they are getting more business overall.

Likewise, while attending trade shows this season, I’ve noticed more attendees - prospective customers - walking the show and stopping in booths. This too is an encouraging sign. Even if a prospective customer is not yet ready to sign on the dotted line, they are ready to learn more about technologies that can help solve their problems.

What has been less encouraging at these trade shows is the behavior I’ve noticed by some of the exhibitors. I understand that we’re all being asked to do more with fewer people, and gone are the days when you can attend a tradeshow and completely leave office duties behind. Current customers still have questions, your colleagues may not know the project as well as you do, and you need to keep in touch about the work in progress. Still, I was disturbed to see - too frequently - behaviors best described as “How Not to Exhibit at a Tradeshow.”

Remember you’re there to talk to customers and prospects. So if you’re wearing matching shirts, you shouldn’t be talking to one another. Who hasn’t walked by a booth and seen booth personnel all clumped into small groups talking to colleagues? Is it really that the company’s products are so bad that no one wants to learn more about them? Probably not. The booth staff has forgotten who they are there to meet. They may even be talking about current or future business, ongoing problems or other company business. Problem is, they’re doing it in the wrong place.

Remember, you know where to find those people in the matching shirts, and even those who you call as you stand 10' from your booth: in the company directory (if not in the office next door) or in your Outlook contacts. Those relationships are valuable but they already exist.

Being prepared for a tradeshow requires doing more than simply packing brochures, booth and equipment and booking a hotel room. If you or your team is planning to exhibit at a tradeshow in 2012, please give your company the best chance it has to capitalize on this pent-up demand. Make your focus the customers and prospects right in front of you and capitalize on your tradeshow investment.

Linda Becker, Associate Publisher and Editor, BeckerL@bnpmedia.com