Tradeshow Insider – What Leads to Sales


By Heather Howard, CTSM

The show is over! The booth is packed up, the last of the tchotchkes have been given out, and your feet are so swollen they no longer fit in your shoes.

After the months of preparation for the show and the hours spent standing on the hard trade show floor, nothing is more enticing then collapsing on the desk as soon as you get to the office.

However, now is when the hard work begins. According to trade show industry sources, up to 80 percent of trade show leads are never followed up on! The real value of being at a trade show – why it’s worth your money — comes when you follow up on the leads and contacts you make.

How leads are collected varies from show to show.

Some shows offer lead retrieval machines. This is the most expensive way to collect leads. Machine rentals often run about $400 to $700 per event. And vendors will also charge you $50 to $100 just to deliver a machine to your booth space and show you how to use it before the show starts. Though it may be an expensive way of recording leads, it is the most reliable. You have the option of having leads printed at the show site, stored on a thumb drive or e-mailed to you. My advice is to always have them e-mailed. I have heard horror stories of sales staff losing thumb drives after an event in the mess of show floor teardown.

At events that do not offer lead retrieval machines, it is normal to collect business cards. Most people return from a trade show with a stack of business cards. At best, they have written something on the reverse side of the card to remind them why a contact is important. At worst, business cards are stuck in different pockets or purses, often getting lost, and you have no idea who Alex Smith from XYZ industry is and why you have his card. I have learned the hard way to get out of the habit of writing on business cards. It is a matter of cultural respect. In Asian cultures a business card is a badge of honor. It is a sign of disrespect to write on it. I made the mistake of doing that once at a show with an interested attendee, only to have it snatched away from me with a look of disgust.

A customized lead management form is another method to assist booth staffers in data acquisition. A well thought out lead form will make follow up and lead sorting much more manageable and help you increase your trade show ROI. It should include space for company information, qualifying questions, and trade show follow up information. If an attendee is going to take the time to fill out a lead management form, chances are he or she is interested in your product or service. The form is best used as a way to capture leads and make the attendee work for the trade show giveaways you hand out in the booth.

Now that you have an idea of the different ways to collect leads, what are you going to do with them?

Don’t wait till the event is over and dig through them. Organize leads while still at the trade show.

Start tracking contacts and leads as soon as you get them. Pack a separate notebook and a roll of double sided tape for each show. Tape the business card into the notebook as you meet contacts, making notes about who they are and why you want to follow up with them. NEVER let the notebook out of your sight. And make sure that it is entrusted after the event to a staffer who won’t leave it behind.

Start the follow up process as soon as you get back to the office. I know it is so much easier said than done. You are exhausted, and have 100+ e-mail and voice mail messages. And the last thing you want to think about is the show you just attended. But don’t lose the momentum you have created. Many attendees come back from a trade show re-energized about their own businesses, so it can be a good time to move fast.

Chances are, if you wait more than 48 hours to start following up on trade show leads, they will be forgotten.

Enter your leads and the customer contact information into a contact management system. If you do not have such a system, simply enter the information into a spreadsheet program. Have one person responsible for lead fulfillment, data entry into your database, and lead transfer to sales.

Have a follow up meeting with all who staffed the booth and everyone, who will be responsible for follow up, to discuss what the next plan of action is. Discuss the leads, make follow up assignments and set deadlines. Throw in a contest as well to keep the excitement and energy going.

Watch out for the critical link that is too often broken: What attendees reveal to your booth staffer and how your booth staffer responds are not often passed on to the field sales rep, which causes lack of motivation for lead follow up and frustration with the attendees.

The easiest way to follow up is to send each lead an e-mail. Thank them for visiting your booth, remind them who you are and what your company does and include a link to your web-site. If you have any notes on the conversation in the booth, include some of that as well to personalize it. After a show, attendees get swamped with mass e-mails. Personalizing it to the actual booth conversation will show that you were really listening to the attendee’s needs. And let attendees know that they will be hearing from you again soon.

Make sure that you do exactly what you promised to do, immediately! If you had good interactions with strong leads and promised to do something for them when you got back in the office, do it. Samples, prices or catalogs will ensure that you are being placed in front of them again. These leads are strong and must be followed up on immediately because chances are, a competitor at the show is doing it before you.

Don’t toss away the leads that may not seem strong. People not in the market for your product or service at this time are most likely to know someone who may be interested. And it could be a service they may need later on.

Follow up again. Many attendees have also been away from the office and will need time to catch up. And they are probably just as exhausted and overstimulated as you are.

It takes a lot of work, but all of these tips are a must if you want to get measurable results from your company’s investment and your time.

Before the show even starts, think about this. If you don’t follow through, every other effort is a waste.

At The Exhibitor Show in Las Vegas, I took a course called “A Lead Is Only a Lead if It Leads to Something.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

(Heather Howard, CTSM, is a contributor from Washington, D.C.)

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