Lead Follow-Up for Trade Show Success

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It seems that companies spend, as the late Carl Sagan might say, "billions and billions" on trade shows. But most of the money appears to be spent on promoting, exhibiting and traveling, with very little spent on follow-up.

Try these seven steps to leverage your trade show investments to get more sales.

Use your booth to qualify prospects. Visitors walk large convention centers with little time to assess who you are and if they should visit your booth. This is, of course, particularly true if you don't have a household brand like IBM or Microsoft. But it's even true for them, as they risk being flooded with nonqualified premium collectors. There's nothing wrong if your booth's message says exactly what you're looking for. At last month's fall DMA conference, I visited a booth that said "If you're a hi-tech company looking for a direct marketing resource in Europe, STOP." Sure, they had fewer visitors than the booth with the model signing autographs, but theirs were much more qualified.

Qualify the visitors. Determine your initial qualification criteria. These could be a position in marketing within a large technology company. Then, determine your ideal prospect profile. This would go beyond the initial criteria to include companies who outsource services in your category and who have a current need. You need to decide up front what you're looking for and train your team to go after only those prospects.

Capture lead qualification information. There are a number of ways to do this, all with their advantages and disadvantages. Some firms use badges to scan, using tools provided by the trade show sponsor. Others have their own qualification forms or kiosks that they use. Some collect simple business cards and write on the back. All of these work if you have the right follow-up process. For example, the advantage of business cards is you have contact information -- e-mail, direct line, fax number -- that is virtually guaranteed to be accurate. You definitely don't always get this with scanning badges and forms. A hybrid system sometimes used is to import the entire database of registered attendees and use their own qualification form with a business card stapled to it. Your team checks off a few qualification questions, and the original record is looked up on the system and the qualification information is appended.

Be aggressive. If your sales cycle is complicated and lengthy, you can't sell them at the show. But you can capture the information needed to follow up and produce a valuable sales opportunity. Therefore, this isn't the time for small talk. Talk to as many people as possible and attempt to initially qualify them. If they qualify, probe further to determine if your ideal prospect profile is achieved. Your team must be engaging and greet every possible visitor.

Don't have too much collateral on hand. Some companies bring all their sales collateral to their booths. Then, when a prospect expresses interest, it's given to them. This not only means the prospect carries around your materials (as well as your competitors') for a couple of days, but he also takes away a valuable follow-up opportunity. For qualified prospects, make sure you get their contact information, either scanned in, a qualification form or a business card.

Follow up quickly. If you process the leads from your trade show each day, you can send each prospect a fulfillment kit that will be on their desks when they return from the show. Several days later, follow up with a telephone call to make sure they got it and begin to nurture them through the sales cycle. What is their role in the decision process? Is there a current need? Who else is involved? What solution do they currently have and what else are they looking at? All this information needs to be centralized in a response management system to enable follow-up and measure results.

Build an integrated response management program. At the end of the day, there are two sides of the house that need to be satisfied. Sales departments need more sales. Marketing departments like this too, but need information to measure results (to see what's working and what's not) as well as the ability to drive future sales through upgrades, cross-sells, etc. That means you need an integrated system to capture leads from trade shows (as well as ads, direct mail, the web, etc.). This can be done inhouse or outsourced. Either way, someone has to own the process and you'll need to invest in systems and processes to make it work. The result will be one central response marketing database that helps you nurture prospects through the buying cycle, gets more sales and closes the loop. That way, everyone wins.

Trade shows work, but only if you follow up. The goal should be to get sales, not to get visitors. Often, trade shows aren't the end of the sales process, they're just a key part. To get sales, you need a follow-up system designed to build relationships and nurture them through the buying cycle.

Tim Young is CEO of Techmar Communications Inc., which provides integrated global response management services with offices in Boston, San Jose and Brussels. His e-mail address is tyoung@techmar.com.

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