How to Effectively Manage Trade Show Leads

According to The Marketing Spend Decision Report released earlier this year by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, 93% of companies say their top exhibiting objective is lead generation. However, despite the importance of generating trade show leads, too often those leads are neither properly qualified nor sufficiently followed-up on. In other words, many exhibitors are walking away from their shows without the very thing they came for in the first place.

The good news is that this is an easy thing to fix. All it takes is planning ahead of time—and collaboration with sales. Here’s a step-by-step process for creating effective lead management for your next trade show:

Think About Leads Early

Start thinking about how your trade show leads will be captured on-site as part of your initial planning and goal setting. You don’t need to hash out all of the technical details yet, but have a general idea of what will be needed to achieve your goals. For instance, if your goal is to generate 1000 leads, at the very least you’ll need a lead capture system in place. But if your objective is narrower and you want to generate 200 sales-qualified leads (SQLs), you’ll also need a system that captures custom qualifying information too.

Loop In Sales Often

Bring sales into the process early to ensure that everyone is on the same page from the get-go. The trade show team should connect with the sales leader whose team will be following up on the trade show leads. The purpose of this outreach is to understand what information is critical for sales to effectively follow-up on leads post-trade show.

Answers to this question vary by organization, but besides contact information, popular qualification criteria often include budget, timeframe to purchase, product interest, and decision-making status. Ask the sales leader what the qualification questions should be—and if there are pre-determined multiple-choice answer choices that should be used. That way your lead capture will deliver exactly the information that sales wants to see.

Map Out Your On-Site Process

Next it’s time to explore lead capture hardware. Keep in mind that your sales team wants to focus on connecting with prospects and having quality conversations. Your goal should be to deliver a technology that integrates well with your planned booth activity, and is also easy for your staff to use.

For example, lead capture on smart phones or tablets is very portable but usually works best in one-on-one or one-to-few situations. If you’re funneling thousands of people through your booth, you’ll want to find a technology that scales to large crowds without creating kinks or delays in the attendee experience.

Now it’s time to “close the loop” with sales by explaining your expectations in regards to their participation and what’s been put in place to support corporate goals. Many marketers include lead capture background information in their strategic briefing materials. It’s also very helpful to use live demos during on-site training sessions to show sales exactly how the lead capture system works.

Don't Be Afraid of Real-Time Iteration

Just because the lead capture system has been set up and salespeople have been trained—it doesn’t mean your job is done. After all, we are event marketers –– we know that even the best plans don’t always come together as anticipated.

Make sure stakeholders from both marketing and sales observe how the lead management process unfolds during the show. The goal is to make sure your lead management process is streamlined and fully activated—from initial connection thru qualification to the setting up for next steps.

Designate a time for all stakeholders to compare notes early on the first show day—and use that time to determine if any adjustments need to be made. It’s more beneficial to make real-time changes than go a whole day and then realize during your de-brief that you wish you’d done something different.

Provide a Smooth Hand-Off

The lead management process continues even after the trade show leads are captured and the show is over. After marketing makes sure all lead data is complete (as defined and agreed upon earlier in the process) it should hand the data off to sales for follow-up.

Ideally, sales and marketing will continue to review the results over the next few months (or even years depending on the length of your sales cycle.) Many CRM or marketing automation systems feature analytics that track outcomes from follow-up activities. If you’re not seeing updates and reports from trade show leads early on, raise the red flag to the sales leader you connected with early in the process. This way you can quickly resolve any follow-up issues before the leads go stale.

At Sparks, we believe that ROI is the wrong way to prove trade show marketing success because it tends to be a purely financial equation. We believe that Return-on-Opportunity (ROO) is a better measure of success. When exhibitors and salespeople work hand-in-hand to create an efficient lead capture and qualification process, there tends to be a nice uptick in ROO.

Want more information about trade show lead management and overall measurement? Visit our brand new measurement resource center.

Posted by Kristy Elisano | Request as a Speaker

Caffeine dependent Jersey girl. Inspired by creative risk takers and underdogs. Chief Marketing Officer, Doodle owner and lover of all things chocolate.