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Are You Leaving Money On The Trade Show Floor?

  • Written by Peter Gillett, Zuant
  • Published in Demanding Views

1zuantDVTrade shows are having a dramatic revival, which is great news for marketing and sales. Why this resurgence? One word: Efficiency. Consider how selling has changed over the past two decades. Before today’s high-speed digital age, sales was typically a drawn out process. An inquiry call came in, perhaps as a response to a print ad in a trade publication. A brochure was mailed with a neatly typed cover letter. Next, a sales rep would make a follow-up call to set an appointment, which may have been the first of many face-to-face meetings to finally get the order.

Along with hot sales-ready leads, a sales executive could be responsible for servicing 50 regular clients whom he or she would get to know, meet for coffee and hopefully close an order during this face time. How civilized and relaxed! The entire sales process could be a year long from start to finish.

Fast forward to today: You're dead in the water if a web or email inquiry hasn't been responded to within 60 minutes — such a lag time says you're not interested in earning the business. And the idea of a 1:1 meeting to discuss opportunities is rare.

Tradeshow Revival

The efficiency factor of trade shows makes them an ideal platform for meeting customers and prospects with real business challenges. And from an attendee’s (i.e. potential buyer’s) point of view, the opportunity to review a range of suppliers in one location is highly appealing.

For the salesman as well, trade shows are not only a welcome break from the pressure of endless web meetings, but a wonderful opportunity to actually get to know customers better and discover their real buying intentions. So, good news all round for trade shows — they’re back in vogue with a vengeance!

Simple Steps To Increase Your Sales Lead Volume And Quality

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For all the positives surrounding tradeshows, they can be very expensive. Savvy marketers must ensure they are optimizing their ROI. It's startling how many exhibitors focus on creating great looking booths and generating a high volume of leads and say “job done.”  Too many event managers tasked with running tradeshows have no interest or time for lead follow-up or determining ROI; they've already moved on to delivering the next show. This is why so much money is left on the trade show floor and it’s criminal.    

So what’s a smart marketer to do? Start with preparation a year in advance of a major show. Begin by segmenting your marketing automation/CRM systems into four groups: 

  1. Customers— Major targets for significant growth opportunities.
  2. Customers — Routine 'keep in contact' but not in the buying cycle segment.
  3. Prospects — Major targets.
  4. Prospects — Known, 'keep in contact' but not in the buying cycle segment.

The beauty of modern data capture systems is that all this data is preloaded on lead retrieval devices for an event.  The entire booth staff should know who they’re talking to and who the sales executive is so that they can make proper introductions in the booth.

When you segment in advance you can deliver four unique pre-event campaigns for each category or persona. For instance, you can book interesting restaurants around the trade show city to host more intimate dinners for major target customers and prospects, while those in “keep in contact” mode are invited to visit the exclusive bar and restaurant area within the booth.

Technology plays an important role here as well. The reasonable cost of NFC (near field communication) chip plastic cards allows you to produce VIP cards for all customers and prospects to use during and after the show. They can then be scanned into events so that the individual builds loyalty points and you get the tracking information to see who is most active for follow-up purposes.

A cloud-based lead capture system allows you to have a large TV monitor running in the back office to show real-time capture performance by executive, and even the profile of visitors to the booth. This helps sales reps know who is performing the best with daily incentives to keep them focused, fresh and informed – this is motivating, especially when energy levels fall towards the end of the show.

Typically, your digital marketing team will create an email/newsletter program to introduce products and other news surrounding your presence at the event. Once again, this links back into the marketing automation/CRM data sets preloaded on the lead retrieval devices to see who has been the most active while clicking through and reading items about your products or services.

Why The Show Isn't Over When It Ends

The trade show is just the start of the real sales activity. Good, detailed lead capture is vital to ROI. A typical breakdown of leads captured at a show usually fits into one of the following categories:

  • 5% — hot leads: immediate, ‘sales-ready’ for sales follow-up.
  • 20% — warm sales-ready leads: fully qualified, but the timing is too early.
  • 40% — nurture leads: marketing qualified, but long range.

Clients get most excited about the 5% who need to be converted quickly. The problem is that they are being picked up right at the last stages of a prospect’s buying cycle. Other competitors will be involved at this stage, decreasing your odds.

As in other parts of B2B sales and marketing, the magic is found in the 20% warm leads; the leads who are fully qualified on your lead capture app, and need unpressurized, high-quality follow-up to close. The rub here is that most sales people are too busy to manage this process. Our successful clients issue these leads to their inside sales team or external call center to ensure good quality contact until the buyer is ready. This may take a year or two, so updated CRM reports on a monthly basis are the final vital ingredient to show true ROI data by sales executive and by show.

Today’s marketers are being measured on their ability to support sales and generate revenue. Trade shows are fertile ground for doing this, but they require more than just showing up with a snazzy booth and coming home with a jar of business cards. Trade show optimization can take a year before and two years afterward, which becomes an ongoing quality monitoring/improvement process. If you are ready to tap the full value of tradeshows follow these steps and stop leaving money on the showroom floor. Your sales reps will love you and you will measurably prove your value as a revenue marketer to the organization.


Peter Gillett is CEO of Zuant, where he’s responsible for driving product development and client roll-outs of the company’s award-winning Mobile Lead Capture app across US corporations.  An entrepreneur and innovator, Peter created the world’s first web-based CRM system funded by Lucent Technologies in the 1990s.