When done correctly, trade shows are undoubtedly one of the most productive, cost-effective ways to reach qualified prospects and generate sales. In fact, 81% of trade show attendees have buying authority. Which means more than 4 out of 5 people walking the aisles are potential customers for exhibitors. (Source: CEIR: The Spend Decision: Analyzing How Exhibits Fit Into The Overall Marketing Budget)
As such, it seems to be the practice and desire of most companies to attract large crowds and make the best impression they can at trade shows. They take steps to make as big a splash as they think they can afford. They may build a new exhibit, hire booth entertainment, launch a new product or campaign—and, frequently, walk away from a show elated because of the high number of visitors who filed through their space.
Though impressive, are encounters with many attendees truly helping to grow business? But when the lights go down on the show floor, ask yourself, do you really know where you stand? To know where you stand after a show, follow this 4-step plan:
1. Know what information to collect
2. Collect the information
3. Analyze and act on the information
4. Learn from the results
Step 1: Know what information to collect
You need to collect information about your visitors—the right information—to properly measure your success. Many companies swipe attendee badges, collecting a long list of names they then consider to be leads. But, experience suggests that these names alone are far from being qualified prospects. Not because they don’t have potential to bring in sales, but, because show-provided lead systems give only the most basic contact information—name, company, job title, address, phone number, fax number and email address.
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Put your lead system through a filter by identifying information that will be of value in the follow-up process. For the best results, go directly to your sales managers and your marketing team to better understand what they need to qualify the opportunity. They might suggest qualifiers like these:
• Familiarity with your company and its products or services
• Current supplier or current competitor products, their decision process, and company decision-makers
• Budget for purchase sales cycle and timeframe for purchase
• Next action step
You can make your lead retrieval as robust as you’d like. The important thing is that you invest the time to focus on information that will be important to converting leads into sales. Gathering specific, qualitative data on the prospects who visit your booth will provide invaluable insight into your post-show analysis and future show strategies.
Step 2: Collect the Information
Once you know what information you need to collect from prospects, you need to establish how you will accurately and efficiently collect the data. Missing this crucial step can make or break your analysis. So get what you need, and get it right. Here’s how:
1. Set specific goals, and communicate expectations to show staff. Beyond providing an avenue for potential sales, these goals also serve as benchmarks for evaluating and measuring individual and team performance. One way you can help your team achieve their goals is to provide a script with a list of essential questions they need to ask each qualified prospect they meet with.
2. Make everyone accountable for collecting information. To keep your team on task, assign a captain who is responsible for monitoring the number and quality of leads at the end of each day of the show. Get your team motivated by creating a competition among the staff.
3. Swipe the attendees’ badges. In some cases, it’s appropriate for the staff to input the data for the visitor during the conversation so vital elements are not missed and sales cues can be added. Another way to quickly and accurately collect prospect data is through a buyer’s survey, which can be used as a prerequisite to entering an hourly/daily drawing, show contest, or post-show experience.
4. Take good notes. Request your team to take detailed notes on their personal interactions with prospects. They should include observations and insights obtained during the conversation, responses to qualifying questions and the next step identified and agreed upon by the prospect. Recording data on lead interactions will allow you to provide qualitative and quantitative analysis of the show.
5. Make it fun! Visitors at shows are looking to enjoy themselves. You don’t need to hire professional entertainers for people to have fun, but don’t overlook ideas for creating excitement at your booth. Have you ever noticed how miserable some booth workers seem? Who wants to talk to them? Fun is contagious. If your staff looks like they’re having fun, chances are you’ll draw more people to your booth.
Step 3: Analyze and Act On the Data
The most common – and single worst – mistake companies make when returning from an event is not following up with leads immediately—or at all. Though time is of the essence, don’t confuse speed with accuracy.
You may need time to process the data you’ve collected on your leads, but you can send a simple, yet effective, customized email to thank attendees for visiting your booth and let them know when they can expect to hear from you again. Sending a follow-up email also helps sort the good contacts from the bad, because leads can opt out from further correspondence if it is the wrong fit.
For some marketers, the data collected from prospects is straightforward. However, when approaching a complex sale of products or services, a more difficult analysis is typically required to fully understand a prospect’s position. Regardless, determine whether you are using all the necessary tools to measure and weigh results properly.
After analyzing the data, quickly route qualified leads to the right people. An easy way to do so is to develop a system for rating leads. For example, if investment in “cost of sales” is a consideration in your program’s success metrics, prospects need to be rated by the following:
• Interest level in your offering
• Buying cycle or urgency
• Unique, customized requirements
• Potential budget
• Current suppliers
To make the sales team accountable for following up, create a lead-reporting system. Ask for lead progress and sales conversion at specific time frames, such as 30, 60, and 90 days after the show. Keeping track of your leads will allow you to measure sales directly attributable to your trade show program and individual salespeople, helping demonstrate to management the important role trade shows have on the bottom line.
Step 4: Learn from the Results
There are many reasons for analyzing and measuring trade show results, but the most important is to determine how your show program affects the bottom line. Management wants to know whether its money was well spent—i.e., the number of sales generated directly from the show.
An ROI analysis can give you insight on the most productive elements of your trade show campaign and help you optimize future efforts. Connect the dots to identify trends across products, industries—even specific trade events. You may find better sales returns from specific shows, regions, or purchasing demographics. Things that work great domestically may fail internationally. Programs that flew in June crashed in November—why? You need to figure that out. The more data you have, the easier it will be to build a solid strategy.
The bottom-line: Better planning equals better information, a better strategy, and a better close ratio. To truly know where you stand after the show, approach your next event with an open mind and a strategy to collect valuable data. By gathering solid customer information and putting measurement strategies in place, you can fine-tune your trade show program for better return on your marketing spend.