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Are You Letting Qualified Trade Show Leads Slip Through Your Fingers?

tradeshow leadsSo, before I really get into the gist of this blog I have to come clean and admit that, for some very specific trade shows, I am nothing more than a bag stuffer.  Yes, that dreaded passer-by who cannot increase your ROI, will not distribute your product to end users and cannot, in any way, help you achieve your sales goals.  I am there for the free stuff and that’s it.

Let’s face it, there are things we need that simply cost a lot of money, like moisturizer, natural, dye-free soaps and skin toner.  The fact that I get it all at a trade show, and that some of the labels specifically state, “For Experimental Use Only” doesn’t sway me from the fact that I just saved a TON of money.  I haven’t grown a full beard (I mean nothing more than any other Italian woman my age) and my eye lids are still the same color as the rest of my skin.  It’s all good!

But then I go home and dump the loot out of the free 10 gallon bag I got at the door of the exhibit hall and, while admiring my take, I start to wonder why no one, not a single person, scanned my badge?  Scratch that, one person did and I never received any follow up for it.

My free sample collecting doesn’t consist of drive-by grabbing.  I stop, ask questions (because I am genuinely interested in some of what the exhibitors do) make small talk and, in almost EVERY instance, ask if the booth staffer wants to scan my badge.  I am willing to give that much for the 6 months’ worth of free skin care I just received.  Yet at the most recent show I attended I couldn’t give my information away.

What is going on?  Does no one gather leads anymore?

When a potential client comes to me for a trade show exhibit, part of my discovery with them is to find out how they gather leads.  Do they have a paper lead card?  Are they gathering the information electronically?  Perhaps their visitors are by invitation only so they know who shows up and who does not.  There are so many ways to collect attendee information in your booth and so many reasons to do so.  If my potential client has not considered lead gathering, we dedicate some time during our meeting to the merits of doing so, how to implement it, and where it belongs in their exhibit space.  It’s that important.

In light of our recent economic woes, there is more pressure on marketing employees to prove a return on their investment in trade shows.  Their bosses want to see the data, perhaps a year-to-year comparison of expenses and returns.  They want to be assured that the thousands of dollars they spend on their annual trade show programs are worth the investment.  And marketing employees want to keep their jobs, prove their worth and keep the marketing budgets growing.  So, what happened at the SCC Supplier’s Day show last month?

This is a show that has exhibitors from all over the world.  I spoke with people from China, South Africa, France and the Caribbean.  We discussed dye free soaps and skin care products not only for me, but for my kids, who are on the Feingold Program ( and do not ingest or practice personal hygiene with anything containing artificial dyes or additives.  I am their target audience, willing to pay big bucks for their products (when not collecting them for free) and still, no one scanned my badge.

At this point, I started to feel like there was something wrong with me.  What was it about me that they didn’t want to get to know me better?  Was I not inquisitive enough?  Did I not prove my need for their products?  Ok, I get that most of them only sell to distributors and not the end users, but most of the people I spoke with were unwilling to tell me who they sell to so that I could buy their products in stores or online.  I even told the soap guy about the tens of thousands of people on the Feingold program and how he can get his products on the ‘approved’ list.  He was interested, I gave him the name and contact information for the National Director, but still, he didn’t scan my badge.  It was like chasing a boy who only wants to date my Chemistry lab partner.

The Benefits of Lead Gathering

So what can lead gathering do for a company?  Well, here are just a few things:

  • If your lead gathering mechanism gathers the right information, and is not just a business card dropped in a fish bowl, your chances of gathering qualified leads, for quick follow up by your sales staff, increase exponentially.
  • Lead collecting helps you keep on top of who is doing the purchasing from year to year at the companies you currently do business with, and helps you build new relationships where you’re already a familiar face.
  • It helps you identify immediate needs and those that are 6 months, a year or farther out in your sales cycle.  It helps you build your cache of potential sales for several months.
  • Lead gathering can help you decide if you’re exhibiting at the right shows.  If you are collecting leads from people who cannot possibly become potential partners, clients or end users of the products and services you sell, then you’re at the wrong show.  Give me a call so we can redirect your efforts.
  • The cost of generating a qualified lead at a show: $212; the cost of generating a qualified lead in the field: $308.*
  • The cost of closing a qualified lead at a show: $705; the cost of closing a qualified lead from the field: $1,140.*

Trade shows are a $70 Billion per year industry.  Big bucks are being poured into trade show booth space, material handling, travel, lodging and entertainment annually.  What are you getting in return?  If you are not getting the payday you expect out of your trade shows, then it’s time to revise your strategy.  Take a look at how (or in this case, IF) you’re gathering leads and make adjustments.  Don’t forget to look at your booth staffers too.  They have to put themselves out there, nothing between them and the aisle, scanner in hand and mint on their breath.  85% of your trade-show success is in the hands of your staff.  Set goals for them, make it fun and provide incentives for the most qualified leads gathered.  Then put those samples out and clear a path because my stash of Shea Butter is dangerously low!

(*CEIR Study on Economics of Exhibiting)

What's Working In ExhibitingSee how your peers are succeeding now with lead management and other key areas of exhibiting in the What’s Working In Exhibiting white paper.  Click here to request your free copy. 

About the Author

Lisa Maniaci is a Senior Account Representative with Skyline Exhibits NJ.

5 responses to “Are You Letting Qualified Trade Show Leads Slip Through Your Fingers?

  1. Quite frankly I do not care if you ask me questions at a trade show, if you are not qualified to purchase my product I will not scan your badge. We have tons of people just like this who only want what we are giving away. They may be fellow exhibitors, convention hall staff, or spouses of the attendees. I do not want nor do I need to follow up with you. We have specific questions we ask when someone shows up to determine if they are a potential client. We use those so that we can bring our sales staff the most qualified, smoking HOTTEST leads that we can.

    On that note can I ask, no beg other exhibitors and bag stuffers to please not take our promo items. We purchase these to help the attendees (who are leads) remember our company. I make it a policy to not take promo items from other booths. If I do drop by to talk to another exhibitor, it is because maybe we can help each other or they are involved in an aspect of our business that I need to better understand. And I always step aside if an attendee walks up and shows an interest in their product or service.

  2. Darci, one of the things I do for a living is to train people to be more like you. You are absolutely 100% right, people should not allow me to take product from their booth if they are not going to get anything from me in return…and that comes down to the booth staffer. I never, ever approach a booth if a staffer is talking with a prospect or there are people waiting to speak with an exhibitor. I like talking with people so I do engage them, and in a way, I’m a mole. I want to see if they are doing their job right. Are they asking me open ended questions? Are any of them looking at my badge or asking what I do (most of the time mine was hidden because of the way I carry my iPad)? I train booth staffers, I need to know.

    As a regular attendee I had some good questions that I wanted answered because of the allergy situation in my home. For some of the companies exhibiting, I was their end user. There is one company that exhibits year after year that has been my supplier of of a certain hand soap for about 4 years now. I tell everyone I know about them. I pull the 5 gallon bottle out at BBQ’s and provide their web address to people who ‘just have to know’where I got it. All because I had a nice conversation with a man who was looking for distributors, heard my story and pointed me in the right direction. I’m a customer for life and word of mouth is free advertisement.

    I do have to say though, the exhibitors on their cell phones, reading a book on their kindle (yes there was one) and sitting down enjoying a bagel and coffee 20 minutes after the show opened didn’t get any love from me. If I liked what they were giving away, I took it; with a smile and a “thank you” but I didn’t stick around to wait for them to wipe the cream cheese off their faces. The woman on her kindle never looked up and also had no one at her booth most of the day, I checked often.

    My long winded point is this; gathering qualified leads includes 2 things; asking the right questions and having booth staffers trained to do so. There is too much money at stake to leave it all out there for others to snatch up. I won’t apologize for being a bag stuffer at this show if I can’t even get an exhibitor to look me in the eye.

    I went to see some of my clients at this show and started asking about their leads for the day; to my sheer joy they had a plan, they had a break schedule so no one was eating or drinking in the booth and they stayed on their feet the entire time they worked that space so they could come to the aisle, instead of expecting others to come in. Not one of them let me get near their product either.

  3. Lisa,
    I found your article dead on with what I usually see at trade shows. Although I am in the service business so I do not have to worry about costs of giving away free products I still have the “trinkets” out to try to get people to stop.
    Why? Quite simply it gives me a chance to read thier badge to see what company they represent and engage them in a conversation to create a lead.
    When I first came to this company and went to a show with my manager he wanted to set up the table at the front of the booth and sit in chairs behind it to engage the customers. I rearranged the booth so we had open access to the aisle. I explained that I wanted to meet and address the customers face to face. Heck he was surprised that I’d actually step out and stop them in the aisle to talk to people from plants I wanted to connect with. I must have impressed him as I am still here and growing with the company.
    By the way the best [and cheapest] “gimmie” I have is one nobody every wants but most people will stop to ask what it is. I have a little white cone shaped object that looks like a deer whistle with small company logo on it. It is really a pen holder that clips or sticks to a vent in a car.
    I love doing shows but I have my head set when I go in that this show has to pay for itself with new business.

    1. Hi Jay,
      That’s exactly what you should be doing. I am sure that many of the people who work tradeshows spend some of their time during those days thinking about all the work that is waiting for them when they get back to the office. Working the show and getting no results is a waste of your time and money…and the work is still waiting for you at the office when you return. At least when you walk away at the end of the show knowing you a. Gathered a bunch of qualified leads; b. had some productive conversations with attendees or c. Made it worthwhile is some way that is important to you, your boss and your organization, then shows work.
      As I mentioned above, there were some people at the show who had no idea that I was their target audience because they didnt ask to see my badge, didnt ask a single question or never lifted their (her) head out of the kindle long enough to notice me. And that’s why I have no apologies for being the bag stuffer when I’m there.

  4. Lisa,

    Thank you for reassuring me that my wife and I are approaching trade shows the right way. We’ve done 4 so far, and the first was the best one in terms of interest and followup business, by a long, long margin.

    For some reason, we found we could sell quite well at our first expo in our local town (despite being a new business no-one had heard of), but struggled to get interest at two much larger trade shows overseas. I think the latter two had different demographics in terms of attendees, and we weren’t able to effectively convert contacts customers.

    Thanks again for the article.

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