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Go Beyond The Back Of A Business Card: Creating A More Complete Trade Show Lead Management System

a business card is not a lead management systemDoes your trade show lead management system begin and end with jotting notes on the back of your booth visitors’ business cards?

While it ensures that your notes are “attached” to each contact, relying on business cards alone severely limits the space you can write down the valuable info told shared by attendees visiting your trade show displays.

And that’s a big problem.  Because without meaningful notes about what your booth visitors said and your booth staffers promised, your sales people are much less likely to value the lead enough to follow up.  And even if they do follow up, they will more often make a hash of it since they lack a good record of what the attendee already said they wanted.  Making your trade show results suffer.

A Complete Trade Show Lead Management System

But this is a problem that’s easily solved.  Instead of relying on writing on a business card, graduate to a complete trade show lead management system that makes it easier to record what your booth staffers say, transfer that knowledge to your sales force, and better follow up (and measure the results of) your trade show leads.

Here are the three elements of a trade show lead management system that go beyond jotting notes on the back of a business card:

  1. A lead card, which is a pad of pre-printed paper with room to record contact info, answers to common qualifying questions, and notes about the attendees’ needs and your promises for next steps they agreed upon.  They are usually printed on half a sheet to a full sheet of 8 ½” x 11” paper.  The pad of paper has a cardboard backing to make it easier to write on the lead cards.
  2. An electronic lead retrieval system, which is almost always rented from the show, that lets you scan the badges of visitors to your booth. You can also buy your own lead retrieval system to bring to each show, which makes training easier for your booth staffers, as they only have to learn one system.  The lead retrieval system records all the leads you’ve taken, so you can then get a digital record of all their contact info in a format you can import into your computer contact management system.  It also gives you a print out when you take each lead, that you can use as the lead itself, or staple it to your lead card so you don’t have to write out the visitor’s contact info.   These systems are evolving, as there are more and more systems available for iPads, tablet PCs, and smart phones.
  3. A CRM (Customer Relationship Management) database for entering in those leads, rather than stacking up the business cards on the side of your desk.  With a database, you can more easily assign the leads to sales people, do post-show marketing, continue follow up over time, and track sales results by comparing leads to your client database.  And no cheating with an Excel file: while that is better than a stack of business cards, it’s still not a true CRM database.

Using either lead cards and a database, or an electronic lead retrieval system and a database, or all three together will help you record more info about each visitor to your booth, help ensure a more complete follow up by the sales force, and make it easier to continue marketing to your trade show leads after the show.

So while it may not be as easy as setting up a banner stand, take the time to set up your lead management system.  It’s that important to your trade show success.  And it will earn you a lot more business than just writing on the back of business cards.

If you’ve made the jump from business cards to a true lead management system, and have seen the accompanying jump in results, we’d love to hear your story in the comments box below.

What's Working In Exhibiting White PaperGood lead management gets you more from your trade show marketing investment.  Learn even more ways to boost your results in the 32-page White Paper, What’s Working In ExhibitingClick here to get your free copy now.

About the Author

Mike Thimmesch is the Principal at Thimmesch Marketing. For over 25 years, he has created and implemented innovative marketing, lead generation, and exhibiting strategies that profitably grow company sales and brand awareness. Mike rose to Director level at Skyline Exhibits, where he helped generate over a half million leads, resulting in over $1 billion in sales. He published 11 industry white papers and eight exhibiting books, presented over 100 trade show webinars, and wrote over 200 exhibit marketing blog posts.

13 responses to “Go Beyond The Back Of A Business Card: Creating A More Complete Trade Show Lead Management System

  1. A trade show lead management system is something that is necessary to have an efficient database of customers. I would definitely recommend a CRM for trade show managers that deal with hundreds of customers. The company Map Dynamics also helps trade show managers increase efficiency in their trade show management process. Check out the website and see how their solution greatly decreases the amount of hours spent with dealing with the exhibitor registration process.

    1. Leon and Bob,

      Thanks for answering Jordan’s question! I’m also interested to hear what cloud-based CRM systems trade show marketers are using. Anyone have experience with

      1. cannot be beaten. It is not merely a CRM or SFA system – it is a business application development platform.

        We have been using it since 2006, and have built a number of custom applications that allow us to manage marketing projects, manage trade shows, booth resources and shipping logistics (we do 100+ tradeshows per year.) In addition, we manage our marketing, sales and service entirely out of The key is to have a good administrator that is knowledgable in relational database and development.

  2. I have worked with ACT and and prefer by far. Very user friendly, great GUI. Includes features such as campaign building, etc.

  3. The lead systems we’ve used like those from The National Harware Show are nice but the cost is outstanding! And, nearly all my leads were backed up with a business card. For right now it makes you wonder what the benefit is? We use CardScan so the data from the card goes right into our data base in the office. It’s going to be very hard to replace the business card with anything that is simpler, easier and as cost effective.

    1. Louis,

      Sounds like you could just use a printed lead card to complete your system. You already have your own digital system that gets the contact info into your database. But with a lead card, your staffers can also record what they learn about their booth visitors in terms of their wants, needs, pains, time frame, existing vendors, and more.

  4. I was a Goldmine CRM Database Administrator among other things for 9 years at a Skyline dealership. When I started my own company I could have had Goldmine for free because of my business relationships with VARS. I chose to pay (good money) for Salesforce because of the ease of web integration, ability to access from anywhere and the scalability of the product. Recently I have discovered Zoho CRM, it is an inexpensive Salesforce alternative and even has a free version for up to 3 users. Whatever you use to collect up leads it is imperative to collect and add in details so you can segment your list and follow up effectively after the show.

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