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Trade Show Lead Generation: Plan or Fail

Remember the good ol’ days when the leads were plenty and sales were great? You had great success at trade shows and life was good.

Fast-forward to 2014 and budgets are tighter, show attendance is often lagging, and everyone is fighting for the piece of the proverbial pie. What went wrong? Why is it so challenging? Why can’t it be like it used to?

Believe it or not, the answers to these questions have less to do with the state of the economy, exhibition attendance, and industry competition, and more to do with developing a workable plan and following up.


Plan the Work and Work the Plan:

So, you’ve booked your exhibit space, you have your exhibit, the plane tickets are booked. You’re ready to go, right? WRONG! You have to ask yourself, what is your plan? What is your goal? How are you going to get there?

Here are a few easy steps to get you to where you need to be:

  • Have a team meeting: During this meeting discuss things like, “What is our goal? How many leads would it take to make this event a success?” Each organization will have different goals. If you are a machine manufacturer who sells a million dollar product, your lead goal would be much different than a clothing company going to a consumer show. No matter what your industry or product, goals and objectives are a must, as they define why you are exhibiting at a show in the first place.
  • Name a team leader: This can be anyone who has a stake in the show’s success. This person will be responsible for booth scheduling, communicating goals, completing tasks and following up with booth staffers, and post-show follow-up.
  • Run the numbers: Try and figure out how many leads it will take to make the show a financial success. However, remember that leads aren’t just simply a number goal. You need to always shoot for quality over quantity. So, what makes a good quality lead and how many of those do you need?
  • Find out what you need: What do you need to make the goal happen? It could include pre-show promotions, a social media campaign, giveaways, in-booth demos, or a more eye-catching exhibit.
  • Execute: The team will then be tasked to execute the plan and hit the goal.
  • Follow Up: Plan who and how you will follow up on the leads and ways to measure your ROI.

It might seem simple but these steps are necessary to achieve success at your event. We must hold our team members accountable. Many sales people may think that the trade show in Las Vegas this year will be an opportunity to hone their blackjack skills. You have to ensure that they understand the goals and pre-determined objectives, and that they understand what their role is and that they will be responsible for attaining this goal (just like they are responsible to hit their monthly numbers). The team leader will be the quarterback of this team so choose wisely.

Follow the Lead-er:

Here are the hard facts: 74% of trade show leads are never followed up on. Billions of dollars is spent throughout North America on trade show programs and 74% of potential sales slip through our fingers. Typically after the show, the leads are divvied up among the sales team; some receive follow up and the rest go into the desk drawer, never to be seen again.

As a sales person myself, I will have to admit that I am also guilty of this heinous crime. I have attended trade shows, made connections, filled out lead cards and never followed up. For Shame!

So why did I not follow up on my leads? I had no post-show plan.

Companies need to see the value in trade show leads. It’s the reason why we fly across the country and eat takeout for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We discussed the necessity of a pre-show plan, but equally important is the post-show follow up. The team leader’s job does not conclude at the end of the show; when they get back to the office it is their time to really get to work.

Divide the leads equally among the sales team and input them into an easy-to-navigate spreadsheet with all the important information. In the spreadsheet include the columns OUTCOME and ACTION. When the sales rep connects with the lead ensure they indicate the outcome of the call and what their next action will be. Whether that is a face-to-face meeting, a direct mailing, an email, or a conference call, something should be recorded.

The spreadsheets will then be sent back to the team lead in a specified time (a week or two) for review. Not that hard, is it? This holds everyone accountable and leads are not lost.

Let’s Do This

Although the steps outlined about do not sound difficult, they do require work and follow through. We all want to succeed at these events but we need to ensure that we are prepared to fight for good ROI and good outcomes from our events. The alternative is simply not an option anymore.


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With attendees only spending quality time at about 5% of exhibits, exhibitors still need to excel at promotions and planning in order to get those valuable visitors to move out of the aisle and into their booth. Read the Using Promotions & Social Media to Get More Trade Show Visitors white paper to get more quality leads into your booth and better ROI. Click here for your free copy.

About the Author

Shawn Eady was an Exhibit Marketing Specialist with Skyline Exhibits Toronto.

5 responses to “Trade Show Lead Generation: Plan or Fail

  1. Thanks for the share. I think trade shows definitely generate leads to the business. It also increases the business’ sales and revenues.

  2. Invest the time to create and execute a pre-show, at-show and post-show plan. Then devise a system to move show conversations to the sales pipeline quickly.

    Here are some ideas for your post-show plan that will extend the life of your leads

    Add show photos to your website and your company social media channels.

    Encourage conversation in the social media channels on the challenges and the triumphs that they might have at the show floor.

    Post a virtual demonstration of new products launched at the show on a special page on your website, and share the URL with customers and prospects you weren’t able to connect with on-site.

    Get hold of the final attendee database from show management, and use email, twitter and linkedin to reach qualified prospects you did not meet at the show.

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