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f you asked most marketers what their primary objective is at trade shows and corporate events, they'd likely say collecting and qualifying sales leads. In fact, according to the 2010 Unisfair Marketing Survey, lead generation is the top priority of 68 percent of marketers, followed by brand awareness and customer retention. But that commitment to generating leads is irrelevant if those leads aren't properly collected, qualified, contacted, and (fingers crossed!) closed.

For years, press releases, magazine articles, and speakers at industry conferences have quoted the statistic that 80 percent of leads generated at trade shows never receive follow-up. But that statistic, which several sources trace back to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) - or to the Trade Show Bureau, which morphed into CEIR - must be taken with a grain of salt the size of an entire salt lick.

According to CEIR - which is unable to confirm whether or not the statistic came from any of its research over the past decade or so - even if the data exists, it is likely outdated. But that "80 percent" myth isn't the only mystery clouding our industry's understanding of lead management.
In many companies, once leads are handed off to sales, they seem to fall into a black hole, leaving exhibit managers unable to track those leads and, as a result, unable to prove that their programs deliver bottom-line benefits. So if companies allegedly aren't following up on them, and aren't capable of tracking where they go, what's really happening with regard to those elusive and all-important sales leads?

To help shed some light on lead management and follow-up, and to provide some benchmarks and industry averages to assist you in making your own informed decisions about lead-management processes, EXHIBITOR conducted its 2010 Sales Lead Survey. The research, sponsored by Lynch Exhibits Inc. and In4med Corp., found that 98 percent of exhibitors collect sales leads at trade shows, but less than 70 percent have any formalized plan or process in place for how those leads are followed up after the show. Only 47 percent of companies track leads generated at trade shows and events throughout the sales cycle, and a measly 28 percent measure and report the number of leads that ultimately convert to sales as part of their exhibit programs' ROI.

The good news, however, is that despite the industry myth that 80 percent of leads never receive post-show follow-up, four out of 10 respondents report that upwards of 80 percent of the leads they collect at trade shows and events do receive follow-up communication.

When it comes to lead retrieval, there's still a disturbingly high percentage of exhibitors relying on the so-called "fishbowl method" of collecting business cards, without any formal lead form, lead-qualification system, or badge scanner. Still, the vast majority (83 percent) rent lead-retrieval systems for at least a portion of the shows at which they exhibit.

In terms of lead qualification, only 34 percent of respondents have a formal lead-scoring or lead-ranking process designed to prioritize follow-up or gauge the potential value of each lead (the majority of those scoring/ranking procedures were developed jointly by the sales and marketing departments). And those leads are typically qualified during formal or informal conversations between staffers and attendees (only 18 percent use surveys to qualify leads). But despite the importance placed on those staffer/attendee conversations, nearly 20 percent of survey respondents fail to train their booth staffers on lead-qualification tactics.

When post-show follow-up does occur, it is most likely to happen within three to five days after the trade show or corporate event, with most companies following up via personal e-mail, post-show mailers/literature, personal phone calls, or automated e-mails. Surprisingly, 42 percent of respondents indicate that marketing, as opposed to sales, is responsible for that initial post-show follow-up.

According to the survey, companies typically attempt between two and five contacts/touches before nonresponsive leads are considered "dead" and are discarded, but roughly 12 percent of companies continue ongoing communication with nonresponsive leads indefinitely as a sort of "lead nurturing" strategy to maintain top-of-mind awareness with those prospects.

Pages 35 to 37 include excerpts of the myriad statistics culled from the survey, along with respondents' feelings regarding their current lead-retrieval and lead-management processes. Read on to discover whether you're leading the way when it comes to lead management and follow-up, or whether you need to start following up to keep pace with your peers.



ABOUT THE RESEARCH
The survey was conducted by Exhibitor Media Group, and sponsored by Lynch Exhibits Inc. and In4med Corp. The e-mail invitation received a 2.3-percent response rate and generated 122 completed surveys with 116 qualified and usable responses (six were disqualified as suppliers). As an incentive, the e-mail invitation offered survey participants an executive summary of the results when available, and a chance to win one of two $100 gift cards.

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