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exhibitor q&a
lead capture
We're purchasing a new lead-capture system for our booth. What questions should I ask vendors to ensure that we select the product that will meet our needs?
The term "lead capture" sounds simple enough. After all, you just need to gather attendee information so you can pass it on to your sales team or relay the data to a more sophisticated lead-management or customer-relationship-management (CRM) system. But anyone that has ever compared lead-capture systems knows that they're anything but simplistic. In fact, they can be rather complex, and yet understanding what a specific system can do as it relates to your needs is paramount to the purchasing process.

What's more, there are four main functions a lead-capture system should offer. First, it must gather enough data to fully identify attendees so you can easily communicate with them after the show. Second, the system has to obtain the right data in the proper context so that salespeople can later understand the customers' needs and the conversations that occurred during the show. Third, the lead-retrieval experience should be uncomplicated and integrated into a typical booth conversation. And finally, it should facilitate rapid follow-up after the in-booth experience.

So to help ensure that you obtain the right system for your needs, here are some critical topics to broach with your vendor. The answers you receive should help guide you to the system with the mix of functions and features that your program requires.

Flexibility and Compatibility
The first question you should ask is: Does the system work with a wide variety of badge types, such as Quick Response (QR) codes, magnetic strips, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, bar codes, etc.? The world of conference badges is rapidly evolving, so your lead-capture system needs as much flexibility as possible to transform with the times.

Along these same lines, some events still don't offer badges that can be scanned, and at several international shows, attendees simply refuse to wear badges at all. If you exhibit internationally or at any badge-free shows, ask vendors whether their systems allow you to scan business cards or manually enter data.

And perhaps most importantly, ask if the product in question integrates with your CRM system, e.g., Salesforce, Eloqua, Marketo, SalesLogix, and so on. If the system isn't compatible with the badges you scan and/or existing CRM system you use, there's no need to ask any more questions; the lead system isn't for you.

Online Functionality
Does the system in question work online, offline, or both, and how are functions impacted by Internet connectivity? Also, does the system work with registration-company products that require a real-time Web-service integration to supply full contact information? Some systems and devices are seriously limited by a sketchy Internet connection, while others work perfectly fine completely offline. In addition, system requirements and data-timing needs often dictate whether Internet connections are required or desired. So ensure the product you choose will operate effectively in all of your event environments and that it supports the speed at which your company wants to consume the data.

It also may be important for your system to be able to "talk" to real-time, Web-based, information-access services offered by many registration/badge companies, such as Experient Inc., CompuSystems Inc., and Convention Data Services Inc. Confirm that the system you choose will integrate with any online services you use.

Communication Speed
In some industries, speed equates good customer service. Within a competitor-rich environment with short sales cycles, your salespeople could lose a sale if follow-up communication or e-literature delivery doesn't arrive before the competition's. Ask each vendor if its system provides real-time, same-day, or end-of-show data, and ensure that delivery speed matches the requirements of your salespeople, customers, and prospects.

Plus, inquire about the ability of the system to accurately match up sales reps with customers based on criteria such as location, product interest, etc. If you need fast follow-up, this service will typically speed salespeople's response times. And sometimes, the system can send an automated "first touch" to leads and then link the prospects with sales reps to jumpstart the process.

Information and Formatting
What kind of, and how much, information can the system handle over and above the data obtained from a badge? How flexible is the system in allowing customized qualification questions? And does the system have the ability to offer branching-logic questions based on various attendee indicators? It's better to have more flexibility than you think you need straight out of the gate than to find out two months after the purchase – likely after you've trained all of your booth staff to use the new product – that you're hamstrung by a rigid or limited question format.

What overview or measurement elements such as dashboard reporting, literature click-throughs, usage statistics, and timing data are available, and how and when are they delivered? In addition to relaying key lead information to salespeople, you also need some general measurement and evaluation tools to support and analyze the marketing side of your exhibit program.

Finally, determine how rapidly the system can be updated with new qualifying questions, literature, customization, etc. Does it require custom programming, an app reload on all devices, or simply a server sync? Every show audience is different, and you may even be offering different products at each event. So a system that updates easily and quickly may be crucial to your success.

Device Compatability
What types of devices are required to run the product and how do you obtain them? That is, can you use your company's own tablets, smartphones, and computers, or do you need to rent or purchase a proprietary piece of hardware? And can you run a variety of devices, such as both touchscreens and smartphones, or do you have to select one option and stick with it? All companies have various needs and wants when it comes to hardware choices. But it's important to know up front how flexible the system is and if you can alter the number and type of devices used for various events.

The device that operates the product may not, however, be the same device that scans a badge or business card. So also inquire as to whether you need a scanner or a smartphone that can photograph business cards. And remember that show floors are notorious for poor lighting, glare, reflections, etc. Thus, talk to each vendor about the specific conditions of your scanning environment and whether its equipment has any issues operating effectively within it.

As you can see, lead-capture systems can be far more complex than their straightforward name implies. But by peppering vendors with the aforementioned questions, you should be able to select the system that will meet your exhibiting needs today and well into the future.

– Dean Hills, digital strategist, PRMconnect Inc., Las Vegas
Help Wanted
Send your tough questions about exhibiting to Linda Armstrong, larmstrong@exhibitormagazine.com.

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