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exhibiting 101
Lead Time
Optimize your exhibit program's lead-gathering process by answering these four fundamental questions prior to each and every show. By Betsy Earle
Regardless of how many audiovisual bells and lightbox whistles are incorporated into a stand's design, the ultimate goal of most booths is to generate sales for their respective companies. And with the expectations for calculating return on investment and measuring results on the rise, gone are the days when your sales team scribbled attendees' names on pieces of paper that landed in a fish bowl, never to be followed up on. Electronic lead-retrieval systems are now the norm, and these sophisticated tools can make it much easier to collect and qualify leads, distribute them for prompt follow-up, and track their sales-related value. But before you set your staffers loose with a battalion of badge scanners, be sure to address each of the following questions early in the planning process of every show.

How are we going to define a lead at this particular event?
The first step – and the one that is most frequently overlooked – is to determine what qualifies an attendee as a viable lead. Maybe your goal is to scan anyone who can fog a mirror, but it's more likely that there is a set of qualities that a bona fide lead must possess, such as purchasing authority, buying time frame, job title, etc.

Establishing which booth visitors are actionable leads is a process that needs to be done in collaboration with your sales team and begins by reviewing the attendee data provided by show management, which should provide an overview of showgoers' average budgets and company sizes, a breakdown of job titles, and additional demographic info. Once you and your sales team have a clear picture of the show's unique audience – and trust me, every show is a singular entity with a particular pool of potential clients – you can then identify which attendees to home in on based on how well the audience's makeup aligns with your sales objectives. Then, after the show, you can peruse the lead-retrieval data and determine how many badge scans resulted in viable leads.

In regard to current customers, I believe that existing clients who visit your exhibit should be considered leads. True, some may just want some personal, nonbusiness-related attention, but this is also an ideal time for your staff to showcase your company's latest offerings. If you take the time to share your new products and services, you'll likely grow this loyal purchaser's lifetime value.

What lead information is important to our sales team?
Most show-provided lead-retrieval systems collect attendees' personal and company names, job titles, email addresses, and phone numbers – i.e., the basics. While this information is certainly helpful in allowing sales reps to address leads by their correct names in post-show communications, it doesn't exactly empower your reps to personalize their follow-ups. It goes without saying that "So, I see you stopped by our booth at the XYZ show. What did you think?" isn't the most effective icebreaker. Since the majority of lead-retrieval systems offer the ability to integrate qualifying questions, it's foolish not to take advantage of this feature. But rather than collect qualifying data you think is useful, why not gather info you know your sales reps will appreciate?

To that end, be sure the pre-show meeting with your sales team includes a discussion about qualifying questions. Ask what insights into freshly gathered prospects will be most beneficial to fostering in-depth follow-ups. Typical requests will likely include questions about purchasing time frame, buying authority, what alternative solutions and/or competitors prospects are considering, specific products or services of interest, etc. One additional question you might want to add to the top of the list is "Do you want any follow-up from a sales rep?" Yes, the sales team may balk at this ("Of course they want to be contacted! They visited the booth, didn't they?"), but asking such a binary question during the qualifying process quickly separates the proverbial wheat from the chaff and saves your reps from making pointless post-show contact.

While collecting qualifying info is important, try to keep the process from turning into a drawn-out round of 20 Questions. Attendees have a lot to see in a limited amount of time, so gather exactly what you need and avoid the fluff. A good rule of thumb is to keep your general qualifying process to less than two minutes.

How can we maximize lead collection?
To gather as many quality leads as possible, it's necessary to analyze where in the booth lead-collection touchpoints would be the most efficient. Try to think beyond the reception desk and the aisle-side greeter. For example, if you'll have a speaker doing hourly presentations in a theater space, consider positioning booth reps armed with badge scanners at the exit. Or if you'll have a series of interactive experiences in the booth, add a check-in kiosk at which attendees can enter their information and answer qualifying questions while they wait in line.

Keep in mind that depending on the lead-retrieval system you select, you may have to pay for additional software downloads or users. For instance, you might need to pay somewhere in the ballpark of $399 for the first three downloads, and then $99 for each additional download. While this may sound like a significant outlay, especially to small exhibitors, remember that multiple lead-gathering stations will likely increase the number of qualified prospects you collect, which in turn will boost your ROI.

What will happen to the leads after the close of the show?
Many leads are never followed up on, which means your marketing dollars are literally lost. This hotly contested topic is the source of a lot of friction between sales and marketing teams, and it could be a column in and of itself. But for now, I'll just say that you want every lead to have some post-show contact as quickly as possible. A simple marketing email thanking booth visitors for their time and asking if they have any questions is a good jumping-off point for making sure your leads feel acknowledged. After that, the sales department should take the lead, if you'll pardon the pun. But how the leads are divvied up among your sales team should be a larger pre-show discussion so that no one slips through the cracks.

At the end of the day, there isn't one perfect way to gather leads. But if you can validate the show's cost through measurable lead generation, you will likely cultivate goodwill from upper management – and maybe even turn some trade show naysayers into your program's strongest supporters. E

Betsy Earle, CTSM
managing director and founder of Event Driven Solutions LLC. Earle obtained her MBA at the University of Miami and earned her Diamond-level CTSM designation in 2018. Exhibiting101@exhibitormagazine.com

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