How To Save The Life Of A Tradeshow Sales Lead

With a slew of industrial supply-oriented tradeshows coming up between now and November, take a look everything involved with getting the most ROI from attending/exhibiting at those events.

Since the dawn of marketing, tradeshow and other in-person events have been the largest items in the B2B marketing budget, often exceeding more than 50 percent of the total budget. And yet, have you ever seen an ROI report on tradeshow activity proving this huge investment is paying off? If they exist they are as rare as Beluga caviar.

Sadly, most event managers focus on creating great looking booths and coming home with a load of leads at the end of the show. There’s no regard for quality. It’s all about volume because unfortunately, quantity (vs quality) is how their organization measures their success. Those tasked with this job, have no interest or time for lead follow-up or ROI; they've already moved on to producing the next show.

Ironically there is a marked resurgence today in tradeshows and events. Why? Because in our digital, always on(line) world of maximum productivity and efficiency (i.e. email and web meetings), tradeshows are one of the only channels to connect with customers and prospects face to face. On the flipside, from a booth visitor’s point of view, the opportunity to evaluate a wide range of potential suppliers in one location is priceless. Clearly, tradeshows are a win-win scenario.

Despite their resurgence, however, tradeshows can result in a bottomless pit of wasted marketing dollars. Too often potential sales leads are left to die a slow death on the showroom floor. If you are like me, perhaps you’ve experienced the same treatment at a show that you find when visiting a company’s website. You leave a request for information and get no response. The same is often true when you visit an exhibitor’s booth and although you might have a meaningful conversation with one of the company representatives, your actual request for follow-up never happens.

Given the tremendous potential of tradeshows to produce high quality sales leads, let’s highlight what a day in the life of a tradeshow sales lead should look like to deliver ROI.  
It starts with preparing a year in advance for a major show. CRM segmentation into the following four key target group should be your first order of the day:

  1. Customers - Major targets for significant growth opportunities
  2. Customers - Routine 'keep in contact' but not in the buying cycle segment
  3. Prospects - Major targets
  4. Prospects - Known, 'keep in contact' but not in the buying cycle segment

The beauty of modern data capture systems is that all this data is pre-loaded on lead retrieval devices for an event. This enables the booth staff to know exactly who they're talking with and who the sales executive is so that they can make an introduction in the booth.

This data enables you to deliver four unique pre-event campaigns for each category. For instance, armed with these insights you can book interesting restaurants around the tradeshow city to host more intimate dinners for major target customers and prospects, while those in ‘keep in contact’ mode can receive an invitation to visit the exclusive bar and restaurant area within the booth itself at a large show.

Technology plays an important role here as well. The cost of NFC (near field communication) chip plastic cards allows you to produce very upmarket VIP cards for release to all customers and prospects for ongoing use. They can then be scanned into events so that the individual can build up loyalty points and you get the tracking information to see who is the most active for follow-up purposes.

Naturally your digital marketing team will create an email/newsletter program to introduce products and other news surrounding your presence at the event. Once again, this links back into the CRM data sets preloaded on the lead retrieval devices, so that you can actually see who has been the most active clicking through and reading items about your products or services.

Why the Show Isn't Over When It Ends

Actually, the show is only the start of the real sales activity. Good, detailed lead capture is absolute key to ROI. From our experience, a typical breakdown of leads captured at a show usually fits into one of the following categories:

  • 5 percent are immediate, “sales ready” hot leads for sales follow-up
  • 20 percent are fully qualified, but the timing is just too early, so still go to sales for them to keep in contact as warm leads
  • 40 percent are fully qualified, but are long range ‘nurture’ leads to be managed internally

Most clients get excited about the 5 percent who need to be converted quickly; the problem is that they are being picked up right at the last stages of a prospect’s buying cycle, and other competitors maybe involved at this stage, which diminishes the opportunity.

As in other parts of B2B sales and marketing, the magic is found in the 20 percent warm leads; the guys who are fully qualified on your lead capture app, and need unpressurized, high quality follow-up to close the deals. The rub here is that most sales people are too busy to manage this process, so our successful clients issue these leads to their inside sales team or external call center as well, to ensure good quality contact until the close of the sale. This may take a year of two, so updated CRM reports at least on a monthly basis are the final, vital ingredient to show true ROI data ‘by sales executive’ and ‘by show’.

As you can see, in terms of time investment, full exploitation of a show may well be a year before and two years afterwards, something that marketers must fully understand and embrace. The experience of event marketing becomes a continual quality monitoring and improvement process, especially if you have many events and shows to support. And that individual sales lead goes from being warmed up pre-show, to presented to in the booth, to nurtured until ‘sales ready’ and then bounced out to sales to close the sale and generate that topline revenue for your organization. This is quite a long journey, requiring modern marketing automation to successfully manage and prove ROI over time.


Peter Gillett is CEO of Zuant where he’s responsible for driving product development and client rollouts of the company’s award-winning Mobile Lead Capture app across U.S. corporations. Contact Peter via email at [email protected]

This blog was originally published on Sales & Marketing Management Magazine on Aug. 6, 2017.'

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