Are Your Salespeople Squandering Tradeshow Leads?

If you display at trade shows you may be wasting your time and money. Actually, you may not be wasting it, but your salespeople might be. How? By ignoring potential sales opportunities. Let me explain.

Sales Lead Bonanza

Trade shows draw anywhere from 5,000 to 100,000 or more attendees and provide a valuable sales and marketing opportunity. Check the math. Let’s assume a show draws 20,000 visitors. If only 10 percent of the attendees express an interest in your product or service, that’s 2,000 leads you didn’t have before the show. Even if your closing ratio were only 10 percent, you’d have 200 new sales.

So why would anyone throw away an opportunity like that? Would it surprise you to know that many do?

Statistics indicate that 80 percent of trade show exhibitors don’t follow up on their show leads. In order to check this out, our founder, Brian Jeffrey, did his own survey. His methodology was simple. He printed up some phantom business cards and hired a person to distribute the cards to exhibitors at a major business show asking that a representative follow up after the show.

Surprising Results

Given these relatively tougher economic times,  we thought that companies would be anxious for good leads and so expected fairly good results from the survey.  What came next was a huge surprise!

Of the exhibitors visited, 85 percent obviously didn’t need new prospects because they never followed up in any form. Of the 15 percent who did follow up, some took over 50 days to do so. By that time, any interest a prospect might have had would be long dead.

Why Invest In Trade Shows

In our opinion, the number one reason for participating in trade shows is to get as many qualified leads as possible. It’s nice to meet other industry cronies and former customers, but you should want leads, because leads mean possible sales.

At SalesForce, we try to slot each lead into one of three categories — A, B, or C. “A” leads (hot) are contacted within five days after the show, first by phone, then e-mail, and a week later a second phone call. “B” leads (warm) get our standard after‑show mail-out and a follow-up call within two weeks. “C” leads (cool) get a mail-out with a follow-up as time permits, but no later than 30 days after the show. Potential Time-wasters are disposed of quickly.

When the booth gets busy and we can’t chat with every visitor, we simply get a name or business card and consider it as a “B” lead until we contact and qualify the person.

Our post‑show activities are planned in advance so we don’t waste any time. The leads are entered into a database and the follow‑up process begins.

The Survey Results

Back to our survey. As you read the results, keep in mind that in most cases our phantom attendee spoke to the salesperson and requested a follow‑up.

The phantom attendee had been instructed to hand the business card / swipe her attendee badge to the salesperson in the booth stating that she couldn’t talk now and would like someone to call her after the show. By the end of the show, she had left her card at 90 percent of the exhibitors’ booths.

Only 15 percent of those exhibitors followed up with us. Of those 15 percent, 77 percent did so within three weeks. The rest dribbled in over the next seven weeks. During the first three weeks, most of the contact (76 percent) was by phone. The strategy changed during the last seven weeks with the majority (62 percent) using e-mail marketing or mail. Of the companies who followed up, 68 percent did so by phone. The remaining 32 percent used e-mail / regular mail with 3 percent following up the e-mail with a phone call.

The material we received by mail was interesting. It ranged from an expensive package containing glossy literature and a CD, to a letter written in French that we couldn’t read. Many of the companies didn’t know what we were interested in so they used the shotgun approach and sent us one of everything.

Interestingly enough, none of the companies who spent money sending us expensive literature (to say nothing of the CD) bothered to follow up with a phone call. We can only guess they expected their literature to do the selling. If only!

Speed is Critical

The fact that 62 percent of the firms who followed up did so within two weeks was heartening. These firms obviously recognize that a lead, even a hot one, can quickly get cold. Timely follow up is critical.

To illustrate: Following a recent trade show, a client of ours told his salespeople they were to do nothing else but follow up their hot leads and set up appointments. The result — one of his salespeople turned 20 of 21 show leads into appointments. In the past, this client’s salespeople would take three to four weeks to follow up their leads. By then, many of the prospects would have forgotten about them or simply lost interest. His salespeople would have been lucky to get eight to ten appointments after a two‑week delay.

Protect Your Investment

Here are 4 steps to help you avoid wasting your trade show investment.

1. Ensure that everyone manning the booth knows his/her primary purpose is to get qualified leads, not make sales. If they happen to make a sale, so much the better but taking too much time “selling” often results in losing potential leads that can be closed after the show.

2. Have a system in place to handle show leads quickly.

3. Mandate your salespeople to follow-up all show leads within 5 days.

4. Track the results to see if the show is worth investing in again.

And What About the Rest

And what about the 85 percent of companies who didn’t bother to follow up this lead? We can only assume they don’t need any new business (or perhaps they’ve gone out of business!).

Don’t let this happen to you. Stay on top of your show leads and stay ahead of your competition.

Authored by Brian Jeffrey, co-founder of SalesForce Training, and originally published in the Targets newsletter.

SalesForce Training & Consulting is a professional services firm and training firm based in Toronto, with training centers in Boston and Chicago, helping sales leaders achieve truly lasting behavior change amongst their sales teams.

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