Post authored by Mike Godsey
“Trade show leads are not valuable.” This statement has hurt my head for many years. I’ve read in countless trade publications that upwards of 80% of exhibitors do not follow-up on their trade show leads. This “fact” has been commonly referenced in various presentations, meetings, and sessions that I’ve attended in the past few years. I see it everywhere in print but can’t identify exactly where it came from. I would prefer to think that it was simply based on a single survey and that the statistic was grossly exaggerated. My world would feel better.
I’ve been to hundreds of trade shows in the past 20 years. In my mind, the show producers that lead each of their respective industry markets (medical, technology, education, manufacturing, etc) have one thing in common: they do an amazing job at bringing the right buyers to the trade show floor. If they didn’t then why would exhibitors choose to exhibit? Yes, I know the value of brand recognition, strengthening existing customer relationships, launching new products, and the various other reasons companies choose to exhibit. But always, meeting quality new buyers and capturing leads are at the top of the list of every exhibitor survey.
So the vast majority of companies surveyed feel that meeting new buyers and capturing leads is the most important activity they do at trade shows. And 80% of exhibitors don’t follow-up on trade show leads? Huh?!? That would be like Amazon saying, “We did a survey and the majority of people that come to Amazon buy books. Yet, surprisingly, over 80% of these buyers don’t read the books.” What are these exhibitors doing with these leads? Are they just collectors? Like baseball cards?
“How did you do at the show, Fred?”
“Awesome – I got a Bill Wilson, SVP of Purchasing for Wal-Mart lead…I’m going to sell it on eBay.”
And now my rant is over.
I’m not sure any of the research is factual. In my experience, you can draw conclusions that match what you’re trying to prove in most any situation. And survey results can be easily skewed through no fault of the organization executing the survey. But one fact remains: huge numbers of exhibitors rent lead retrieval units. So, outside of any survey, we know that lead collection is important to them. And for years, that’s where I’ve focused my efforts. We’ve worked to deliver easier access to lead data at the show and online. We’ve developed mobile solutions, custom software, multiple readers, and the list goes on and on. Maybe we all need to focus somewhere else for the good of the industry.
Lead retrieval of the future may need to transition from collection to conversion. And maybe that’s where vendors and trade show producers can focus their efforts. Let’s say, for example, that every exhibitor at a show had a great lead collection event. Their table top / mobile / online / (insert any functionality here) reader functioned flawlessly and they got their lead database. Now they are home. Now what?
I’ve often felt that the reason many exhibitors don’t follow-up on their leads isn’t related to how valuable they are. It’s simply that people come home from the event and are immediately submerged into the real world – their JOB. And they might not have the tools or the staff for effective lead follow-up. On top of that, many of the people collecting leads in the booth may not even be sales people and wouldn’t follow-up individually if they could. I know that some exhibitors have this covered. But if you believe the research, it’s only 20%. Maybe the other 80% need help in qualifying the leads, segmenting them for follow-up, and actually doing email campaigns or other marketing. And that is where we all can help.
We need to make sure that we have tools available to exhibitors that make follow-up quick and easy. Today’s model: they leave the show and we have no idea if they follow-up on any leads or, better yet, if they turn into sales. Yet that is the most important thing that we could do to PROVE the value of the event.
In the future, we need to aggressively communicate with exhibitors after our events and not simply trust that they have means for effective lead conversion. Today, we can make all of their leads available in an online portal – visible to them both during and after the event. But do we remind them that they are there and create a sense of urgency? Probably not, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt. Do we give them tools to easily qualify, sort, and follow-up on these leads? Some do and some don’t, but all should.
Most importantly, we all need to work hard to close the loop. Let’s not have exhibitors walk away with a list of leads and hope that they were happy. We need to develop reports that will let a show organizer look at the leads being collected during their event, at a cumulative level and also at an exhibitor-specific level. Show organizers need to engage exhibitors right after the event to discuss these reports and assist in their follow-up of these leads. We all need to listen to exhibitors carefully and identify the technologies that will help them follow-up on leads and turn them into sales. When we can effectively do that, exhibiting companies will equate specific events with specific sales. And that would be the best thing possible for satisfaction and, ultimately, retention.
I don’t pretend to have the answers, but I am trying to stimulate thought. I hope we can all open our minds to this subject. I’m tired of stating that “80% of exhibitors don’t follow-up on their trade show leads.” (Yes, I’ve said it too.) Maybe we all have just gotten to a point that we accept it. Or maybe the data is wrong. Who knows? But one thing is certain – if we can work to insert ourselves into an exhibiting company’s post show sales process and assist their follow-up and conversion, it will help all of us that work in this industry.
Mike Godsey is Experient’s SVP of Market Development. To learn more about him, click here.