Post authored by Siobhan Connellan, Senior Manager of Exhibitor Operations at Experient
Tradeshows have been a forum at which buyers and sellers could meet face-to-face, sample wares, and place orders for many years. In fact, some point to the bazaars of medieval times as the original tradeshows. The shows themselves and the industry that has been built around them have changed a great deal since that time, but one thing remains the same: Tradeshows are where people meet to do business.
While the main purpose remains the same, the logistics of doing business has evolved. It is said that business cards were first used in the 15th century in China, though at that time the exchange of them was for social, not business reasons. It was in the 17th century that “trade cards” gained popularity amongst businessmen, and by the 19th century, business cards were commonplace throughout the United States and abroad.
For decades, business cards were the primary media for information exchange between buyer and seller, and nowhere were they more popular than at tradeshows. In fact, exhibitors and attendees would typically pack hundreds of cards when they went to a tradeshow. But in the 1980s, someone figured out that the information being exchanged was already being captured by the show organizer during registration. Wouldn’t it be great to come up with an easy way to share that information?
The first attempt was rudimentary and loud, but effective. Large machines in the registration area embossed plastic cards with attendees’ contact and demographic information. Exhibitors bought old-style credit card imprinters and packs of carbon forms to capture copies of the information.
In 1992, Experient (at that time known as Galaxy) introduced the first form of electronic lead retrieval: The ExpoCard. The ExpoCard was a smart card with an embedded chip that contained the attendee’s contact information in digitized form. In short, it was an electronic business card! Exhibitors rented ExpoCard readers to use at their booth and walked away from the show with an electronic file of people who visited them that day.
Little has changed over the years, except perhaps the form of the electronic business card. Smart cards are not used often anymore, but magnetic stripe cards (similar to a credit card) are. Even more popular is placing a barcode encoded with the attendee’s contact information right on their name badge, eliminating the need for the attendee to carry around a separate item. Whatever the media, exhibitors still wait for an attendee to come to their booth so that while they are there, they can be “scanned” and entered into the exhibitor’s database.
Though electronic lead retrieval had many advantages over the paper business card, there was one area in which it fell terribly short: portability. Sure, there have been wireless, battery-operated devices, but they were still limited to use within the booth. That meant that exhibitors were collecting sales leads only during show hours. If one of the sales reps or booth staff happened to meet someone at the hotel bar and grabbed a good ole business card from them, there was no way to attribute that lead to the show, and no guarantee that person would receive any follow-up afterwards. It was just a floating, unattached, unaccounted for sales lead… not good.
Luckily, Experient has changed that.
In 2010 we introduced SWAP®, a lead retrieval app that lives on your smartphone. And let’s face it—our smartphones are never far from our side. SWAP takes old school socializing and adds a modern, technological twist. No longer does sales lead collection only take place in your booth and only during show hours. SWAP lets you collect leads 24/7, wherever you, your phone, and your lead happen to be. Did you sit next to a prospect on the shuttle bus? Capture their info instantly with SWAP (and take a down a few notes about their interests while you’re at it). Want to capture the name of that guy you met in the hospitality suite? No problem. SWAP is right there on your phone to take care of it for you. And if you’re all thumbs when it comes to typing on your smartphone, the newest version of SWAP can scan QR codes directly from the badges of attendees, making lead retrieval that much easier.
No more pockets full of business cards to sort through. All the leads you and your team collect are consolidated and available on a secure website, each tagged with the name of the person who captured the sales lead. SWAP uses today’s technology to streamline and enhance a business practice that’s been around for centuries. As they say, “Everything old is new again.”
Want to learn more about SWAP? Check out the video below. You may even recognize some of the cast!