How To Close Your Trade Show Leads

In 30 plus years of exhibiting at, or helping exhibitors prepare for, trade shows, I’ve heard lots of different reasons why companies think they’re exhibiting at trade shows. The answers are all over the map:

30' x 60' Island with SEG Fabric Graphics, RE-502 Display Cases, RE-1209 Reception Counter, and Arch-Shape Aero Entrance Header with Pillowcase Graphic

30′ x 60′ Island with SEG Fabric Graphics, RE-502 Display Cases, RE-1209 Reception Counter, and Arch-Shape Aero Entrance Header with Pillowcase Graphic

• Because our competitors are there

• Because we’d be conspicuous by our absence

• To create buzz for our company or product

• To build (or reposition) our brand

• To launch a new product or service

• To meet with key clients

• To build relationships with prospects

• To network with potential business partners

• To demonstrate support for the organization sponsoring the show

• Because it’s easier than making field sales calls

I’ve heard all these—and more. But I contend there’s only one real reason to invest in exhibiting at trade shows, and it’s more important than any of those reasons listed above: to get leads!

That’s what trade shows are for. And the sad truth is that companies exhibiting at trade shows aren’t always doing enough to capitalize on the lead gathering process. There are many ways to capture leads, and there isn’t one right answer. But I feel that gathering leads has to be your biggest reason for being at a show, and that all your efforts at the show should further that objective.

Whether you use a badge scanner, collect business cards from prospects, or write names and contact information on little slips of paper, you need a system that not only gets those leads, but also qualifies them.

Not every person who visits your exhibit is a prospect for what you sell—even if they stay for a product demo or ask positive buying questions. Your booth staffers have to know how to separate the real leads from the tire kickers and time wasters, and put that information into the lead follow-up system. Why?

It’s very likely that the people staffing the booth won’t be the ones doing follow up on the leads that come back from the show. So the lead card has to include all the necessary qualifying data. That way, whoever follows up on it knows what kind of prospect he or she will be talking with.

It could be as simple as a notation of “Cold,” “Warm” or “Hot” on the lead card, denoting that this person is either not ready to buy at this time (or not a prospect for some other reason), which means they’re “cold.” Someone who expresses interest but needs additional information, time to discuss the purchase with others, or brings up some issue that keeps them from buying immediately puts them in the “warm” category. The joy of every salesperson is the prospect who wants to buy, wants to buy from you, and is in the position to buy now. That prospect falls into the “hot” category.

The hot lead may just need a call that closes the sale, while the warm prospect may need some documentation or additional data that the salesperson can offer during follow-up. But don’t dismiss the cold prospects. They may not be in the position to buy at this time, but you don’t want to alienate them. It may be a good idea to add them to a mailing list, where they’re contacted on a regular basis with a marketing message that keeps them aware of who you are and what you offer.

Consider some sort of mailing program (like a newsletter, perhaps) that maintains the contact, without resorting to constant emails featuring a product and a sales message. You’ll drive prospects away by badgering them to make a purchase before they’re ready. But if you provide them with valuable information they can use, they’ll be more likely to think of you when they’re ready to purchase.

VBurst Backlit Pop Up Display

VBurst Backlit Pop Up Display

Psychologist Robert Cialdini wrote a book called “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.” In the book, he explains the concept of “reciprocity.” In practice, it means if you give someone something they value, they feel obliged to respond in kind. So if, on a regular basis, you are providing your clients with information they can put to use, they will be compelled to respond and do business with you.

This is one reason why we give premium items to high value prospects at a trade show: it obliges them to repay the favor (which may come in the form of agreeing to a sales call, or perhaps even placing an order). And the more ways you can put this concept into practice, the more obliged the prospect will feel.

So consider my suggestion of an ongoing process of communicating with your trade show prospects. It may help heat up warm prospects enough to close them when you’re making a sales call. Also, over time, it can increase the temperature of those that were cold, moving the sales process forward—all at minimal cost to you.

My intention here is to make you aware that everyone you meet at a trade show may have value to your company—if not immediately, then at some point in the future. If you continue to court them, sharing information that is useful to them, you’ll have the best chance of being on the prospect’s mind when the time comes to place an order.

Selling is part art, part science. If you get the science of it down (by practicing the techniques suggested here), you’ll be able to focus all your attention on the art of selling—which can make you extremely successful at bringing in new business and making the most of your participation in trade shows.

For more read how to create the perfect lead card or how quality leads affect ROI.

If we can help you with creating, renovating or renting a trade show exhibit that will help you attract the attention of prospects at your next show, call us at 1(800) 676-3976 or email [email protected].