POST TRADE SHOW FOLLOW-UP MATTERS: It’s not over until it’s over!
Each weekend I don my favorite workout pants, sneakers, tan gecko ball cap and, of course, my favorite The Dink Shop shirt then head out to the Sprouse Pickleball Center at Rockwood Park. I ensure I have remembered my pickleball paddle, at least one unique yellow whiffle ball, and a water bottle so I am ready to get my game on! I play for hours slamming the ball, using a lighter touch to dink and even hit winning lob shots but I have learned in each game that it is not over, well, until it is over. You can be down 10-0 but that 11th point must be scored for the game to end and result in a win. Sometimes, I have to fight the temptation to give up, to mentally check out, or to quit too soon. I must remember I have often rallied to achieve major come backs in a game. In pickleball, there is only one way to win…you must finish the game. The same thing is true with trade shows, if you want to succeed you need to remember: it is not over until it is over!
Spoiler alert… a trade show is not over when the last attendee leaves your 10×10 carpeted booth space. Nor is it over when your exhibit is packed up and the fork lift whisks your crates and cases away. Don’t quit too soon! It is not truly over until your qualified leads have turned into sales. Being at the show is like showing up to the court. It is just the beginning of the process. You have to bring your exhibit, your booth personnel (your hat, your sneakers your paddle…the ball!) and start the game.
However, the tenacity to actually win, is proven over time. You must stay the course and finish it off – endure the back and forth and the surprise of the dink or the well placed lob. For trade shows this means you need to weed through the stack of contacts you now have post show and figure out what to do with them. Hopefully, if you have done the job right, you have a set plan as to what to do with the newly acquired leads. Your sales and marketing decision makers should have worked on this before you left your hometown to go to the show. It goes back to the Know Before You Go concept.
Exhibitor Online mentions, “98 percent of exhibitors collect sales leads at trade shows, but less than 70 percent have any formalized plan or process in place for how those leads are followed up after the show.” Even more discouragingly, “Only 47 percent of companies track leads generated at trade shows and events throughout the sales cycle, and a measly 28 percent measure and report the number of leads that ultimately convert to sales as part of their exhibit programs’ ROI.” Unfortunately, even though most companies make lead generation, even qualified lead generation, a priority, follow through is often lacking. All the hard work done at the show becomes for naught if the leads aren’t treated with care and properly qualified, contacted and hopefully closed for a sale. Twenty years ago this might have meant you mail every lead in your stack a catalog with a form letter and then had your sales people fight over who got which lead, all the while hoping they had picked a winner. Today with evolved technology and the ability to connect through a variety of social media, web calls, emails, instant messages and old school snail mail, strategies vary more widely than before.
Steven Hacker, president of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) based in Dallas reminds us, “As with any other marketing program, the success of your exhibition rests on how well it is planned out. “A major reason exhibitors fail is that they are inadequately prepared. There is an absolute need to do pre-show, onsite, and follow-up promotion. All of these components are not magic — it’s what you do. Those who do it right get good results, and those who don’t get bad results. That’s not to say you can’t get lucky, but why rely on luck when you can do it right?”.
So, what does a post-show follow-up plan that’s “doing it right” look like? Bear in mind each company will have their own nuances to lead management based on the specific product or service which they offer; however, there are a few fundamentals that should occur.
A plan may prescribe different things for each lead, but they must be qualified first. Done right, qualifying the lead was done by your booth staff during the show using the BANT system or other criteria your company has determined. Follow-up needs to begin immediately as time diminishes effectiveness. Keep in mind there will also be tiers, or waves, to follow-up efforts. For example, Linda Musgrove, president of TradeShow Teacher, and author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Tradehshows recommends sending customers and prospects an email during or immediately following the show. Then she advises, “wait until the week after the show, when attendees have sufficiently settled back into their offices and cleaned out their email inboxes, to send (or resend) your communication. While the double-whammy system will likely take a bit more time and effort on your part than a single follow-up missive, you’ll likely get double the results.” As you see this is a science and an art. Timing matters. You need to respond with something so the lead doesn’t feel forgotten about, but the meatier response, sales call etc. needs to be after the attendee has had a chance to breathe and get back into the groove of office routine and decision making.
After an initial email or standard packet has been sent to all leads, start immediately tailoring your follow-up by ensuring you contact your most important qualified leads first. Get your sales force, whether it be a one man show or a team, to keep any in person appointments or webinars that were solidified at the show. Best practice is that these leads were each already marked with a specific call to action. Proper handling increases odds they are a good bet to bolster your tradeshow return on investment. Done right, these people are the decision makers, have an allocated budget and a specific timeline for a need to be met. Let your best closers handle these.
Next, be sure to engage those interested parties who were not quite sure at the show what their schedules looked like or if they needed to have others present to make decision regarding your product or service. Call those folks, engage them via social media. Facebook and LinkedIn messages are a quick way to contact people and less likely to be ignored than a voice mail in this day and age since the message pops up every time the app is open when they are on-line or on their mobile phone.
There will be a segment of leads that may only require an email follow-up for more information. That email of course should have links to your website and social media so the contact can reach out and do other research as needed. Make it easy for your prospects. Give them information at their fingertips. In time, these too may turn into buyers. The smarttradeshow.com blog encourages, “Social media can serve as a reliable, no-pressure platform for allowing you to slowly nurture the relationships you’ve established with visitors.”
If you have the luxury of telemarketers and other in house prospecting personnel and tools, use them. Every lead should have a pre-planned method of follow-up assigned to it. According to the Trade Show Bureau, a sad statistic is that over 80 percent of exhibitors never follow up after a show closes. That, in any industry, is plain unacceptable and poor stewardship of sales and marketing dollars.
It cannot be stressed enough that the key to overall trade show success quite truly is contingent upon the lead management process…post show! Be careful not to let show leads be second place in the list of priorities when you return to the office. Yes, it will be hectic as you play catch up; but, if you do not stay strong until the end, hang in there until the final point is played, you will not win! The longer a lead is left alone the colder it will become. Keep the hot leads hot by planning before show time how you will follow-up on all the leads when you return. Management needs to train booth personnel with the end game in mind. This will help in both the qualification and follow up process.
Much like parenting a child, a sales lead needs to be closely monitored and followed up on. Track your leads progress. Make someone accountable for the lead. If they were given to a sales person – expect a report on what sales resulted from the lead. This will help when you try to determine ROI; plus, you can only expect what you inspect (some of us learned this when we asked our children to clean their rooms!). Motivational programs can be part of a lead follow-up program if you have the resources to do so. Some companies give incentives for contacts made during the first week, appointments set the second week and presentations made and sales closed in weeks following. This may not work for everyone, but it is something to consider to increase excitement and accountability for not wasting the valuable resource of a qualified lead.
On the pickleball court we sometimes say “dink happens” when an opponent hits that perfect soft shot that drops down over and ever so strategically close to the net. Pickleballers also make it a point to not say “sorry” – we are out there to have fun. In sales not much “just happens”. Every effort usually has a corresponding payoff. As with pickleball, you will not get that 11th winning point if you slack off, get lazy, give up, or quit too soon. Same goes for your tradeshow return on investment. Stay the course. I guarantee there will be no “sorrys” with ROI if you make an organized post-show follow-up effort part of your trade show strategy and planning. Even after a customer purchases, it really still isn’t over…you want repeat business. So when is it over? The end of follow-up really just marks the start of relationship maintenance…it is really just the beginning…again. Don’t quit! Play another game.