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Turning Leads into Sales After the Trade Show

By Alyson Hendrickson Wentz, CAS

Imagine planning a huge party and sparing no expense to do it right. You've hired the best caterer in town. Bought out the most elegant florist. Sent engraved invitations to all of your friends and colleagues. And then on the day of the party, after you've spent months planning it, you change your mind and call the whole thing off. You wouldn't do that, right? Of course not. But, that's just what some exhibitors are doing when they spend months of planning (and thousands of dollars) to make a splash at a trade show, and then don't follow up with the prospects that they went to the show to meet. They've wasted their time and money. They might as well have stayed home.

The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) reports that 80 percent of exhibitors make no attempts to follow up on their leads from trade shows. In a study conducted by the University of Massachusetts Center for Marketing Communications, 43 percent of prospective buyers reported receiving materials that they had requested at a trade show after they had already made a buying decision. Another 18 percent said that they never received the materials that they had requested. "Unfortunately, the longer you wait, the less likely you are to close," says Jay Conrad Levinson in Guerilla Trade Show Selling.

There are three components to effective trade show marketing -- pre-show, at-show and post-show. Without the post-show component, the marketing strategy is not complete and often the sale is not made. Therefore, developing a creative and effective post-show promotion is just as important as, or even more important than, your pre- and at-show promotions.

According one a government-funded study, when service is perceived to be immediate, 95 percent of customers will do business with you again. So, follow up right away. "Just as you scheduled time before the show for planning and preparation, reserve time immediately after the show to manage your new leads," Levinson says. "It's your company's responsibility to keep the promises that your exhibit staff made to visitors. Send visitors what you promised, when you promised. Call them. Visit them. Don't ignore them! Follow up your hot leads within two to three days, and tend to the rest within a week."

A tough timeline to meet? Not if you plan ahead. Before leaving for the show, make up the sales literature packages that will be sent out when you return, or have them made up while you're at the show. You can also have several form letters prepared that can be customized with the pertinent client name and information when you return from the show. Make sure that all of the letters are signed, and write a longhand note on the envelope -- "Here's the information you requested." You'll also want to choose an attention-getting promotional product to include with your follow-up literature. It should follow the same theme or idea that your pre- and at-show promotional items did, and it should tie in with your products and/or services. Another study by CEIR indicated that the triple gift approach to trade show promotion resulted in the greatest increase in awareness of the exhibitor's identity, product or service. It also resulted in a 70-precent increase in preference for the exhibiting company compared to no gift.

In the article “Reaching Buyers At The Trade Show,” we discussed a North Carolina heating and air conditioning company that gave out imprinted money clips at a trade show to tie in with the idea that its services would save the prospects money. After the show, the company followed up on qualified prospects by sending them a dollar bill encased in Lucite to further drive home the savings angle. The program had a 15 percent success rate.

Along with including a promotional product, another way to make sure your follow-up package gets opened is to make the package something special. Send your literature and promotional item by Federal Express, UPS Red, Airborne or Express Mail. Better yet, send it in unique packaging, such as a tube, a wooden crate, a Chinese food container, a bottle, etc. Custom packaging gets your package noticed and opened.

"One guerrilla sent a box with a picture of a large aspirin tablet and the caption, 'Headache Relief Kit.' Inside were three different types of pain relievers and the requested brochures," Levinson says. "When this box arrived with all the other FedEx envelopes, it was opened first. When the follow-up call came, 100 percent of the prospects remembered getting the box, and 94 percent asked for a salesperson to call." That's quite a response rate, but an imprinted first-aid kit or some other themed promotional item would have added even more punch.

Another way to follow-up with a client, particularly if they're local, is to stop by in person with the requested literature and a follow-up gift. In the article "Pre-Trade Show Marketing: Get Them Before They Get There," we gave an example of successful pre-show promotion that utilized a pre-show mailing of a portfolio to draw attendees to the exhibitor's booth where they could pick up a personalized name plate to attach to the portfolio. This program had a built-in follow-up component, because the exhibitor had an "in" for calling those prospects who did not come to the booth. Following the show the exhibitor's salespeople could call those attendees who had not picked up their name plates and offer to stop by with them, or mail them out with some product literature. "Instead of having something called a 'cold call,' it was 'warm call,'" says Margit Weisgal, president of Sextant Communications and author of Show & Sell, a book on trade show marketing. "No one is going to say 'No, I don't want to see you.' So, it becomes very beneficial for a company."

Instead of just one post-show mailing, Levinson suggests that you "serialize your mailings." While you're still at the show you can have a post card, letter, fax or e-mail sent out to the prospects thanking them for stopping by the booth and informing them that your information packet will arrive soon. All of this can be set in motion before leaving for the show, so that someone in the office can access the client/prospect database and send out the mailings.

After sending the information packet and a well-chosen promotional item, follow up with a phone call to make sure that the prospect received the package, and to see what else they might need to make a buying decision. If appropriate, try to set up a time for a meeting. The meeting would be another opportunity to present the prospect with a promotional gift as a thank you for their time.

If the prospect doesn’t agree to a meeting, or if a meeting isn't your objective, follow up your call with another mailing, fax or e-mail. "If you featured a show special, send a sequence of offers with escalating urgency," Levinson suggests. "Guerrillas know that most business is won because the competition gave up." Don't give up. Keep these prospects on your mailing list by sending them your specials, media releases, articles, case studies, newsletters, brochures, samples, trade show invitations, holiday card and, of course, promotional items. "Sending lots of stuff on a regular basis is better than sending a work of art once," says Mac McIntosh, a consultant on managing leads.

"Two good reasons to exhibit at trade shows are to build that customer base and to keep current customers loyal for life," Levinson says. "If a customer requests information, materials, or a catalog, and you fail to respond, the customer will assume you don't really care about the business and will switch vendors. They may assume that you conduct all your business in such a shoddy fashion. That's why guerrillas must manage their leads."

Follow-up is the most crucial part of the trade show marketing equation. True trade show success is not measured by the number of catalogs handed out or the number of business cards collected. It's the sales generated from the leads made at the trade show that make your participation in the show successful. Pre-show planning and organization is the key to immediate and successful post-show follow up. So, find the appropriate sales literature, promotional products and packaging that will turn those hot show leads into profitable sales and lifelong clients.

Alyson Hendrickson Wentz (, independent promotional consultant with Geiger, and freelance writer/editor. Location -Hatfield, PA, USA