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Lead Follow-Up: The Elite 20 Percent

Is your company among the 80 percent that never follow up trade show leads?  

These three tactics will start you on the road to measurable ROI.

Next time you cash your paycheck, throw 80 percent of it in the trash. Granted, it’s unlikely you would ever do that. But consider this numbing statistic, as reported by Sales and Marketing Management magazine: Eighty percent of all sales leads are never followed up. Ever. For an exhibit manager, that’s like ignoring 80 percent of your program’s success and potential for return on investment. No wonder exhibit programs are under such constant scrutiny.

How bad is it? Recently, the Freeman Decorating Co. tracked its rental properties for over a year and found that more than half of its rented exhibits were shipped back with the leads left inside the rented reception counters - completely forgotten.

To quantify a show’s ROI, the first step is actually keeping the leads after the show. Then it comes down to tracking the leads from show to sale. The first step in any lead-tracking system is conducting simple, effective and immediate lead follow-up.

Step One: Follow up with foresight

Successful lead follow-up - and therefore successful lead tracking - all begins with a good plan. It’s critical to have a follow-up plan laid out before each show, to direct at-show and immediate post-show efforts.

Begin by looking at your pre-show promotion plans. Let’s say you will target a specific group with a pre-show mailer that includes a "bounce-back" card with qualifying information. You also aim to collect a specific number of leads from passerby traffic at the show.

Now set out to develop your lead follow-up plan. Let’s assume you decide to follow up by mailing literature and a cover letter. Great - now write those cover letters. Work with your show-planning team to determine the "flavor" for follow-up materials. Will you write two different versions - one for recipients of your pre-show mailer and one for passerby leads? Will it be a personalized, detailed letter or a brief review of your at-show message? Will you identify the salesperson for the prospect’s region? Will you build in additional qualifying or feedback mechanisms? By writing and finalizing the cover letters in advance, they’ll be ready to go as soon as your leads are input after the show.

At the same time, decide how many layers of immediate follow-up you’re willing to undertake. Will you send, for example, an immediate, quick-fax sheet to prospects so it’s waiting on their desks when they return from the show then follow with a literature mailing? Or will you send just the literature?

Step Two: Hire a honcho

"I don’t have the leads; I thought Kathy had them." Sound familiar? Assigning one person the responsibility for the leads is extremely important. Without a lead honcho, John thinks Mary has the leads, Mary thinks John has them. And the hard-sought leads are long gone.

Whether your follow-up director is a vice president or an administrative assistant isn’t important. The key is assigning someone to this critical role before the show. Then notify the rest of your show-planning team as to who will be responsible for immediate follow up.

Ideally, you want your lead follow-up manager to be someone who will not attend the show. Why? Think about the panorama that awaits you after a show: a pile of "Deadline: Tomorrow" order forms and a week’s worth of messages and mail. Who in their right mind would want to add a stack of good-as-cash leads to this mess?

So the leads get pushed off to the side - for weeks on end. In fact, a Trade Show Bureau report shows that of those exhibitors that do post-show lead-fulfillment, 43 percent don’t get the information out until after the prospects have already made purchases.

If you assign the responsibility for follow-up to someone who didn’t attend the show, this person can jump right into the follow-up process. You can take responsibility for compiling the leads in the booth each day, then returning them to your lead manager. With immediate lead follow-up, you’ll reach 43 percent more buyers - before they make their purchasing decisions.

Step Three: Pick up the phone

One of the first projects your follow-up person might coordinate is post-show lead requalification through telemarketing. Even if you took care during the show to qualify leads as "A" leads (hot - ready to buy), "B" leads (expresses a future buying interest) and "C" leads (poor prospects, like students or spouses), a little post-show requalification could be well worth your while.

People are sometimes reluctant to be honest in face-to-face conversations. One prospect might say he’s thrilled with your new widget so as not to hurt the booth staffer’s feelings. Another - wary of a sales pitch - might brush off a staffer, even though she has a real interest in your products. By requalifying over the phone, you’ll gain a more accurate picture of your prospects’ true buying plans.

Having requalified the prospects’ buying plans, your lead follow-up manager can send the appropriate literature and cover letter. For red-hot "A" leads, send your best literature and personalized cover letters. Your "Bs" can receive a simple mailer, maybe a two-color brochure highlighting your newest products, along with a basic cover letter. And those "Cs" should receive an inexpensive card as a simple "thanks for stopping by our booth" gesture.

Of course, you may not want to give your scorching "A" leads time to cool off after the show by delaying the follow up while you requalify. One solution is to overnight the leads back to your lead manager each night (or enter them on a laptop database, and modem them back), allowing him to get a jump start on mailing to the best prospects. Or use the "quick fax" method, then send the appropriate literature after you’ve requalified.

Immediate lead follow-up is just the beginning of a comprehensive show-to-sale lead-tracking program. Is it worth it? It depends on the value your company places on developing a sense of trade show ROI. You work hard - and your company spends a bundle - to gather leads. Make the most of them. You’ll be a proud member of the elite 20 percent.

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