Following leads critical to trade show success

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Nearly all trade show exhibitors overlook the most important step in the process of generating sales—proper follow-up on every lead. The result is missed sales opportunities and a significantly lower ROI on their trade shows.

There are two reasons for this: First, not all trade show leads are created equal. It's critical that follow-up takes that into account. Using the same approach with every lead provides poor results and frustrates the sales team.

Second, sales teams are not equipped to properly follow up on trade show leads.

Let's break those two concepts out. Understanding the different types of leads will put into perspective what needs to be done to get more sales.

  • Cherry-picks. These are the leads that sales reps hand-pick to follow up. This is where most of the sales come from or the company couldn't afford to do the trade show. Many companies are satisfied with low-hanging fruit and then stop shaking the tree. The problem is that there are many opportunities that are never developed into sales.

  • Hidden cherries. Lost in the leads that are not cherry-picked are great sales opportunities. These are prospects with an immediate need that will buy from a company that takes the time to follow up. These are the leads that the sales team needs help to focus their time on. Beating the competition here can dramatically increase a show's ROI.

  • Interested with a time frame. These are the leads that have a strong interest and represent a genuine selling opportunity, but which need time before they can meet. Initially, these are not the best targets for the sales team, but if you wait too long with them, you will lose the opportunity to your competition.

  • Wrong decision-maker. Often representatives of a desired company stop by the booth, but the right decision-maker isn't always among them. It is very difficult to find the sales rep with the time to probe beyond the person who stopped by the booth to uncover the real opportunity.

  • Qualified but not interested. These are the leads that meet the right criteria but are just not in a buying mode. For whatever reason, they have no pain or interest, and will not for a long time. These companies should be kept on the radar, but will not result in a sale right now.

  • Not qualified. These leads do not meet the qualification requirements and ultimately will frustrate the sales team and take their focus off the genuine opportunities.

    A familiarity with these types of leads allows us to delve into the second reason sales are lost—sales teams not equipped to follow up on trade show leads properly. The different kinds of leads show how important it is to utilize a dedicated team to quality-grade the leads prior to sending them to the sales team.

    Here are three ways to organize staffers to maximize ROI:

  • Marketing team. Making sure marketers have the bandwidth to prioritize trade show follow-up on top of all their other responsibilities is key here. The other main question is do they have the skills to effectively motivate prospects to take action and begin the sales process.

  • Inside sales team. A dedicated inside sales team is a good way to leverage the time of your field sales team. Make sure that they can dedicate themselves to the follow-up process and not be pulled off the phone to help in another stage of the sales process.

  • Trade show lead-qualification specialists. Partnering with a company to handle this process is a great alternative if the inside sales or marketing teams are not in a position to dedicate themselves to the process. The key here is that they can jump in exactly when you need them and quickly grade all the leads so that your sales team will know which opportunities to follow up with first.

Increasing ROI, generating more sales and eliminating lost opportunities are the results of a true follow-up plan. Having a better understanding of the types of trade show leads—and the techniques that allow you to develop those l—will significantly improve results.

Mike Drohan is president of Lead Generation Solutions (, a company that specializes in lead qualification solutions.

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