Following up with leads should be part of event goals

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Customer relationships shouldn't begin and end in a show floor booth, but too often that's what happens, event marketing experts say. To be effective, contact needs to be established well in advance of a trade show and nurtured throughout the sales cycle, they say.

Unfortunately, business marketers are notoriously bad at doing that. The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) estimates that 80% of exhibitors don't pursue leads after the event ends. "That's insane," said Sam Lippman, an event consultant.

Lippman theorizes that the problems are mainly political: No one "owns" event leads, and so they tend to get thrown over the wall to sales organizations, often without context. "A lot of people don't see [follow-up] as part of their job," he said.

But event marketing experts say it should be. A contact made at a conference is more valuable than one made by e-mail or over the phone because the prospect has had a chance to engage directly with the company. "The beauty of an event is that you get a chance to have meaningful conversations," said Ruth P. Stevens, an expert on customer acquisition and retention.

Stevens believes that marketers should have very specific goals in mind before they decide to exhibit at a conference and that those goals must relate to sales performance. "You should know that if you're going to an event on a Thursday, you're going to start following up on the leads the following Monday," Stevens said.

She also advises exhibitors to use show floor encounters to collect meaningful information. One idea is to ask visitors to fill out a short survey instead of dropping business cards into a fishbowl. Another is to have envelopes preprinted with a couple of qualifying questions. Fill out the answers for each attendee before dropping the person's business card into the envelope.

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