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February 28, 2015

The Most Important Part of Exhibiting

lead-follow-upThe calendar year isn’t event three months old… and already it’s been a busy conference season. February saw events like the inaugural Quirk’s Event, the CASRO Digital Conference and IIeX (in Europe). March has the PMRG and ARF conferences among many others. It’s a “target rich” environment for exhibitors.

But it doesn’t always work out like you hope.

I’ll bet you’ve seen this kind of scenario play out at your own firm… you return from exhibiting at a conference with a pocketful of business cards from prospects that stopped by your booth. It’s an impressive group of people. Then the phone rings. And you get called into a couple of meetings. A client’s project implodes and you have to jump in to help… and before you know it, it’s a couple of weeks later and that pile of business cards representing all those ‘warm’ leads now has a thin layer of frost on it. The opportunity (and the urgency) has passed.

Twenty years ago, long before I came into the MR industry, I worked in the conference and exhibition industry. Back then, one of the statistics floating around the industry was that only 20% of all leads generated at an exhibition were ever followed-up on. Stated another way, 80% of everyone who gives up their time to visit an exhibitor will not hear from them afterward! That’s not only bad business… it’s just stupid!

There really is only one thing to worry about after an event… follow-up! It’s the most important part of exhibiting. In this article, we’ll outline a three-step process for creating and executing your post-conference follow-up.

  • Step 1: Data Capture
  • Step 2: The Follow-up Process
  • Step 3: Exhibiting ROI

Data Capture

Tell me if this sounds familiar… after speaking with a “hot” prospect in your booth, you scribble down a few words on the back of her business card and stick it in your pocket. A couple of days later, back at the office, you pull out her card and start reading through your scribbles. And then it hits you… you don’t really remember what you talked about with her… at least not in any detail. The same goes for virtually all of your booth conversations… there were just so many of them. Because of that, how you follow-up with them becomes very difficult. [Note: this even applies to those events where you get a scanner to quickly grab the attendee’s badge info.]

The key to follow-up after the conference begins with being clear on what you want to understand about attendees that come to your booth.

For example… if you’re a research agency, you might want to know:

  • What type of research are they involved with now?
  • What are they using research for?
  • Do they have an in-house research department or do they outsource? Or both?
  • Who have they been using for research? How’s that relationship?

For fieldwork firms, panel companies or technology providers, the questions will be different.

For everyone, you might also want to know:

  • Type and size of firm?
  • What’s their industry vertical?
  • Which of your services/products are they most interested in?
  • Level of urgency? (i.e. are they a ‘hot’ prospect?)
  • Any agreed to follow-up steps?
  • Anything unique about this person that will help you remember the conversation?

That’s a lot to scribble on the back of a business card. An easy way to collect all of that data is to create a Booth Visitor Form, a simple data capture form with those questions listed on it. As soon as the prospect leaves your booth, staple their card to the form and write in the answers based on your conversation. You’ll now be in a much better position for appropriate and targeted follow-up with every single person who came to your booth.

The Follow-up Process

OK, it’s a day or two after the conference and you’re back in the office. Now what? To make sure that the opportunity and the urgency don’t pass you by… create and follow a checklist for your post conference activities:

  • Immediately after you get back to the office, gather the booth staff to review every lead from the booth… one by one. If you used a Booth Visitor Form to capture information (see above), most conversations should be pretty easy to recall… helping you decide the best way to follow-up.
  • Don’t forget about all those people you met outside of the exhibit hall – during sessions, at the social events, etc. Follow-up with them in exactly the same way as the booth leads.
  • As soon as possible, make sure every name is entered into your in-house sales database/CRM for future marketing… and tag the ‘source’ as “ABC Conference, 2015.”
  • Sort all leads into Hot – Warm – Cool (based on their request or your perceived level of urgency), assign each lead to the person responsible for follow-up then create a follow-up plan for each group. As an example…
    • Hot leads get a phone call within the first two days
    • Warm leads are sent a thank you note and receive a call within two weeks
    • Cold leads go into the database and receive monthly emails.
  • You want your sales leads to remember you. So, when you follow-up, cite something specific from the booth conversation… this is why using a Booth Visitor Form is so vital to follow-up.
    • Rather than “John, thanks for stopping by our booth at the ABC conference last week”… try something like, “John, I enjoyed chatting with you in our booth at the ABC Conference last Wednesday. I hope our conversation about how online bulletin boards can help with your new product launches was beneficial.”
  • Did you agree to schedule a follow-up appointment with any of your booth visitors? Don’t delay… respond to those right away.

Whatever your follow-up plan calls for, know that it will take more than one or two touches for it to convert to new business. Build in a lead nurturing plan that keeps you, your firm and your services top-of-mind until the prospects are ready to buy.

Exhibiting ROI

Last in the process – but first and foremost in the minds of those who paid for the exhibit – is this… did exhibiting at the conference deliver some sort of ROI? A fair question…

To be able to answer that question, all you need to do is figure out which both visitors generated new projects for your firm. Easier said than done, right? And rare is the sales lead that becomes a client during or immediately after a conference. That’s why it’s important to track your sales leads for an extended period of time – 6-12 months… in some cases, even longer. It requires some discipline, but because of the sales cycles in our industry, it’s important to stick with it.

FREE DOWNLOAD: To help you get started with measuring ROI, we have created the Exhibiting ROI Worksheet… to give you an example of how you might want to track and measure ROI. You can access your free copy at (no email required).


At Harpeth Marketing, we’re big fans of exhibiting. Done right, exhibiting can be an outstanding marketing vehicle and help you to generate highly-qualified sales leads, launch a new product or service, generate market awareness and support your association.

But it’s not what happens during the event that really matters, it’s what happens afterwardyour follow-up – that ultimately determines the level of success of your investment. It really is the most important part of exhibiting.

Good luck.


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