5 Tips on Effective Follow-Up Strategies for Trade Show Leads

May 9, 2023

Jim Cermak

Jim Cermak is a professional trade show trainer and coach who finds joy in helping exhibitors, associations and show organizers make more money at their shows and events. He is also the host of the Trade Show University podcast, in which he and expert guests provide listeners with tips, strategies and expertise.

Recently, I had a phenomenal connection with an exhibitor at an industry trade show. We really clicked, the conversation flowed and their solution looked like a good fit. So when I got an email from this person after the show, I was excited to open it. Unfortunately, it was a generic follow-up email probably written by their marketing department.

This was just a complete letdown. I was seriously excited to connect again, but then I started to wonder if maybe I was thinking about a different company. Or maybe I didn’t remember the conversation the same way. Or maybe the solution was not as good of a fit as I thought. 

I never did hear from them again. The opposite of win-win.

Here are five tips to follow up more effectively so you can crush your trade show goals.

1.     Have a follow-up plan BEFORE the show

A critical component for success is to make sure you have a detailed plan for following up with your trade show leads before you go to the show. For example, how and when you will follow up, who is responsible, etc.

Having this plan done ahead of time will help ensure that follow-ups actually happen. After being out of the office for a day or several days at the show means spending time getting caught up on emails, phone calls and everything else that has been piling up since you were out. Oftentimes, the show follow-ups get pushed back and sometimes forgotten altogether.

2.     Rank your leads

Is there a place for sending a generic follow-up email? Absolutely. If you are quickly scanning badges or someone drops their business card in to win a prize, feel free to send them a standard email looking to get them further engaged with your company.

This is what I get from most companies: a blanket, generic follow-up email. But it’s not very effective. Why? First, it doesn’t connect directly with your lead’s needs. Second, these emails sent to big lists of recipients often get stopped by spam filters and aren’t received.

What you need to understand is that every person you interact with at a show is at a different stage as a lead. Some are cool, and some are hot. Some will be huge opportunities for long-term business while others may represent one-time sales. Create different communications for each group in the sales journey and have them ready before the show.

Most importantly, follow up in an appropriate manner based on your interaction with them. It should be a natural next step in your relationship and not a disconnect. Personalize as much as possible.

3.     Following up is your job, not the attendees’

If I only had a dollar for every time I let a prospect leave my booth saying, “I’ve got your contact info – I’ll call you after the show!”  These buyers NEVER follow up. Do NOT let the critical job of following up be on the attendee. That is YOUR job as the exhibitor.

If they say something like, “I forgot my business card,” grab a pen and paper and jot down their contact info or scan their badge. If they refuse, then they’re NOT a good prospect. Let them go. On to the next attendee!

4.     The follow-up starts right at your booth

When you have a good conversation with a qualified prospect (you did qualify them, didn’t you?), start the follow up before they leave. You might be wondering how you make that happen. 

Set the expectation and the tone for the follow up right at the booth as you wrap up your conversation. When you are finished with your conversation, you and the attendee should have an idea of next steps.  

Think of it this way – what would you do next with this person if you could? Take them through a demo? Do a needs analysis? Schedule a time with them to talk with a sales rep?

Be clear and concise. Say something like, “The next thing we’ll do is schedule a demo of our product with you and your team. Does that sound good?” Get them to agree on the follow up. Then tell them how and when you will communicate so they know what to expect. 

If you can schedule a time right there, do it. But that can be tough to do at a trade show, so simply setting the expectation of the follow-up will be good, along with a general time frame.

When that person leaves your booth, capture good notes of your conversation. If you don’t have good notes, you can’t do an appropriate follow up. Determine your method for taking notes before the show - the badge scanning app, a note-taking app, record a voice message or even pen and paper. It doesn’t matter – just do something!

5.     Get personal with your follow-up

Here is my favorite way to start the follow-up, and it works. Right after the person leaves, pull out your phone and take a quick selfie video capturing the details. Then send this message to the prospect. Keep it short and to the point, like:

“Hey Gail, it’s Jim from Trade Show U. It was great talking to you about your need for better results at your next show. As we discussed, the next step is to set up that 15-minute discovery call to help you see the huge opportunities out in front of you. I’ll give you a call next week. Can’t wait to talk soon!”

Do you think you might stand out by sending a personalized video? This rarely if ever happens. And even better, they see you again. This allows them to make a connection with you out of the dozens — if not hundreds — of people they met at the show. It takes about 30 seconds while the information is freshest in your mind.

The moral of the story: Get personal with your follow ups. Be detailed, be organized and be timely and you will see better results.

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