There are many ways to measure your impact at a tradeshow. However, research suggests that very few companies measure the tradeshow results that have a direct impact on funding and strategy!

It seems to be the practice and desire of most companies to attract large crowds and make the best impression they can at tradeshows. They take steps to make as big a splash as they think they can afford. They may build a new exhibit, hire booth entertainment, launch a new product or campaign—and, frequently, walk away from a show elated because of the high number of visitors who filed through their space.

Though impressive, are encounters with many attendees truly helping to grow business? Ask yourself, do you really know where you stand after a tradeshow?

What Is Your Data Telling You?

When done correctly, tradeshows are undoubtedly one of the most productive, cost-effective ways to reach qualified prospects and generate sales. To know where you stand after a show, you need to collect information—the right information—to properly measure your success.

Many companies swipe attendee badges, collecting a long list of names they then consider to be leads. But, experience suggests that these names alone are far from being qualified prospects. Not because they don't have potential to bring in sales, but, in general, because show-provided lead systems give only the most basic contact information—name, company, job title, address, phone number, fax number, and email address.

Put your lead system through a filter by identifying information that will be of value in the follow-up process. For the best results, go directly to your sales managers and your marketing team to better understand what they need to qualify the opportunity. They might suggest qualifiers such as the following:

  • Familiarity with your company and its products or services
  • Current supplier or current competitor products, decision process, and company decision-makers
  • Budget for purchase sales cycle and timeframe for purchase
  • Next action step

You can make your lead retrieval as robust as you'd like. The important thing is that you invest the time to focus on information that will be important to converting leads into sales. Gathering specific, qualitative data on the prospects who visit your booth will provide invaluable insight into your post-show analysis and future show strategies.

Collecting Data

After defining what information you need to collect from prospects, you'll need to establish how you will accurately and efficiently collect the data. Missing this crucial step can make or break your analysis. So get what you need, and get it right. Use the most efficient means to extract a prospect's position as it relates to your offering so your analysis has impact and can be acted on.

Here are some ways to ensure your team gets the information requested:

  1. Set specific goals, and communicate expectations to show staff. Beyond providing an avenue for potential sales, these goals also serve as benchmarks for evaluating and measuring your team and individual performances. Make certain your team members have a script with questions they must ask prospects during their encounters.
  2. Make everyone accountable for collecting information as part of achieving their goals. Assign a captain who is responsible for monitoring the number and quality of leads at the end of each day of the show. Get your team motivated by creating a competition among the staff.
  3. Try to make it fun. Visitors at shows are looking to enjoy themselves. Have you ever noticed how miserable some booth workers seem? Who wants to talk to them? You don't need to hire professional entertainers to get people to have fun, but don't overlook ideas for creating excitement at your booth.
  4. It's good practice to swipe the attendees' badges for them. In some cases, it's appropriate for the staff to input the data for the visitor during the conversation so vital elements are not missed and sales cues can be added. Another way to quickly and accurately collect prospect data is through a buyer's survey, which can be used as a prerequisite to entering an hourly/daily drawing, show contest, or post-show experience.
  5. If step No. 4 is not an option, request that your staff take notes to document details from personal interactions with prospects. They should include observations and insights obtained during the conversation, responses to qualifying questions, and the next step identified and agreed upon by the prospect. Recording data on lead interactions will allow you to provide qualitative and quantitative analysis of the show.

Analyzing and Acting On the Data

The most-common and single-worst mistake companies make when returning from an event is not taking action and following up with leads immediately—or at all.

Though time is of the essence, don't confuse speed with accuracy. You may need time to process the data you've collected on your leads, and that's OK. But you can send a simple, yet effective, customized email to thank attendees for visiting your booth and let them know when they can expect to hear from you again.

Sending a follow-up email also helps sort the good contacts from the bad, because leads can opt out from further correspondence if it is the wrong fit—saving you time by refreshing your marketing list and cleaning out old, dead leads.

For some marketers, the data collected from tradeshow prospects is straightforward and can be acted on without much thought: For instance, Prospect "A" uses five widgets a week and is currently buying a competitor's product at a higher cost. Simple. However, when approaching a complex sale of products or services, a more difficult analysis is typically required to fully understand a prospect's position. Regardless, determine whether you are using all the necessary tools to measure and weigh results properly.

After analyzing the data gathered on prospects at the show, you need to quickly route qualified leads to the right people. An easy way to do so is to develop a system for rating leads. For example, if investment in "cost of sales" is a consideration in your program's success metrics, prospects need to be rated by the following:

  • Interest level in your offering
  • Buying cycle or urgency
  • Unique, customized requirements
  • Potential budget
  • Current suppliers

Once you have passed off leads to Sales, create a lead-reporting system to make the sales team accountable for following up. One way is to ask for lead progress and sales conversion at specific time frames, such as 30, 60, and 90 days after the show. Keeping track of your leads will allow you to measure sales directly attributable to your tradeshow program and individual salespeople, helping demonstrate to management the important role tradeshows have on the bottom line.

An ROI analysis can also give you insight on the most productive elements of your tradeshow campaign and help you optimize future efforts. Connect the dots to identify trends across products, industries—even specific trade events. You may find better sales returns from specific shows, regions, or purchasing demographics. Things that work great domestically may fail internationally. Programs that flew in June crashed in November—why? You need to figure that out. The more data you have, the easier it will be to build a solid strategy.

Learning From the Data

A piece of universal advice: always seek to learn from your tradeshow experiences to refine your approach. Doing so is the essence of process improvement. There are many reasons for analyzing and measuring tradeshow results, but the most important is to determine how your show program affects the bottom line. Management wants to know whether its money was well spent—i.e., the number of sales generated directly from the show.

Approach your next event with an open mind and a strategy to collect valuable data. By gathering solid customer information and putting measurement strategies in place, you can fine-tune your tradeshow program for better return on your marketing spend.

The bottom line: Better planning equals better information, a better strategy, and a better close ratio.

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image of Rob Murphy

Rob Murphy is the former chief marketing officer of MC2, a global exhibit and event marketing company. Check out the eConnections Digest blog and find MC2 on Twitter (@MC2experience_ and @MC2_FastTrak) and Facebook.