Nineteen tips for generating more high-quality trade show leads

How to get more sales leads from your trade show presence

By M. H. “Mac” McIntosh, CBC

Your industry’s major trade show is coming up. Now is the time to start preparing. If one of your exhibit goals is to get more, high-quality sales leads, consider using these techniques.


Evaluate and select trade shows carefully.

Are the show’s attendees likely prospects for your products or services? It’s better to have a couple of hundred very qualified leads than thousands of leads from people who may not be real prospects.


Set measurable goals.

You can’t determine the success of your exhibit without first knowing what you want to achieve. Marketing, sales and advertising personnel, as well as your exhibit vendor, should be involved in establishing the purpose of exhibiting. Make your goals as specific as possible and align them with your overall lead generation plans. If you can sell at the show, how many sales do you expect? If direct sales are prohibited, how many qualified leads do you hope to generate? What is your definition of a qualified lead?

Put your show plan in writing.

This plan should include a workable schedule and designate responsibilities for each task. Don’t wait until the last minute, and be sure management signs off on the plan.

Develop a key message for your exhibit.

Like good advertising, a good exhibit communicates one major message clearly. This is more effective at drawing prospects to your booth than the cluttered image projected by companies trying to communicate too much.

Design an open, inviting booth.

Don’t block access with tables and counters; you want to draw attendees into your booth. Use interesting graphics to engage them. If space permits, provide comfortable chairs to encourage prospects to linger.

Identify key prospects and invite them.

Mail your customers and prospects complimentary passes to the exhibits, often available free from show management. Call and remind them to shop by your booth. Be sure to pique their interest by telling them about new products or services.

Merchandise your show participation.

Include tag lines in your ads such as; “See us at booth 1525 at Widgets Expo.” Include free exhibit passes with your inquiry response materials. Write a press release explaining new products or services to be introduced at upcoming shows. Invite editors to stop by or schedule specific appointments with your key people. Publish an article in your company newsletter listing trade shows and conferences you plan to exhibit at.

Train your exhibit staff before each show.

They need to know what is expected of them. They also need to have detailed information about any new products, services or company policies being announced.

Design a custom lead form.

Be sure to include questions designed to qualify your prospects by determining the immediacy of their needs, purchasing authority, budgetary situation, etc.


Create a unique identity for booth personnel.

Matching blazers, t-shirts, cowboy hats (for a western theme) or even boutonnieres will identify your people to prospects who need information or assistance.

Offer samples or premiums if appropriate.

Merchandise your traffic-building giveaways through pre-show mailings. For example, include the cap portion of a high-quality pen in a pre-show mailing that invites customers and prospects to pick up the rest of the pen at your booth.

Provide live or video demonstrations.

This will draw attendees to your booth and help them learn more about your company’s products or services. It also allows you to effectively communicate to a number of prospects at once.

Remind the folks staffing your booth to record all prospect information.

Encourage your people to record everything they can learn about the prospects’ needs and applications. Stress the importance of getting phone numbers, fax numbers and email addresses whenever possible. Consider awarding prizes or special awards to your exhibit staff for the most completed leads turned in on each shift.


Send requested literature or samples immediately.

Have literature ready to go before your head to the show. Then fax, modem or send leads from the show to your inquiry handlers overnight. Have them send the requested material to prospects within 24 hours. Fast response is your second opportunity to get a jump on the competition and make a favorable impression. (Your performance in the booth is the first.)

Include a teaser on the envelope or in the email subject line.

Something like “requested information from widgets expo” works well to get the package past the assistant (or wastebasket) and into the prospects’ hands.

Help your prospects take the next step.

Make sure your literature packages make it easy for prospects to take the next step by including ‘where-to-buy’ details, including the names, addresses, phone and fax numbers and email addresses of your sales offices, dealers or distributors.

Use the telephone, mail and email to follow up.

Your goal is to build sales-winning relationships with your prospects and further qualify them. Telemarketing and direct mail (including email) are cost-effective and efficient ways to do this.

Track your leads through to the sale.

Did the qualified prospects buy? How much? Use the answers to demonstrate to management the show’s return on investment, and to increase the odds of show budget approval next year.

Complete a critical evaluation.

After each show, look at what went well; what didn’t. Critique each aspect of the show and ask salespeople and other participants for comments. Give special attention to the feedback pertaining to lead quality. This information will help you maximize the effectiveness of future show efforts.

Contact Mac for a Free Decision Maker Kit

M. H. "Mac" McIntosh is described by many as one of America's leading business-to-business sales and marketing consultants and marketing speakers. He is president of Mac McIntosh Incorporated, a marketing consulting firm specializing in helping companies get more high-quality sales leads and turn them into sales. More about Mac...

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