What happens at the tradeshow is obviously important to your success, but equally important is what happens after the show ends. If you want your company to truly benefit from all the hard work that went into exhibiting, you must ensure that appropriate follow-up activities take place.

Too often sales departments give a lukewarm response to leads gathered at a show because historically, these type of leads have a reputation for having no substance – they’re either just cold business cards or similar basic information imprinted on a company lead card. For sales people to view leads as being worthwhile for follow-up, they need quality information.

One of the biggest after-show frustrations that companies experience is quantifying and managing the leads gathered at shows. More often then not, leads are distributed to the sales force, and little if anything is seen or heard of the outcome. Show performance and return on investment is then difficult, if not impossible, to measure.

To turn your leads into sales, you have to start with the end result in mind. Begin the process of maximizing the benefit of tradeshow participation by knowing exactly what you want to achieve at the various tradeshows you attend. Set specific goals for each show, and be totally clear on the results you expect, but remember to be realistic. Make sure that your goals are in line with your company’s overall marketing objectives.

Consider involving your exhibit staff in the goal-setting process. Doing so increases their accountability for your company’s show results and raises their enthusiasm for participating. Your specific goals are the yardstick for measuring your results. In addition, your goals must also be quantifiable – a dollar amount, percentage, or number of leads – in order to measure your level of success.

Before the show, you must spend time going over the lead collecting process. Explain the importance of the information you’re gathering and dissuade possessive salespeople from pocketing leads. Make sure that everyone knows exactly how to use lead cards and operate card readers – high-tech lead management systems that many show organizers make available to their exhibitors. (During registration, visitors are given a card with a computer chip, magnetic strip, or stacked bar code. Encoded data collected during the registration process is embedded in the card. Exhibitors are then given a device to read the cards and collect the leads. This device usually gives you a printout with basic visitor information: name, company, address, phone, fax, email and some general demographic data.)

At the end of each show day and before leads are sent off for processing, hold a debriefing session. Have staffers share hot leads with the team. This gives team members the opportunity to add further information that may help in the follow-up.

Written by Susan A. Friedmann, CSP, The Tradeshow Coach, Lake Placid, NY, working with exhibitors and meeting & event planners to improve their event success through coaching, consulting and training. Website: www.thetradeshowcoach.com