Don’t Be a Trade Show Vulture! Here’s 10 Steps for Event Follow Up Success

In this article I’m going to explain how to PROPERLY execute an effective trade show follow up campaign without being a blood sucking lead vulture.

Before I get into the horrors I’ve experienced as an attendee, I thought I’d quickly share my top 10 steps to event follow up success – and then elaborate on each one further below.

10 Steps for Effectively Following Up with Leads After a Trade Show or Event

  1. Consider opportunities to create swag / easy giveaways and freebies.
  2. Make sure your offer is relevant.
  3. Tier your gifts.
  4. Select your winner, but do it strategically.
  5. Prioritize your leads and plan your outreach accordingly.
  6. Send a short & sweet thank you follow up email.
  7. Pull lists into your marketing automation platform and start nurturing.
  8. Create Facebook re-targeting ads for leads that didn’t convert.
  9. Book demos & announce your gift / contest winner(s).
  10. Measure ROI & refine your process.
  11. The Horrors (and Reality) of Lead Generation at Events & Conferences

    This is how I usually feel when I give out my information after interacting with a vendor at an event or conference:

    They’re descending upon me like vultures on a dead carcass — wait, that’s really dark. How about like ants to a half-full can of Coca Cola? In any event, my impression is the same. I’m clearly just a tasty morsel, and I’ve lost my identity completely. Forget about my needs and interests, I’m talking about basic facts that even define me on paper: my occupation, my experience, the company I work for. None of it matters.

    They only seem to care about three things:

    • My name
    • My phone number
    • My email address

    Mayday! Mayday! It’s the SDRs!

    salesperson crying

    You see, I’ve been attending A LOT of events lately – conferences, summits, expos – you name it. And, when I do this there are a few things that tend to happen.

    Of course, I attend events to learn and network with peers, prospects and decision makers.

    But there’s always that elephant in the room we must face as attendees – those hungry sponsors who want my sweet, sweet contact information so they can opt me into their lead funnels.

    The Two Most Unforgivable Offenses Committed Against Attendees

    Offense #1: The event organizer shares my contact information with all sponsors, leaving me vulnerable to a sales ambush.

    Offense #2: I visit booths in expo halls and become a scan victim.

    I know this sounds a little dramatic, but I was at an event not long ago, and while I was walking the aisles of the expo hall someone literally did a drive-by scan.

    With my name badge dangling from my neck, flapping around for anyone to access, my aggressor swiftly placed that proximity reader in just the right spot, and DINGI’m now a lead for some random company.  

    Now, not everyone is this obnoxious, but there are other disappointing tactics that occur on a regular basis.

    I have heard “please, it will help me get my numbers” more than a handful of times when I’ve been asked to be scanned. Here’s how the conversation goes:

    Me: “Thanks for sharing with me what [insert company name] does. The thing is, like I told you, I’m really not in need of those services, so unfortunately I’m not a viable lead for you, but I’ll keep you in mind if I meet anyone else who is.”

    Sales Rep in Booth: “Hey, I get it, but I need numbers. Can I please just scan you? You can opt out or mark us as spam or whatever later.”

    Me: “I’m not joking. I really don’t need or want your product. I’m happy to connect with you on LinkedIn to share referrals though if you’d like.”

    Sales Rep in Booth: “Please. It would really help me out.”

    So I cave. I can’t help it. Plus, now I’m crazy curious about what the heck this company is going to do with my information. I must be a glutton for punishment.

    The other hysterical thing that happens is when I’m chatting with a competitor and the rep knows this, and asks to scan me and says:

    Vulture: “Hey, we’re giving away a drone (or Apple Watch, or Fit Bit or Beats) — you might win!”

    Me: “Well I certainly hope not!”

    Vulture: “You never know. You totally could. It’s a random drawing.”

    Me: “Again, I certainly hope not!”

    And now, because I honestly can’t handle another trade show season like this, I’m giving you my secret recipe for trade show / event lead success.

    One caveat — this recipe works best when you’re dealing with a large quantity of trade show leads.

    There are other great lead gen tactics out there – especially for smaller events when you’re able to have in-depth one-on-one conversations with prospects.

    But if you’re working a show with attendees in the thousands, I’ve found a sales and marketing cocktail to outperform all others.

    10 Step Recipe For Event Follow Up Success

    sales recipe for event follow up success

    1. To Swag or Not to Swag? That is the Question.

    When you’re facing the “should we or shouldn’t we” question for trade show giveaways, do your best not to get distracted by all the fun, shiny objects and instead put focus back on your buyer personas.

    Do your buyer personas care about freebies? If a branded notepad, selfie stick or cell phone stand is just another thing your prospect has to lug around, don’t waste your precious marketing dollars on promotional toys.

    But, if your buyer personas are attracted to the idea of fun gadgets or perhaps useful tools, then swag away, but swag wisely.

    2. Make Sure Your Offer Is Relevant

    This isn’t always easy, but if you’re going to hand out some kind of gadget or toy, try to make it relevant. One year my former company gave out these fairly inexpensive silicone sports watches. When I was working the trade show booth, it made for a great intro:

    Me: “Did you get your free sports watch?”

    Attendee: Did you say watch?”

    Me: Yep. See, we’re a time and attendance company so we’re giving away watches. Kind of cool, huh?”

    If the prospect just wanted a watch, she took it and moved on. If she was actually in need of a time and attendance solution, she stayed and we chatted. At around $0.80 a watch, we gave them away like candy on Halloween.

    Another year we handed out earbuds. I’ve seen more and more companies passing these out – who doesn’t need a spare set of earbuds? The trick is what you do with them to make them relevant.

    When we gave away earbuds we tied that back into our email marketing communications the last day of the conference and sent leads a video to watch at the airport, instructing them that now was the time to put those ear buds to use.

    3. Tier Your Gifts

    Unfortunately, not all event leads are created equal, so your giveaways shouldn’t be either. Try three different levels of gifts:

    1.  A super cheap (but relevant) giveaway: You should hand this out to everyone and anyone who passes your way. Can they have three to take home to their kids? Sure. Who knows if anything will come of it, but at least you’ll make someone smile, and someone who you pass that gift out to on the show floor is bound to be a viable prospect. I’ve never spent more than $1.50 a piece on giveaways like these.
    1.  A more mid-level (also relevant) gift that comes with some kind of commitment: Perhaps it’s a funky cool t-shirt your company designed — not the blatant advertising logo t-shirt, but something actually fun that you’d wear out in public (even if you’re not the CEO). Want a t-shirt? Well, all you have to do is confirm that you’re legitimately shopping for a solution like ours and schedule a demo of our product (she says as she swiftly hands prospect tablet to schedule demo right then and there). These gifts are generally in the $10 to $20 range.
    1.  The Big Kahuna – Here’s the spot you reserve for your drone or your tablet or smart watch: Again, I urge you, make it relevant but don’t overthink it.

    Bonus points for effort, but don’t overshoot this one. Again, who is the persona? What will strike her fancy?

    Whether you tie it beautifully into your product offering or messaging (I’ve seen really cool gifts in the health and wellness space), or you just go for the sparkle and sizzle of this moment’s most highly coveted tech gadget, make sure your potential new customer will actually find value in the gift.

    When I’m working with a tight budget, I’ve hit the jackpot with Groupon Goods, but I’ve also spent up to $500 on a high-end giveaway.

    4. Select Your Winner: Tips & Best Practices

    You don’t award the premiere gift to the person who buys. You don’t even award the gift to the person who is most likely to buy. And you most certainly don’t leave it at random.

    Instead, you reference all of your data. This includes information you gathered on site at the trade show about the lead, plus all the data you have in your CRM from the sales team and the online data in your marketing automation platform.

    The lead in your system whose company fits your ideal customer profile with the contact that has shown the greatest interest in your offering based on their online engagement and who perhaps hasn’t been super responsive with your sales team — that’s your winner.

    This person is busy but interested. He has a problem and you can solve it. And he’s been meaning to call your sales rep back but he just keeps getting distracted … until that sales rep leaves a message saying he’s won the prize and needs to confirm a mailing address.

    5. Prioritize Your Leads & Plan Your Outreach Accordingly

    Your scorching hot leads should not be treated the same as your casual booth goer. Hopefully your sales / marketing team took note of exceptional conversations and took note of who those people were. Those obviously require immediate follow up.

    If a contact was already part of an open opportunity in your CRM, you should prioritize those even higher.

    Even if you met a quality contact who was not at your booth and did not get their badge scanned, you should make a note to follow up with them as well.

    6. Trade Show Follow Up Email: Don’t Screw This Up!

    Here’s a nice little recipe to share with the person who handles your company’s email marketing (in case that’s not you):

    • Keep it short! 4-5 sentences max.
    • Thank your booth visitor in the very first sentence.
    • Keep a clear and concise CTA – this should be an opt-in for a grand prize consideration, or a free piece of premium content.

    – Next Steps: 1-3 Business Days After the Event

    Send a short follow up email to your booth visitors with a call-to-action for them to confirm that yes they wanted to be considered for the drawing for your totally awesome prize.

    They hit “click” and now you have magic cookie dust on their device. They’re then taken to a landing page letting them know that they are officially entered to win said prize, but while they’re waiting, here’s a free piece of premium content to help them with their business pain.

    Meanwhile, your hottest leads from the show go directly to your sales reps. These are the people who said, “Have someone call me — I want to see a demo.” You don’t mess around with those. They get the same emails, but those also go to the sales team.

    – Next Steps: 1 Week After the Event

    Send a modified version of the first email to any booth leads who have not yet clicked that call to action. After all, they were probably traveling and have a crazy inbox. They don’t want to miss out on your premiere prize. Same rules apply. Magical cookie crumbs are deposited, and you pay your prospect back with some killer content.

    – Next Steps: 2 Weeks After the Event

    This is their last chance. At the end of the week you’re going to be choosing a winner, and if they don’t click “submit” there’s no hope for them having that shiny new gadget in their hands (Same rules apply as in the last two steps).

    7. Pull Lists Into Your Marketing Automation Platform & Start Nurturing

    All the while, those cookies are doing their thing. At this point, you should be able to pull some pretty sweet lists in your marketing automation system.

    • What pages of your website did they visit after entering to win the gift?
    • Did they subscribe to your blog?
    • Did they register for webinars?
    • Did they actually download the free premium content you offered?

    As these new leads engage with your content, this should trigger other workflows you have for leads in general that perhaps sort them by persona or vertical and deliver relevant content to them depending on where they fit in your pipeline.

    Then, at the end of the second week following the event, you hand select your winner.

    8. Consider Social Re-Targeting Ads For Leads That Didn’t Convert

    Facebook re-targeting is one of the most powerful channels in B2B marketing right now.


    Because your buyers hang out there to be entertained, and to see what their friends and family are up to.

    It’s the one opportunity to reach prospects when their guards are down.

    This is unlike LinkedIn where your prospect is inundated with social selling tactics and InMail cold pitches.

    You can leverage strategic content in your Facebook ads to continue reaching leads who are in your list but haven’t engaged yet.

    9. Book Demos & Announce Your Contest Winners

    At this point, you should have a very happy prospect who’s now more than happy to schedule that demo that he actually really wanted but just didn’t get around to booking.

    It’s time to let everyone else know who won. This email should be sent to your entire event list — not just the people who entered the contest. And, because you’re generous, you’re going to give everyone another piece of premium content.

    10. Measure Results & Refine Your Process

    Now, aside from keeping track of these leads’ original source (make sure you track the specific event, especially if you’re exhibiting at a number of shows – how else will you know what provided the best ROI?), this lead should go through any other sales and marketing process that you already have in place. After all, your trade show leads deserve the same nurturing love as any other budding prospect in your sales universe.

Jen Spencer is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for SmartBug Media™, a globally recognized Intelligent Inbound™ marketing agency of experts in digital strategy, design, PR and marketing automation. Over her career, Jen has built several demand generation and sales enablement programs from the ground up and has experience working within tech startups, publicly traded companies, mid-market organizations, and the not-for-profit space.

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