How to Generate and Manage Leads at Trade ShowsTrade shows can be an excellent way to gain exposure for your business, find inspiration from what similar competitors are doing, and generate leads for new customers. Many exhibitors seem to be shooting in the dark when it comes to managing leads they're gotten from tradeshows, while others are unable to quantify if the tradeshows they are attending are a good marketing investment. While there's no good way to put a number on exposure, there are a few good ways to generate and manage leads from tradeshows.

Prepare before the show

Before you set up your pop up displays and place your business cards in a nice display, do some homework. Determine which type of visitor is a prospect or lead, and which is not. Come up with a few quick questions to qualify your leads, and rehearse asking them in a conversational way. Identify your target demographic and focus on those attendees, versus other salespeople or support staff.

Qualify on the floor

As you are speaking with your booth's visitors, practice asking a couple of simple qualifying questions. While a busy exhibition isn't the time or place to begin a lengthy conversation about budgets, or cold-pitching potential clients, you can screen the attendees a bit, determining which would qualify for a follow-up conversation later. Train your marketing staff to qualify leads only, not engage in active selling. If you're too aggressive, it may be off-putting to clients. Simply take a prospect's name and contact information, and make a few notes about what they're looking for.

Follow up promptly

Gather your lead notes and follow up within a day or two expressing your pleasure at meeting them. Now is the time to further qualify your leads, including determining what their needs are and what their budget and buying timeline are. Keep your warm leads form growing cold, and make sure to contact them quickly – you don't want your competitor to reach that hot lead before you!

Load your tradeshow leads into your sales software

Many sales teams find it easier to use Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software to manage their leads and keep their sales pipeline flowing. Platforms such as Salesforce and Zoho can automate some of the prospecting and selling processes, as well as produce "ticklers" to remind you to follow up with "touches" for clients that you're pitching. If you have an iPad or lead tracking app on your smartphone, you can also enter customer details right in the booth, then simply transfer or download your prospects.

Note which pieces of business came from tradeshow leads

Some industries seem to have a tradeshow every month – or more in the spring and fall. As you enter your leads into your CRM or other organizational software, make notes of which ones were generated from each trade show. If you close a piece of business that started with a tradeshow lead, make a note of it, and the dollar amount of your contract. As you receive solicitations to attend different shows, keeping notes of which shows produced business and which didn't may help you quantify the time and expense of each show.