BIO is over for another year. You’ve come away with a more than passable Boston accent and a fistful of business cards like a bad Uno hand. Now what?
For most of us, our primary objective at trade shows and industry conferences like BIO is collecting sales leads. But that fistful of business cards is worth very little if those leads aren't adequately qualified, contacted, and (fingers crossed!) closed.
A survey conducted by EXHIBITOR reports that 98 percent of exhibitors collect sales leads at trade shows, but less than 70 percent have any formalized plan or process in place for how those leads are followed up on after the show. The survey also reported that only 47 percent of companies track leads generated at trade shows throughout the sales cycle and a paltry 28 percent measure and report the number of leads that ultimately convert to new customers.
Clearly, a follow up plan is needed, but following up on leads after a trade show can be done in two ways: The right way or the wrong way.
Here’s the right way:
#1 Don’t hand off to Sales (At least, not yet)
According to MarketingSherpa, only 27% of business leads are ready for a sales call. That means that if you hand off your list of conference leads to Sales and they start dialing the phone, they’re going to irritate nearly three-quarters of them, and in the process waste a colossal amount of time.
Before being handed off to Sales, the Marketing team has a responsibility to accurately qualify the leads obtained at the conference by putting them into an array of buckets. Some may be interested in learning more about your company or its products, some might be interested in building a relationship, some might be receptive to becoming a customer sometime in the future, and some (but not many) will be ready to buy right now.
Before leads go to Sales, the Marketing team should spend some time attempting to understand the buyer’s journey. If someone handed you a business card at a conference, they’d likely fall into one of three categories.
#2 Make contact, but do it the right way
Qualifying your leads along the buyer’s journey allows you to avoid the dreaded blast email. You know the kind because you’ve likely seen them before.
It was great to connect with you at the conference. It seems like our service is the perfect fit for your needs. I’d love to chat more about how our solution helps businesses like yours succeed.
That email has “Please delete me” written all over it.
It’s not necessary to send a personalized email to every individual lead, but when emails are properly qualified into buckets, those buckets can be treated differently, and much more personally.
#3 Further engage with a series of emails
Your hottest leads or Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs) mean business and should be prioritized. Send a highly personalized email to each SQL. Explore a shared interest and demonstrate common ground. Resist selling and emphasize helping. For example, ask about an industry challenge they mentioned and ask them how they’ve attempted to solve it in the past. This opens the door for a meaningful conversation that can include a discussion about your solution.
MQLs should be further qualified and engaged to be more interested. These people have potential but are probably not ready for a personalized email. Instead, also prospect your MQLs with a series of emails designed to generate more interest in your business. This is often done by offering high-quality touch points, such as resources like white papers, which provide an understanding and solutions for their specific problem.
Your lowest-quality leads may not be ready to engage right now, but that doesn’t mean they should be forgotten. Low-quality leads should be enrolled in a workflow with gradual touch points. The goal should be to keep in touch over time and being ready to engage when the time is right. Perhaps you could periodically point them to a blog article you think they will find useful. However, don’t be heavy-handed. These people should be allowed to move at their own pace with your business.
#4 Track your ROI
Conferences are expensive and time-consuming, so it’s a little surprising that, according to EXHIBITOR, only 47% of companies track leads generated at trade shows and conferences throughout the sales cycle. The conference could have been profitable, or it could have been a complete waste of time or money—no one will know unless leads are tracked. The best way to track lead touch points and their impact on the sales funnel is with a marketing automation platform. These platforms make it easy to set up a list of leads and monitor the actions they take as they move through your digital sales funnel. You should note where the lead first came from and monitor the percentage of leads becoming MQLs, MQLs becoming SQLs, and SQLs becoming sales opportunities and closing into deals.
You worked hard for that fistful of business cards, now make sure you follow up, follow through, and track your ROI so you can tell if it was all worth it or not.
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