Tradeshow Follow-Up: A Lost Art and Missed Opportunities

Have this ever happened to you?

You go to a conference for your industry and spend a great deal of money to announce your presence at the event. You purchase the Platinum Level sponsorship so your logo hangs on the large banner that greets everyone as they saunter into the convention hall with their bag of inserts and programming materials. You get your logo on the napkins used during a “corporate break out,” so as the attendees munch on dry chicken sticks and mildly seasoned crab puffs, they once again get an impression that draws them to stop by your booth.

For three days, hundreds or maybe thousands of people stop by your booth just to get your goodies—pens, toys, and beach towels with your logo on it.   You and your team have many brief conversations as you snag their business cards from the e-reader. You leave the event with a thousand prospects and have about 50 to 100 great conversations with various individuals about your products and services. A week after the event you send out a mass email to everyone you spoke to and then…


If you’re lucky, you mostly get a lot of “unsubscribes” or notes saying “please don’t ever contact me again.” Sometimes those notes come in all caps with a few colorful metaphors. After doing this for five years, you ask yourself “Why? Why do we spend so much money on tradeshows and nothing ever seems to really come of it?”

Here’s the sad reality: You’re asking the wrong question!

The Benefit of Tradeshows

The purpose of a tradeshow is to allow you to showcase and demonstrate your new products and services—often to your primary customer market. When managed properly, you get to have dozens or maybe even hundreds of face-to-face conversations with potential clients and vendors who would benefit from what you offer. It’s one of the most effective ways to convert prospects into paying clients as it’s an immediate lead generator.

Studies show 81% of trade show attendees have buying authority and the largest benefit from being at a tradeshow is creating opportunities and the ability to see lots of prospects and customers at the same time. Ninety-two percent of trade show attendees say they are looking for new products, so there’s great opportunities for all involved.

However, many companies complain that even though they may pick up a significant level of contacts, they often feel something is lacking after going to tradeshows year after year. Over the years, I cannot tell you how many clients have confessed that they consider tradeshows a necessary chore—as if it’s something they’re committed to even if their heart’s not in it. Even if several large contracts result, some will still question how to get more out of these large-scale marketing efforts.

The secret benefit to tradeshows never takes place at the tradeshow itself. It’s what happens after you head home and go back to the business of running your company.

Want a better return on investment for budgeting thousands of dollars on booths, corporate sponsorships and trinkets offered during a tradeshow? Make sure you follow-up with your best prospects!

Sure, you’re already shaking your head in agreement with me. “Yes, Dean, I KNOW I need to follow-up with people! I know I need to contact these people—and we do! We send out a follow-up email and add them to our mailing list. Everyone gets a follow-up! What else am I supposed to do?!”

Simple: Follow-up on your follow-ups with your best prospects!

Remember how I mentioned in the beginning of this piece how you and your team have about 50 to 100 meaningful conversations with prospects who stop by your booth? Those are the ones you need to follow-up with beyond that initial email blast. And by follow-up, I’m not talking about another email three to four weeks later! I’m talking about a carefully planned follow up that focuses on building a long term relationship.


What that means is that the moment you are standing at your booth and someone stops by and they spend several minutes asking questions about your products and services and demonstrate genuine interest, start making actual notes about them. Make sure you get as many contact details as you can. Maybe ask how many kids back home would like one of the gadgets. Find out where they’ve been eating at night or what they like about the city you’re visiting.

Once the tradeshow is over, make the effort to do more than just an email blast to contact them. In fact, I say don’t follow up via email at all!

When someone stops by your booth and has an engaging conversation, send them a handwritten note. Why? Because at least 90% of your competition won’t make that kind of an effort! Imagine how that prospect will feel when they get a personalized note on their desk. Nowadays you can use digital calligraphy on announcement envelopes that will impress someone when they see their name and you won’t have to address all of those envelopes yourself.

In fact, send the thank you note with just your name and return address on it—leave off your company logo until they open the piece and see who the note is from. This makes for a small surprise that immediately lets the prospect know that you were truly listening to them when they took time out of their day to stop by your booth and that you valued their time. In the digital age, it’s too easy to think that email is all you need to do for a follow-up. But that’s what everyone else does and remember, you’re smarter than that! A nicely written thank you note on a card will do wonders when it’s part of your follow-up regimen.

Once the note goes out, take your follow-up to the next level and then make a call to that person. If you get their gatekeeper when you make the call, just inform that individual that you’re getting in touch based on the conversation and the note you sent the week before. Odds are that the gatekeeper with put you through to their direct office and they’ll hopefully pick up. At the least, leave a nice voicemail saying how you were glad you met them at the tradeshow, hope they got the personal note and then say you’re following up on that original conversation. If you know they have four kids or were hoping to visit the hot Italian restaurant before they headed for home, ask them how that went! Maybe even tell them that if they visit your area that you have a great place in mind where you could take them for dinner.   You’d be surprised at how your rate of response from prospects increase when you make a personal effort.

Notice I’ve not even asked you to do any selling yet. That thank you card and phone call exists to potentially deepen the relationship, not become a sales pitch. The best follow-ups for prospects like this should focus on the person and getting to know them. Once they realize they’re more than just a lead from swiping their business card, they will likely warm to your great manners and want to learn more about you and your company.

True, it takes time to do this, but would you rather devote a few extra minutes to cultivating a sustained relationship or spend no time at all on a one-email blast that often leads to nothing? In other words, you don’t make an effort to follow-up and neither will your prospects. The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) states that 80% of tradeshow leads receive no follow up at all. Imagine the possibilities by following-through on that top tier of guests who made an impression at your booth!

If you’re developing your trade show plan for the next year, make sure you account for time spent on follow-ups in your plan. Set an expectation for everyone working the tradeshow booth to devote time for handwritten notes and phone calls and set a number for each person to have at least 50 meaningful conversations while working the booth. If you don’t plan for it and set a goal, follow-up may never happen. Trust me, it’s worth the investment and you’ll soon regain your enthusiasm for tradeshows!

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