Old Trade Show Leads? Re-Qualify Them or Toss Them

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Old Trade Show Leads? Re-Qualify Them or Toss Them

If you’re a business-to-business marketer who uses trade shows to get leads for new business, you probably send direct mail and email marketing to prospects after the show to convert prospects to customers.

Lead generation via trade shows can be an important part of a smart marketing strategy, but if leads aren’t well qualified at the outset – and frequently re-qualified if they stay on your prospect database over time – your post-show direct mail and email campaigns could be a waste of your marketing resources. Here’s a case study in how NOT to do it.

Is the Prospect Really a Prospect?

In 2005, I attended the American Institute of Architects convention with one of my clients, an organization that sells commercial building products. I spent a lot of time at the trade show, visiting booths of industry suppliers and talking with salespeople to develop a deeper understanding of my client’s market.

I stopped by one company’s booth because my brother works for one of their divisions in Ohio and I wanted to see how they market their products. A sales rep approached me. I explained that my interest was strictly out of curiosity based on a tangential family connection, but he insisted on scanning my badge and adding me to the prospect list. (I’m guessing he was trying to reach a prospect quota.)

As the president of a marketing agency, I’m not a prospect for anyone selling products to architects. But because this company failed to properly qualify my interest in their products, my decision-making authority, my needs, or my budget – in the booth when they met me or during a post-show call or email – they’ve spent the last five years treating me like a potential customer.

Repeating the Same Mistakes with an Old Lead

This company has sent me a lot of direct mail since 2005. Just yesterday, I got a product catalog on CD. Last week, I received a 32-page, high-end magazine.

I might be impressed by these direct marketing campaigns if I were a prospect. But since I’m not, it’s money thrown away.

Even worse than the initial qualification error is the fact that they’ve never called to see if I’m still interested in their products or whether I’m even still in my job. That’s a classic business-to-business marketing mistake, because a significant percentage of business decision-makers change jobs in a typical year, even more so during a recession. If they treat all their trade show leads this way, they’re probably mailing to more than a few empty in-boxes in vacant offices.

The Lead Qualification Steps They Should Have Taken

Here’s the smart marketing strategy this business-to-business marketer should have used to qualify their trade show leads and convert those leads to sales:

  • Ask if the prospect has the need, authority, and budget to buy the product. If yes, add them to the marketing campaigns database but also assign them to an inside or outside sales rep for follow-up. If not, but you think they could be a future prospect, find a low-cost way to share product information with them, such as email, and set a schedule for re-qualifying them later.
  • Call real prospects shortly after the show to reassess their interest. The prospect is either a hot lead ready to buy, a lead with good potential who may buy soon, or a tire-kicker who may or may not purchase at some point. Put the prospect in the proper group and start a regular contact management program where the frequency and intensity of the ongoing sales contact matches the prospect’s potential.
  • Check in with the prospect by phone at least every six months to see where they are in the purchasing process, if they’re still the key decision-maker, and if they’re still with the company. If the prospect remains viable, keep the sales dialogue going.  If not, toss them from your database and target your marketing campaigns toward your real sales opportunities.
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