A step by step tradeshow follow-up process

Attending a trade show is a huge investment. In time, budget and people.
You better make sure everything is aligned with your goal and all your ducks are in a row before you jump on that train/ plane and go.

When optimizing for trade show R.O.I. there is a lot of mundane tasks involved which do not add value. These are the ones you should aim to automate.

Plan ahead

These are a few things that are better to know beforehand:

  1. What are the profiles of your expected visitors,
  2. what is the most important action you want them to take or you need to take to advance in your relationship,
  3. what are your existing tools regarding CRM, marketing, emailing, CMS… how do they “talk” together,
  4. how is-are your team-s organized. Who is responsible for qualifying leads, who is responsible for setting appointments,
  5. where should the contacts from the trade show be stored: in your Email Service Provider tool? In your CRM?
    If you say in a spreadsheet, it better be stored on an accessible online server. If not, you won’t be able to easily automate anything.
  6. how comfortable is your team with online tools, with data understanding.

We will see in the chapters down below how to execute on that.

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Capture data

You know that you need to be prepared to take action as soon as the trade show closes its doors. Hence, contact data :))
Without these, it’s gonna be difficult to follow up.
If I said capture data this is not to sound fancy. We’re here to get rid of nonsensical tasks: typing by hand all and every information from a business card into an Excel file. This is the height of no value added task. Keying in 100 business cards can take at least a whole work day…

Basically, you’ve got 3 options to capture contact data with their pro and cons we will discuss.

1. The badge scanning service provided by the trade show organizer

You’re provided with a device that you use to scan the QR code present on you visitor’s badge.
Shortly after the trade show end, you receive a file that you can import into whatever tool you’re using.


  • The data collection is handled for you,
  • this is the de facto standard in big industrial trade show,
  • no hassle about taking a photo of a business card,
  • in big professional trade show, you can declare which field are mandatory for the visitor to fulfill


  • you loose the context. No way to find out about who was who. And no way to differentiate between 2 different segments.
  • Some salespeople find that you lose the human contact by “scanning” a person,
  • you’re not in control of when you’ll receive the file and act on it,
  • you’re still left with a manual import, while it is still possible to automate this task.
  • Beware that in some not so big conferences/ trade show, the quality of the data may be drastically low : missing fields, poorly spelled names,…
  • The cost.

Planning :

  • who will be in charge of receiving the file?
  • Who will be in charge to import it into your tool of choice? And do not forget to add the trade-show reference to the data.

2. Bulk scanners

If you’re on the “no more paper” side of your company, there is a good chance you already have a scanner device.
The best ones are those which have a feeder where you can put a bunch of business card, push the button, and off you go with the scanning.
The best of the best let you set up a cloud service to send the scanned business card to. From there, an automated workflow can harvest the data and push it to your tool of choice.


  • Time saver.
  • No hand handling of hundreds of business cards.
  • Great fit if you already have a no-paper policy.


  • The size of the device, not easy to cram into your suitcase.
  • The cost
  • If you don’t bring the scanner on the show, you’ll have to wait until you get back to start your follow up.

Planning :

  • Set up your integration workflow beforehand.
  • who will be in charge of scanning all the cards?

3. Business card transcribing Mobile app


  • you’ve got context. Most of the apps let you add tags and notes, some even let you assign directly a sales rep to this contact or add it to a campaign.
  • Lot of integration with CRM.
  • You keep the human feeling of exchanging card.
  • You’re in control of the whole scenario defined by you. How and when you’re gonna interact again with your contact.
  • No keying in of contact data.
  • Importing data is automated.


  • most of the time you cannot “scan” the card in “real time”. At best you will do it right after your visitor has left you —if no one is already waiting to talk to you.
  • Depending on how many people are tending the booth, you may have to hand over the card to someone else.
  • Often, the scanning of all the collected business cards will be done at the end of the day.

Choosing an app

you’ll want these capacities:
  • Work offline. Network availability inside trade show & conferences is just crappy most of the time
  • Provide “manual” transcript of the business card. OCR does not cut it as each and every business card can be a work of art with no defined place to where should be the most important information.
  • Capability to send the data once the transcript is done. This is where you “pipe” it to you CRM or tool of choice and start your follow-up process
  • If you are using a CRM, check first if there is already a business card app provided.

planning :

Make sure everybody on the team attending the show has the app install on their smartphone.
Set up the integration to your tool (CRM/ESP) either directly or through a third party service like Zapier.
Do not forget to add the reference to the trade show into the contact imported.

Some idea crunching for UX, marketing people

As much a tradeshow is about meeting with people in person, this is also where the data collecting takes place.
I am not talking only about contact data, but also this is the place where you do have the opportunity to discuss with a potential customer about the particular pain your product solves and hereby collect these pains, fear, and frustration. Now you got a comprehensive overview of genuine client expression which you’ll be able to use in your product roadmap and your marketing copy.

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Now this is the time to make money and get this R.O.I increase.
Just be aware that what we are discussing in this chapter should be mainly addressed in the planning phase.

Some questions you should answer beforehand

  • Who does attend the trade show? Only sales? Marketing? Both?
  • Who is in charge of qualifying prospect?
  • Are your marketing and sales teams working in different places? Do they have an operating mode between them?

All these questions will inform the decision you make and the way you’ll organize your follow-up workflow.

Contacts from trade show are “pre-qualified” in a sense that they already showed an interest in your solution. And took the time to talk to you. But nonetheless, you still need to know where they are in their decision process, how long this process will take, if the contact you talk to has the buying decision.
First, you need to decide what will be your preferred way to follow up: call or email.
This will be mostly dictated by your contacts profile and your industry standard.
Traditional professionals, higher up in the chain big co will want to be taken care of by a personal call from a sales account manager.
At the other end of the spectrum, a lot of small business owners do not want to be interrupted by a call and will prefer to respond to a qualifying email.

Let’s assume that you have these two choices.

1. Call

Again 2 other choices: in-house or outsourced?
This is mainly a matter of quantity. If you have more than 500 contacts to follow up with and you are participating in more than 5 trade shows a year, you may not have the capacity to handle every contact.
In any case, you’ll want to plan beforehand your qualifying script. It should provide answers to the questions listed below :

  1. How far in the project/ decision purchase is your contact
    1. decided: need to talk to sales = set up a meeting with sales
    2. not yet but almost there: need to talk to pre-sales support = set up a meeting/ call with pre-sales
    3. not before x months: goes the to the long-term lead nurturing box
  2. Does she/he has the power to make the purchase decision

Nowadays there are third party businesses who will handle the calling for you. You can grant a temporary & limited access to your CRM to complete each called profile

2. Email

The big advantage of using email to qualify your leads is :

  1. be super reactive. You are in the capacity to fire up your follow up emails batch right after the trade show closes its doors.
    In my experience, I find the best response rate is the first day of the week following the end of the trade show. For example, if doors close on Friday, the best date would be on Monday. But as usual, your mileage may vary.
  2. This can be completely automated. So your whole contact database receives its mail on the same date. No delay because of people time shortage.
  3. Follow-up on not responded email is easy: use automation here.

Qualify your leads

This method should be used for any contact you have no context for, meaning no tags, no notes, no campaign, …
Again, you’ll want to further qualify this contact:
Have a short, to the point email with when you met, what you do, is he willing to jump on a call, does he needs more info, download a white paper,…
You may even have these questions answered by clicking on a link leading to a specific landing page tailored to the contact info
Alternatively, you may ask your contact to respond directly to this email. Provided that the return path is set to the assigned sales rep inbox, you’ve got a conversation going.

Lead nurturing

Now let’s address the long-term case: the lead nurturing campaign.
If you want to be efficient in this, you should have content already at your disposal.
This is inventory stuff. What content: blog post, videos, how-tos, technical references, tutorials,… do you already have? Can you split these so that you can launch a drip email sequence for 6 to 8 months?
This tactic is best used if you can track your contact behavior on your website pages. Then you have a mean to evaluate if the needle is moving toward a purchase decision and make contact again at the best moment.

Use automation to secure important meetings

You’ve got a context. And you’ve got multiple profiles you need to talk to.
Let’s pretend you’re a happy startup who received a grant to attend the CES in Las Vegas.
Amongst all the different profiles who might drop by your booth, there’s the much-wanted investor.
This is a contact you’ll want 1/ not to lose amidst your ˜×100s business cards 2/ re-contact in a very timely manner 3/ do not forget about it.
In Las Vegas startup world, it is not common to use a scanning service. Good news for you, because you’ll be forced to use a business card app.
One possible automated workflow could look like

  1. Scan the card and add “investor” tag.
  2. Workflow catches the contact data, identify the “investor” contained in the tags.
  3. Add an event in the next available slot to my calendar with the contact data.
  4. Done. Now you have secured some important data


Given the time and money invested in a trade show/conference attendance you better make sure that you can calculate its R.O.I at one time or another. Every month in fact.
Here again, no interest in performing dumb, no added value tasks for the sake of obtaining data.
You’ll need to know how much have been received or invoiced by month and by trade show.
For that, you need to make sure that this particular data: trade show name or id or reference, is saved with each contact made and entered into your CRM database.
You’ll also need the total cost of your trade show attendance eg: booth lending fee, booth decoration, marketing operations, transport costs, employee work days salaries,…
Mandatory fields for R.O.I calculation could be:

  1. a reference/id to a client
  2. the amount paid/or invoiced depending on your accounting method
  3. the date at which this happened
  4. the reference to the trade show at which the contact was made

Then you’ll have to filter, export, probably clean-up data. And import them in your tool of predilection to have them consolidated and visualized.
This is a part that should be automated. I dare not say “must” but I mean it.
You do not have time to perform this task every month or week. have an automated workflow that does the extract and formatting/computing stuff, re-inject the data to a visualizing tool, export a screenshot and send a nicely formatted email to you or your team.
And delete this weekly/monthly task from your calendar forever.

Whoa, that was a beast of a guide. I hope it gave you a comprehensive overview of what can be achieved using automation.
You now have a solid system that you can start using right away.

Get your summary and your checklist to prepare for your next tradeshow.

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