Trade Show Leads: A Guide to Lead Capturing

Collecting and Managing Your Leads From a Trade Show

What’s one of the biggest reasons why businesses attend a trade show? I hope you said to collect and qualify sales leads. It doesn’t matter if you are selling a product or a service, your main goal should be to collect as many leads as possible. That isn’t easy, though. You’ll have to sift through the swag baggers looking for freebies and others that are totally disinterested in just about everything.

Attracting leads to your booth

This is easier said than done. Attracting a visitor to your booth can be difficult, especially if it’s one of your first trade shows. There’s a lot of preparation and work that should go into your trade show exhibit, but we’ll cover the basics really quick.

Make sure you have a well-designed booth that’s aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Adding a banner stands and expo accessories can really help your booth stand out.

Most importantly, you need to make sure your branding is on-point.

Market your business how you want to be perceived. If you sell luxurious jewelry, make sure you send that message to the trade show attendees. Give the appearance that your booth is high-end, wear formal clothes and be confident. That will attract your target market. Don’t show up with a table, a couple pieces of jewelry and a brochure while wearing business casual clothes. You’ll misrepresent your brand, causing confusion amongst attendees. They’ll be less likely to visit your booth.

Lastly, make sure you have enticing copy on your banner stands and booth. You should not only accurately convey what your business does, but also include a reason for visitors to stop by. For example: if you own a software business, add messaging on your banner stands that you are giving away free demos of your software on a USB drive. In exchange, you collect the attendees’ contact information to follow up afterwards. Win-Win.

How to collect a lead

Well, I just gave you an example. But there are a lot of ways you can collect leads a trade show. Let’s take a look at some of the most common ways:

  • Collecting business cards
  • Fill out handwritten lead forms
  • Use a badge scanner
  • Fill out a web-form on a tablet or computer

Of course there are different ways to collect leads, but the oldest and easiest way is through business cards. Just about everyone has them and you don’t have to do anything but ask. However, if you want to qualify a lead while at the trade show with this method, you’ll need to jot down some notes on who the person is. That can take some time with data entry when you get back to the office. It’s the 21st century..go digital! It will save you time.

Do most companies collect leads?

Exhibitor Online conducted a Sales Lead Survey back in 2010 and found that 98% of exhibitors collect sales leads at trade shows. That’s good, right? Well, less than 70% have a formalized plan or process in place for following up with their leads. And only 47% of companies track leads throughout the sales cycle that were acquired from a trade show.

This may seem discouraging, but this means more opportunity for your business. If your competitors are NOT taking full advantage of leads through trade shows, that’s great for you. Set up a process for lead scoring then following up. Which brings us to our next points.

Trade Show Lead Scoring / Lead Ranking

Hopefully you are already familiar with lead scoring. Lead scoring helps you determine the quality of a lead and enables you to set up a customized messaging system in hopes of converting the lead to a sale. Referring back to the sales lead survey, only 34% of respondents said they have a formal lead-scoring process designed to prioritize or gauge the value of each lead. That means 66% of companies do not use a lead scoring system. That’s a lot!

It’s important to include a lead ranking system. It can be as simple as writing down “hot lead,” “send brochure,” “call in 2 days,” etc. Keep in mind that not everyone is a prospect. Don’t focus on getting as many leads as possible, focus on quality. When you find a quality lead, rank them and make notes.

Here are a few ways you can qualify a lead:

  • Manually via post-show analysis (not ideal because you’ll probably forget valuable information)
  • Manually via on-site analysis
  • Automatically via a computerized system
  • Informal “gut feeling”

Once the show is over, it’s time to follow up.

The art of following up with your leads

Following up with your leads is the most important thing you can do after a trade show. Many businesses fail to convert leads because of one big mistake.

They only use 1 marketing channel for following up.

From Exhibitors Online Sales Lead Survey, we learned that most leads receive between 1-3 messages from businesses after a trade show. Not only are the majority of sales made on or after the 5th contact, the overwhelming majority of businesses only use 1 marketing channel for following up. This is a crucial mistake. There are several ways to follow up with your leads.

Follow up methods

  • Email
  • Text
  • Phone call
  • Hand-written thank you card
  • Visit to their office

If you are not getting the response rate you want, continue following up. But don’t be too pushy.

Give incentives

  • Free demos
  • Discounts
  • Create a webinar and send an invite to all the leads from the trade show to attend

Timing the follow up

As stated above, you can’t be too pushy with the amount of follow ups. CEIR conducted a survey back in 2012 titled Exhibitor Sales Lead Capture and Follow-Up Practice Trends. According to their study, following up within two weeks of a trade show was considered “very quickly”

following up with trade show leads


As you know, trade shows are an investment. It’s important you prepare properly for your exhibit. It’s equally important that you set up a system in place for acquiring, scoring, and following up with leads gathered from the convention. Hopefully this guide will help you in the future.

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