Avoid the fish bowl of unqualified leads
Oftentimes, the success of a trade show is measured by the number of leads it generates. This is not entirely without good reason: The average B2B sale from a trade show results after only 3.6 touch points as opposed to the 6.7 touch points it takes to generate a sale from other types of leads. But the real measure is in generating quality leads versus quantity of leads.It is estimated that 77% of trade show attendees are qualified buyers. Find out which ones are in the market for your product or service and trade shows could be a gold mine for your company. Keep reading to find out more.

Where to start
As enthusiastic sales people, it sometimes takes restraint not to instantly pitch every sales lead that stops by your booth. With some skillful questioning and active listening, you can qualify a lead before you exert the time and resources to pitch to them. You’ve heard the expression that we were born with two ears but only one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak—this demonstrates the importance of good listening to determine who is truly in the market for your product or service.One tried and true method of questioning to qualify leads was coined by IBM as the BANT method which stands for Budget, Authority, Need and Time. This simple method can help you weed out those who are qualified to buy now or in the near future and those who are not, so you don’t waste precious time and money pitching to the latter.Budget
When first talking to a prospect, try to get a sense for their budget. After all, if there are no funds allocated for your product or service, you’re going to have a hard time closing a sale. Ask questions like, “How much have you set aside in your budget for XYZ service?” or “Is there wiggle room in your budget for the purchase of XYZ product?”

Authority

Ensure the person you are talking to is indeed the person with purchase authority or at the very least that they are an influencer in the purchase process. The farther down the totem pole of purchase authority your prospect is, the less likely it is that you will make a sale. You may want to ask, “Who is the ultimate decision maker?” or “Is there anyone else you need to consult with in the decision making process?”

Need
Discover if there is an immediate (or somewhat immediate) need for your product or service. This may take careful listening and thoughtful questioning. There is not a product or service that is so great it sells itself to those who simply do not need it. Don’t waste your time pitching to a lead that just doesn’t have a need you can fill.

Time

Timing is everything. Determine your sales leads’ timeline up front to discover if you can produce the product or service needed in a timeframe that works for both of you. Even the best product or service does nothing for a customer if they don’t have it when they need it.

Nurturing qualified leads
Once it is determined that a prospect is a qualified sales lead, be sure to gather all the necessary contact info to advance the sale. Determine up front how to proceed and what the preferred method of contact is. Be sure to send qualified sales leads on their way with a promotional item to keep you and your company fresh in their mind, such as a lunch bag or logo’d stadium blanket.When the trade show is over, follow up with all qualified leads within 48 hours via a phone call or an email. After that post-event, initial contact is made, mailing a promotional item with a personalized, handwritten note is a great way to thank people for their time and to keep your brand at the top of their mind. A computer monitor calendar or business card magnetic notepad is easy to mail and is an effective way to stay in front of your audience. Ongoing follow-up may be required to close a sale. Sending handwritten notes, holiday cards, or clippings of relevant articles of interest (attached with a personal message on a branded post-it note) are all great ways to stay in touch.

Make your next trade show experience a success by fishing the qualified leads out of the vast sea of trade show attendees. Your sales force will thank you for it.

Sonnhalter, John. “Trade Shows: Are They Worth It?” Web log post. Trade Shows: Are They Worth It? N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Aug. 2012.

McKee, Joyce. “Leads Captured at a Trade Show“ #1 Metric for Measuring Success.” Business 2 Community. N.p., 11 Apr. 2012. Web. 23 Aug. 2012.

Donnelly, Tim. “How to Qualify a Sales Lead.” Inc.com. N.p., 19 Aug. 2012. Web. 30 Aug. 2012.

Petri, Geroge. “Is the Decision Maker the Most Important Person in a Sale?” N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Sept. 2012.

MacKenzie, Ken. “It’s Critical You Follow Up Your Trade Show Leads Quickly.” Yahoo! Contributor Network. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Sept. 2012.

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