Trade shows are a lot of work. All those hours, ideas, strategies, and effort to make a big impact at the show. Then in a few short days it’s over, and you’re back in the office.

Now what? Is your trade show campaign over?

Not at all. In fact, an important part of it is just beginning. Most likely, you came home with dozens, if not hundreds of leads. Each lead represents a potential sale, and may require even more effort to get the prospect to buy.

Too often, the leads just sit, and no one ever does anything with them. Perhaps there are too many to deal with, or maybe your sales department has their own methods. In any case, it’s a big mistake to not have a plan to follow up with those leads.

In the past, we’ve been guilty of it ourselves. We’d follow up with a few that we felt had the most immediate potential. Who knows what potential client relationships were left on the table?

This year, as part of our new, “Full Swing” approach to trade show marketing, we made a plan for post-show follow-up. This is our plan:

Step One - Initial Contact

Trade shows are exhausting. Attendees see so much, it’s hard for them to process it all. That’s why it’s imperative that you connect with them shortly after the show is over.

No more than a few business days after the show ends, we will be sending them an email, thanking them for visiting our booth and subtly reminding them what makes us different. The email will be friendly, engaging, inviting, and reflective of our brand.

Our goal is simply to remind them who we are, and prime them for further communication. If they want to pick up the phone and talk to us about a project, that’s great, but we’re not pushing that at this point.

Step Two - Sorting

The leads we have are made up of all sorts of people. Those who just dropped by the booth, had their badges scanned, and walked away. People who spent time with us, and spoke with our people for extended periods of time. And everyone in between.

Aside from our initial contact, these people should not all be treated the same. Some are serious leads with an imminent need. Others may have liked what they saw at our booth, but don’t have a need right now.

So our sales staff sorts through the leads, identifying which people we can communicate with on a large scale, and who needs a more personal touch.

Step Three - Content Marketing (for the less-qualified leads)

Once we’ve identified the highly qualified leads, we put the rest into our system and begin communicating with them on an ongoing basis. Typically, this takes the form of a periodic email newsletter, supplemented by a blog, webinars, e-books, and other content.

The goal with our content marketing approach is to stay engaged with potential clients. They may be anywhere in the consideration cycle, so we want to provide them with information that reflects what they saw at the booth, and offers real value to them.

Through our content, we will demonstrate our expertise and offer advice and assistance that helps them. That way, when they’re ready to make the decision, we have a fighting chance of being the ones they call.

Step Four - Personal Outreach (for the highly qualified leads)

This is more about our sales staff continuing the dialog they had on the show floor. They may send an email, connect on LinkedIn, and simply pick up the phone and call them. Whatever they do, their goal is to build a relationship that ultimately leads to trust.

The One Thing We Don’t Do

It seems counterintuitive, but what we don’t do in our post-show follow up is...sell. At least not explicitly.

Don’t get us wrong. We’d love to have these people as our new clients. It’s how every member of our large, talented staff supports their families.

But we recognize that people don’t want to be sold to anymore, if they ever did. They want to build relationships and have their problems solved. If we can demonstrate we can do that, we’ve done our post-show follow-up right.

Key Take-Away - Have a Plan

We’ve seen it dozens of times. Companies gather hundreds of leads at a trade show and do nothing with them because they don’t have a plan.

As with anything, having a post-show follow-up plan is an important part of a complete, “Full Swing” trade show marketing campaign. Will the plan be followed perfectly and everything executed to the final detail? Of course not.

But if we have a plan, we have a much better chance of success and of unlocking the potential hidden in all those leads.

Next Week: Using social media to keep in touch with prospects.