Trade shows are a proven way to showcase your brand’s franchise opportunity to potential investors. You get a great chance to acquire dozens of leads in a single weekend, and in time, some of those leads will become your franchisees. For the chance to show off your brand and acquire these leads, you will make an investment of money and time.

Your trade show participation expenses include exhibitor fees, design and production costs for display booths and marketing materials, shipping charges, travel costs, and more. Not to mention, the cost of the time your franchise development team spends preparing for the show, exhibiting all weekend, and handling follow-ups with leads. All of these expenses amount to a significant investment made by franchisors. As successful as trade shows are for acquiring leads, many franchisors are not maximizing their investment.

For years, I have been compiling insights on trade show lead management practices and conversion metrics. I use these insights to help franchisors refine their trade show strategies. Here, I will outline some key insights that will help you form a post-show strategy, maximizing your trade show investment.

Corey and Courtney at Spirtileaf Trade Show Booth

Set Goals

Your singular trade show participation goal should be to capture as many leads as possible. Set a high target for the weekend. “But what about quality over quantity?” Let’s face it, at trade shows, it’s a numbers game. The more leads your team can get in a weekend, the better. As always, you’d like to be collecting quality leads, but tire-kickers are an unfortunate reality. The show is not the time to be qualifying them. It’s certainly not the time to close any deals. Time at the booth should be spent delivering a friendly, informative, and strong brand pitch in as many introductory conversations as possible. Your team should be challenged to make a great first impression, deliver the value proposition, get the lead’s email, phone number, and location of interest, and keep traffic moving. At the end of the weekend, it’s quantity that wins this showdown versus quality.

Here’s where most franchisors miss the mark; post-show goal setting. Equally as important as your lead capture goal, if not more, are your post-show follow-up goals. The most important aspects of these goals are speed to contact, message relevancy, and continuous nurturing.

Speed to Contact

Traditionally, trade show salespeople get back to their desk on Monday (or Tuesday if they took a day for travel or rest) and start calling the leads they classified as “hot.” They might start sending their follow-up emails with a goal of getting through the list by the end of the week. Too slow. Tire-kicking leads aside, there may have been some diamonds in the rough, eagerly awaiting your message. Remember, you share the same leads with your exhibiting competitors. By Friday, your competition may have already contacted the lead, answered their questions, collected an application, and qualified them. Your speed to contact goal needs to be aggressive. Following a show, I typically suggest three touchpoints with every lead by Monday’s end and four to five by end of day Friday.

Message Relevancy

This is where quality comes into play. Your leads deserve personal, meaningful, and relevant information from you. If you’ve mass blasted a generic message about an available location or territory, irrelevant to the interest they expressed at the show, you haven’t handled your lead with the attention and care they undoubtedly expect from salespeople in today’s world. They are likely considering the biggest purchase of their life and if you haven’t clearly outlined what they need to know about the process ahead, again, you’ve missed the mark. I recommend sending personal messages with information relevant to their location of interest and an outline of the application process. Include clear and simple calls to action on how to take the next step. The quality of your messages will set you apart from the crowd. The professionalism of your process will showcase to your leads what to expect from the brand.

Continuous Nurturing

Due to the nature of the lead type that is acquired at trade shows, the sales cycle can be long. Trade show visitors are often in the early stages of their research. They are investigating which companies, even which industries, might be a good fit. Research shows that these types of leads won’t transition from “Interest” to “Consideration” for three months to three years. These leads need to be kept warm, or nurtured, for that amount of time. If you fail to do so, you risk losing that lead to a competitor that has maintained stronger awareness when your lead finally begins to consider a purchase.

The Solution: Lead Management Technology

Without the proper tools, achieving your trade show goals will be very difficult, if not impossible. Thankfully, the technology exists to assist with trade show lead capture, post-show follow-up messages, and ongoing lead nurturing. If you’re investing to be at trade shows, a viable lead management tech solution should be part of that investment.

Digital Lead Capture

Get rid of the pen and paper on the table at your booth. Replace it with a tablet. Equip the tablet with form software that enables user-friendly lead data input and seamless integration with your CRM. If you don’t have CRM software, get that too.

AXIS Team with Spiritleaf at Tradeshow

Automatic Follow-Ups

Thank your leads for visiting your booth. Remember, speed to contact matters. I typically suggest automating a personally addressed, creatively designed “thank you” email to be sent to your leads shortly after the show closes on Sunday evening (touchpoint No. 1). Achieve message relevance by dynamically including information specific to the location of interest indicated on the form. Next, automatically send a carefully written, text-based email to your leads on Monday morning (touchpoint No. 2). Filter out some of the unqualified leads by defining your criteria and clearly outlining the qualification process. Finally, call every lead by end of day Monday, leaving a voicemail for those that are not reached (touchpoint No. 3). While the emails can be automated using a good marketing automation platform, the calls can be tasked to a member of your team or an outsourced franchise recruitment partner.

Calls to Action

In every touchpoint, give your leads very clear instructions on what to do next. Enable them to conveniently schedule a call with a franchise recruitment specialist using a call scheduling application. Ultimately, guide them to your online, mobile-optimized application form, in order to be qualified.

Nurture. Nurture. Nurture.

Enter your leads into a continuous drip campaign. Using a combination of your marketing automation platform, a franchise recruitment specialist, and a fulfillment house, send an endless series of communications. You don’t know when your leads will be ready to take the leap into business ownership.

Spiritleaf at Trade Show

The Bottom Line

If you are participating in trade show lead acquisition and you don’t have a practical tech solution for lead capture, nurturing, and qualification, you are leaving a huge amount of opportunity on the table. Sure, your Cost Per Lead may go up, but if your Return On Investment goes up with it, does it really matter? Take the necessary steps today to maximize what you’re getting from your trade show investment, not simply taking what comes.

Article originally published in the Fall 2019 issue of The Franchise Voice

Author Corey Nicholson

Corey Nicholson

Vice President, Business Development
AXIS Integrated

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