The average marketing department spends a LOT of money on trade shows and events – to the tune of 32% оf their entire budget. Even so, trade-show events are still one of the best ways to get your solution in front of a crowd of likely prospects: 41% of companies consider event marketing to be their top channel for lead generation.

DiscoverOrg employees at a booth, representing trade show lead generation ideas.

Trade shows are an expensive way to generate leads, even if you don’t have a booth. If you want to get the most ROI out of your trade show investment – and build your pipeline in a hurry while you’re at it – you’ve come to the right place!

Why?

If you’ve done your homework, that trade show is a small(ish) pond of like-minded prospects where your sales reps can catch a lot of really big fish! People can check out different demonstrations, network, and enjoy the occasional sponsored party or hosted happy hour.

With so much money – and excitement – on the line, how do you connect with new prospects?

We asked Jake Shaffren, DiscoverOrg’s Director of Sales, and Nina Wooten, our Director of Demand Generation, about their favorite tips for generating sales leads at trade shows and events.

Here are Nina’s and Jake’s 11 best tricks to get maximum ROI and quality leads from prospecting trade shows and events:

  1. Find (or create) a list of sponsors and attendees
  2. Prioritize pre-event outreach
  3. Get a map of the event
  4. Host your own events around the trade show
  5. Set specific goals for lead generation
  6. Social time = networking time
  7. Track referrals
  8. Connect with prospects at the time of contact
  9. Take good notes
  10. Respect everyone’s space
  11. Follow up with prepared post-show sequences

Grab our Definitive Trade Show Infographic

Before the trade show

Nina Wooten, DiscoverOrg

Nina Wooten, Director of Demand Generation

To generate leads at trade shows, you have to start strategizing in advance. Nina has a few tricks up her sleeve to find a list of event sponsors and attendees.

1. Find (or create) a list of sponsors and vendors going to the trade show

Two months before the event: Gather information on the who’s and what’s of the show.

Nina starts by locating a list of attendees or sponsors. If you can find this data, look for:

  • who you already know
  • contacts/companies that are a great fit for your product or service
  • attendees to contact ahead of time.

Look for company names and target contact names or role, if possible.

What if the event hasn’t publicly announced attendees or sponsors?

Some trade shows don’t share this data unless you’re a top-tier sponsor. If you’re not – no problem! You can still get that information other ways:

  1. Ask your contact at the event. The attendee list may come with your company’s sponsorship or attendance.
  2. Dig a little deeper and create a proxy list.
  3. Look in newsletters and on social media for companies and individuals tagging the event on social media.
  4. Use DiscoverOrg’s ListMatch Person-Matching feature: With just a company name and employee title or name, we’ll enrich your list with a verified email address, phone number, company firmographics, and installed technologies.

PRO TIP: Create a list using the primary industry audience of the trade show within a 50-mile radius. Jake uses DiscoverOrg to generate this list and see who might be in attendance.

Then – you guessed it – contact individuals and pre-schedule as meetings as much possible ahead of time!

Read on: How to Generate Leads at Events (Without Blowing Your Budget)

2. Prioritize pre-event outreach

Once you know who’s going to the event, you can prioritize prospects. In an excited gaggle of hundreds of booths and thousands of people, this is extremely helpful for both your sales and marketing teams.

There are a lot of ways to prioritize – based on fit, intent, and opportunity – but the important thing is that you do it one way or another, so you know where to start.

At DiscoverOrg, we start by looking for patterns among our best customers. We sort by:

  • Industry: Which industry or industries do you usually sell to?
  • Company size/revenue: What’s the company size of your best customers? Enterprise, mid-market, or startup/small business?
  • Geographic location: Target companies or prospects within 50 miles of your event.
  • Tech stack: Does your service pair especially well with other technologies? Target them!

SEGMENT CUSTOMERS VS. PROSPECTS

Pro tip: In addition to looking for new event leads, trade shows and conferences are a great opportunity to establish deeper relationships with existing customers. (After all, you’ve already spent the money to travel to the event.)

We like to plan events, like happy hours or dinners, and invite both prospects and current customers that are local to the event, so our leads can talk to current customers first-hand. It’s also a nice thank-you to our customers.

3. Get a map of the event

Man walking in a crowded trade show floor.Knowing the layout and schedule is an advantage, because it gives you time to strategize ways to drive engagement back to your own booth or team members. Additionally, having an idea of how the event will run can give you insight into the best time to schedule meetings with contacts prior to the show.

PRO TIP: Jake uses a map of the event to plot a prospecting path in advance. He then uses the event maps to take notes and check off leads.

4. Launch a multi-touch campaign

Sales and Marketing must be aligned to make this part work!

Nina and Jake have found multi-touch campaigns to be very effective – but this step takes both marketing and sales departments. If you don’t feel your departments are able to do a joint outreach campaign, marketing-focused and sales-initiated events are still effective on their own.

Nina’s team uses paid social ads, email drips, phone calls, and sometimes even direct mail to make sure that 1.) our prospect knows who we are by the time the event rolls around – and 2.) we’re on on their schedule at the show.

TARGET EVENT LEADS WITH SOCIAL ADS

This is an easy win. Target your prospects with paid social media, advertising your presence at the event. You can also advertise free demos or other promotions.

PERSONALIZED EMAIL

Take that list from Step 3, that you segmented by customer vs. prospect, and create personalized email sequences for each.

CALL CADENCE

If your company has an outbound sales team like ours does, share your lead list with the sales team and ask them to make some calls, inviting the prospect to book a meeting, schedule a demo – or at least stop by your booth.

The goal? To put you on their radar.

5. Set specific goals for lead generation

The floor of a trade show.Work with the marketing team to raise awareness or drive traffic to your company’s booth, if you have one.

Set specific goals in advance:

  • How many people you want to talk to
  • How many meetings you’d like to book
  • How much swag you’ll give away

Invite prospects to a company-sponsored happy hour, host a panel session, and develop new marketing campaigns, such as an email campaign, around the event.

Conclude all this pre-show preparation by planning your post-show sequences. To ensure that your trade show prospecting goes smoothly, create follow-up content before the show. You can avoid the post-show scramble by organizing your contacts and guaranteeing your own best results.

6. Social time = networking time

Amid the hustle and chatter of a trade show, set a concrete goal of a certain number of prospects to engage, or badges to scan, and stay focused on meeting it.

IF YOU HAVE A BOOTH

A DiscoverOrg booth at a trade show, illustrating how to generate trade show leads.Of course you want a lot of traffic to your booth, so here’s where you can spend a little money. We like to give away raffle tickets for a high-ticket electronics item like an iPad or fitness tracker (… in exchange for a badge scan or business card, of course. Hey, nothing is free.)

Other good options are discount codes, product offers, and of course, company swag. This incentivizes people to stop by your booth but limits your spend. You still want a lot of activity around you’re booth, even if not everyone is a good-fit prospect.

PRO TIP: Work with marketing to set a specific number of leads to talk to. Jake’s goal is to capture 10% of event attendees as future prospects, either through conversation or badge scans.

During the event

A woman sitting at a trade show, depicting trade show lead generation.

The excitement of a good trade show is truly infectious! But don’t let it distract you from your goals.

Get out on the floor, meet with contacts, scan badges, and keep researching. Avoid the elevator pitch; instead, use your research to have memorable, in-depth conversations with your prospects.

PRO TIP: Keep your smartphone and SDRs close! During the event, Jake continues to research company Scoops, IT projects, recent news, and pain points in the DiscoverOrg platform to have a more detailed conversation with leads.

He then looks up the prospects’ position in their organization’s reporting structure to learn whether they’re a key decision maker.

7. Track referrals

A pile of trade show name tags, representing trade show preparation.

Trade shows are not just a time for companies to show off their latest products and services.

It’s also a time for members of similar industries to socialize.

It’s your job to take advantage of happy hours, sponsored dinners, and other trade show-adjacent events! Most other attendants are sales professionals, too, and they’re happy to talk and get to know others in a more relaxed environment.

Ease your way into conversation with an ice breaker. Worst case scenario … you make a new friend.

PRO TIP: Simple ice breakers can go a long way. Jake has no problem making new friends with one sentence: “I’ll buy the first round of drinks!”

8. Connect with prospects at the time of contact

In the midst of a busy trade show, surrounded by throngs and probably with your hands full – how do you connect with prospects in a way that they – and you! – will remember?

Jake suggests connecting with prospects on LinkedIn during the conversation.

“Bringing them into your network is the first step towards building a relationship, and you can do that on the spot. Then next time you have five minutes free, shoot a quick note to your new LinkedIn connection: ‘Great chat, look forward to connecting next week.’”

This leaves your original conversation open for future discussions and deals. Face-to-face conversations are crucial – and it’s the best opportunity to make yourself memorable to others.

A personal, noteworthy conversation can warm up prospects to more meetings. In a best-case scenario, you can schedule follow up meetings at the show.

PRO TIP: Make yourself stand out from the crowd! Jake likes to ask, “What subject line would you like me to use?” when sending follow up emails – and keep it light, funny, and/or memorable in some way. This allows the prospect to take the first steps to creative collaboration – and Jake stands out amid the many post-trade show emails.

Connect with DiscoverOrg on LinkedIn!

9. Take good notes

Always take notes in between conversations and meetings. You may think you’ll remember details – but after an afternoon and dozens of conversations, you probably won’t.

Time to pick up that event map again: Schedule and track warm prospects, and note any information that can help you return for more face-to-face conversations. Furthermore, trade show maps can alert you to competitors, and new and current customers.

PRO TIP: No business card? No problem! Screenshot their LinkedIn profile to remember this new contact. Jake also takes detailed notes on a person’s business card for personalized follow up.

Trade Show Follow-Up Activities

Now the whirlwind of prospecting is done … but that doesn’t mean you are ready to phone it in. Post-trade show operations are just as important as the preparation and attendance.

10. Respect everyone’s space

Discoverorg leads forrester waveFirst, take a deep breath and give your prospects space.

Following the frenzy of the trade show, everyone returns to their daily routine – and most likely have as much follow-up event work to do as you. Give them a break.

Take this time to organize your new prospects in an Excel sheet, including the detailed information you gathered.

PRO TIP: Make a note of which prospects are a priority. Jake created his own system of terms and symbols to note which prospects are hot or warm leads, at the time of the conversation. Then strike while the iron is still hot!

11: Follow up with prepared post-show sequence

Return to the pre-prepared post-show sequences and content you planned ahead with Marketing.

PRO TIP: Use new prospects to find decision-makers higher up the food chain. When Jake gets home, he runs his prospect list through DiscoverOrg’s ListMatch Person-Matching function to identify where each person fits into their organizational hierarchy – and who they report to. This gives him a warm connection to other decision-makers with potentially more budget discretion.

You can work through your new list of prospects and begin contacting them with their unique subject lines or follow-up phone calls.

Once you are properly tracking leads and making deals from all your hard work, it is time to set the next sales campaign into motion and start planning for the next trade show.

Trade shows can be a great way to generate a lot of warm leads in a short period of time. (Grab our infographic for ideas!)

Take advantage of the lead-generation skills of your marketing department, plan clear lead goals in advance – and watch your pipeline grow!

Watch the on-demand webinar: 6 Steps to DOUBLE lead generation at your next trade show

Want more tips? Read ZoomInfo’s trade show lead generation checklist and great tips on improving your trade show ROI.

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Amanda Kiyomi Uyesugi
About the author

Amanda Kiyomi Uyesugi

Amanda is a Senior Research Analyst on the Triggers Team at DiscoverOrg. She earned her BA in Creative Writing from Seattle University and is originally from San Jose, California. Go SJ Sharks!