Leading the Way: A Whole New World of Lead Capture & Retrieval
It wasn’t that long ago when collecting leads meant having a pocket full of business cards with a couple of words scribbled on them or using one of those newfangled badge scanners to copy nothing but an attendee’s contact information from a code printed on their badge.
Fast forward a decade and there is a whole new world of lead capture and retrieval for every program and budget, from something as simple as taking a picture of a business card to as sophisticated as a cloud-based software that can manage an entire exhibiting program. Choosing between them can be a bit baffling, however, unless one takes a moment to understand the options available and, more importantly, how every company can do better when it comes to collecting and using the information of prospective customers. Also, navigating factors like the lead management system of a particular show or what features beyond lead capture and retrieval would be useful in a software product must be considered as well. Many trade shows offer some form of lead service, either by creating badges that are scannable or renting software and equipment to collect information, or both. But the challenge this creates for exhibitors is that scanning a badge may not provide the level of detail an exhibitor wants, and using the show’s lead system may cause inefficiencies when booth staff must learn new software at every show they attend and data doesn’t seamlessly integrate with a company’s Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.
Nick Adams, director of lead solutions for Modus, says changing systems repeatedly can waste valuable time that booth staff likely don’t have. “One of the biggest challenges I see exhibitors facing in how they collect leads at a show is utilizing a consistent, repeatable process,” Adams says. “A lot of the complaints we hear when speaking to exhibitors is how every show has a different rental option or no option at all. So you’re either having to learn or get a refresher on the show’s rental option or figure out a whole different manual process if there is no option. After the show is just as bad because all these different options create different outputs of data that you have to figure out how to stuff into your CRM or marketing automation system.” Also problematic, says Rich Eicher Sr., director at lead technology firm codeREADr, is the matter of what equipment is being used—as personal devices will need to have software downloaded onto them and may suffer from poor connectivity when competing for bandwidth at a venue, and rented devices carry an additional learning curve just to charge and operate that can make them a headache to use.
Ryan Schefke, CEO of Captello, a lead management software company, says choosing a show’s lead system that is not customized for an individual company often times means having no control over the data, which can leave an exhibitor and their prospective clients hanging.
“The number one thing I hear is that most people want to get the lead immediately into their CRM or marketing automation system,”
“but when you use the show lead solution, you may not get your leads right away,” he says. “Maybe it’s three days, or it can be weeks.” Even if the information is immediately available, he says, accessing it requires a process of accessing it on the show’s portal, downloading it and then uploading it into a company’s own CRM system. “A booth manager has a lot of responsibilities and the last thing they have time for is all those steps,” Schefke says. Moreover, for exhibitors who want to only upload qualified leads or who want to distribute leads based on certain criteria, the data dump of what’s collected by the show’s service is likely to only create extra work trying to sift through the information after the fact. To provide a value-added service, some organizers will provide lead technology for free or automatically wrap a lead management system into the booth cost, says Gwen Hill, senior vice president of business development at software provider exhibitforce.
But even a free lead solution doesn’t necessarily represent a good use of staff resources given the amount of time working with the data might take.
Some shows pressure exhibitors to pay for their lead capture technology by charging them as much as $1,500 for the developer’s kit, the data mapping information necessary for an outside lead capture system to read the encrypted data on badges. Without the kit, Hill says, a company doesn’t have the tools necessary to decode attendee badges and lead collection would be relegated to scanning business cards or hand-entering information. But for companies serious about handling leads in the most fruitful way possible, even a hefty fee for a developer’s kit can be worth it in the long run, Hill says, as can allow consistency and strategic design that streamlines everything about the lead management process. Most of the customized lead capture and retrieval systems available today provide exhibitors with the option to either scan or hand-type information into a smartphone or tablet— flexibility that can be useful at shows where badges are not scannable or where foot traffic is low enough to make data entry by hand reasonable.
Also, many systems can be set up in kiosk mode, allowing attendees to enter their own information into a device. Unlike early lead collection equipment or the more simple systems offered by show organizers, nearly all modern lead management services today allow customers to completely customize the information fields being collected, creating the opportunity for the addition of qualification data, sales team distribution details, notes and more. The information can be tailored to match the fields in a CRM system, making uploading the data relatively effortless. Also, many systems available now allow a cascade of preformatted actions once a lead is processed, from an automated email to the potential client to the transferring of the lead to the appropriate sales team member based on the information collected plus many more functions. This ability to customize how a lead is collected and then immediately put it to work for the company can be a game-changer for companies where processes were not so streamlined or where leads were often not handled properly because of the complexities of doing so.
“It’s critical to be able to respond to leads as soon as possible,”
Schefke says. “Without a customized process, you have to wait for a lead and then wait to get it into the system, and, in the meantime, your hot lead is getting jumped on by your competitors.”
According to Eicher, even just having the ability to edit leads in real time and using a web portal to process them are light years ahead of where lead management capabilities started. “Compare that to rolls of printed leads,” he says. “Although paper seems old school, one of the benefits was the ability to write notes on the paper after speaking with an attendee. That’s no longer necessary because editing leads online or on the device itself is now available.” A product like codeREADr is unique, Eicher says, because it is a SaaS (software as a service) platform that can be molded for many different types of applications, from event entry control to attendance tracking or event asset tracking. The company’s primary customers, Eicher says, are event organizers or registration technology companies, which have the ability to white label codeREADr software into a multitude of mobile apps. Licenses for the product start at $14.99 per device per month with volume pricing substantially lower, and users can upgrade and downgrade from one month to the next as needed.
In the case of exhibitforce, the lead management system is scalable and charged based on how often it will be used and by how many devices, says Hill. The lead collection portion of the software is just one tiny part of an overall exhibition management system that can track which employees attended what shows, maintain an inventory of exhibiting assets, create detailed cost reports and more. The system is sophisticated enough to tabulate leads by date, hour collected and type—providing exhibit managers with an abundance of information regarding the flow of potential business.
Like exhibitforce, Captello has a diverse suite of capabilities depending on the needs of the users. Aside from managing leads, the software can be used by someone hosting an event, allowing guests to register, check in and print badges among other things. It also has a gamification feature with 25 different customizable games to attract attendees to stop and play a while. Captello is a subscription- based service that is contracted based on event rather than the number of devices, and it can be used for a single event or on an annual basis.
Similar to its counterparts, Modus, a subscription-based software, has a range of capabilities beyond lead collection and retrieval, including the ability to disseminate an unlimited amount of marketing content just with a keystroke on the lead when it is processed. It has refined lead qualification abilities as well as the possibility to see how lead efforts are going in real time. Adams says the ability for the software to fully integrate with CRM and marketing automation platforms is one of its strengths, as is the availability of a customer service person 24 hours a day for exhibitors using the service internationally.
Representatives from each company agree on one core concept: Leads are instrumental to successful exhibiting and companies that aren’t following up on them somehow are definitely losing out.
Still, a surprising number of exhibit managers say they really don’t interact with collected leads in a meaningful way after a show and the reasons for that are many. Booth staff adoption of the technology being used is a big one, as is an antiquated system that is difficult to manage because of poor transmission signals, sluggish entry interfaces, or absence of customization that would qualify a lead’s potential. But the evolution of lead management, Schefke says, means
there is no excuse anymore for doing leads badly.
Where a company used to have to hire a firm for six figures to create a lead management app, now it can just build its own interface using the framework provided by any number of modern-day suppliers. The opportunity for exhibitors to do what they do better is huge, he says.
Adams agrees. “If all an exhibitor does is send a sales rep 100 business cards without that added data of what was discussed in the booth, they will quit digging through that haystack after the first 10 leads tell them, ‘I just came to the booth for a hat,’” Adams says. “Can you imagine if they quit right before they found that ONE lead that could put your event in the black? What if sales were able to identify the right leads from that list and called on the best ones first? How can we set sales up to be ready to call on the right leads before they go cold again? Those are the questions I’d be thinking about if I was an exhibitor planning my lead program.”
How simple or sophisticated that program is remains up to the exhibitor depending on what sort of system they choose, but the most important thing, everyone concurs, is that they choose one.