Trade shows are target-rich environments

Not All Leads Are Created Equal

The Current State of Trade Show Lead Generation

Trade shows and events are expensive, time-consuming, and chaotic. When all the costs pile up, trade shows may feel more like expenses than investments. But there’s more to trade show attendance than going “because that’s what companies like us do” and “because we went last year.” And it’s more than a list of expenses on a spreadsheet. 

When it comes down to it, companies invest in trade shows for a greater return in sales. 72% of exhibitors attend trade shows for lead generation because of the target-rich environment. Trade shows give companies the rare opportunity to meet face-to-face with decision makers. CEIR research has found that 81% of the attendees have buying authority, and 92% of attendees are actively searching for new products. In short, trade shows are a hot zone for hot leads. 

In today’s digital, fast-paced buying environment, events also offer companies a glimpse into the elusive buyer’s journey. You can meet with leads, all at different stages of their journey, and gain valuable insights into your target audience. And, most importantly, you can generate high quality, high priority leads to follow up with post-show. 

92% of trade show attendees are actively searching for new products

Let’s explore the lead generation process at trade shows, why we must treat leads differently, and best practices for maximizing opportunities from shows. 

The Buyer’s Journey at a Trade Show

According to a CEB and Google study, consumers complete 57% of their buying experience before ever speaking to sales. In our digital age, people rely on websites, ads, and videos to learn more about a company. Which means that prospects will spend almost 2/3 of their time self-selecting until they reach out to sales. And it also means that companies only have true visibility into the last 1/3 of the buyer’s journey. 

Today’s marketers are searching for ways to adapt to the new way of buying and attain more visibility. This struggle will continue to evolve as technology grows and expands, and as buyer’s expectations shift more and more. But, fortunately, there is one way to interrupt the self-selecting buyer’s experience: in-person events and trade shows. 

The Buyer
At events, you interact with prospects all at different points of their buyer’s journey

At events, you interact with prospects all at different points of their buyer’s journey. Your booth reps can engage with prospects who typically wouldn’t reach out to sales yet. Plus, you gain helpful insights into how your audience self-selects and where they are in the sales process. 

For the most part, you will encounter attendees within one of three categories in the buyer’s journey: idea-aware stage, problem-aware stage, and vendor-aware stage. 

Idea-aware stage—The lead starts learning there is a problem

Problem-aware stage—The lead delves into the problem and begins researching options

Vendor-aware stage—The lead compares vendors and selects a solution

Different Types of Trade Show Leads

Along with the different stages of the buyer’s journey, you will encounter different types of leads at events. Attendees vary from those ready-to-buy to those first hearing your company name. The fatal mistake companies make at shows is treating all leads the same. In reality, you will get a handful of Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs), dozens of Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs), and tons of Marketing Leads (MLs). 

Every company has their own unique distinctions, but here’s the most common definitions of these three types of leads:

Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs)—Also referred to as hot leads. These leads have clear pain points, are ready to buy, and have the means to buy. On their buyer’s journey, they are typically vendor-aware. At the event, they will likely ask your reps specific questions and set up a demo/call. 

SQL Hot Lead at a Trade Show Booth

Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs)—Also referred to as warm leads. These leads have pain points, but may lack budget or timeline to be a perfect fit. On their buyer’s journey, they are typically problem-aware. At the event, they are likely to request more information and discuss their pain points.

MQL Warm Lead at a Trade Show Booth

Marketing Leads (MLs)—Also referred to as cool leads. These leads may not yet realize they have a problem or do not know what your company offers. On their buyer’s journey, they are typically idea-aware or even right before that stage. At the event, they will likely stop by for free swag or for a friendly chat. 

MQL Warm Lead at a Trade Show Booth

The Dangers of Treating All Leads the Same

According to a Salesforce Training study, 85% of companies fail to follow up with leads post-show. After dropping thousands of dollars, the majority of exhibitors never capitalize on the valuable leads they captured—the very reason most of them attend the show in the first place. They end up with trade shows as an expense, not an investment. 

Where is the disconnect between trade shows and post-show follow up? Why are many great trade show leads following through the cracks?

The root problem is treating all leads the same. The biggest mistake a team can make at events is to put all the leads in the same bucket. Since sales reps only care about SQLs, they will avoid digging through a pile of mixed leads. In most cases, the reps move on to other more pressing tasks. Which explains Salesforce Training’s findings that only 15% of companies follow up with leads. If the sales reps think the leads are garbage, then they will end up in the trash bin. 

This situation also causes discord between the sales and marketing teams. Sales blames marketing for the bad leads, while marketing blames sales for not following up post-show. This further drives a wedge between the two teams, as well as tanks the company’s event ROI. 

The Benefits of Lead Segmenting

Not all leads are created equal. Your team will encounter different types of leads, at different stages of the buyer’s journey. Through lead segmenting, you can better reach your audiences, align your teams, and close deals. 

At shows, you will have a mix of idea-aware, problem-aware, and vendor-aware buyers. Using one generic pitch across the board will sabotage your event success. After all, vendor-aware buyers will have different questions and concerns compared to idea-aware or problem-aware buyers. Speaking to idea-aware prospects at the level of vendor-aware prospects will only scare them away, and vice versa. Instead, selling to each specific segment through personalized follow up and auto emails produces the best results. By separating leads and speaking to each segment’s pain points, you open yourself up to more success.

Lead segmentation—Not all leads are created equal
Not all leads are created equal. Your team will encounter different types of leads, at different stages of the buyer’s journey.

Along with being more targeted, lead segmentation also helps your follow-up time. An InsideSales study learned that 50% of the deals go to the first company to follow up. So speed matters for closing deals post-show. Since SQLs are higher quality and priority, you want to get those leads to your sales team right away. Then your reps can follow up faster, close more deals, and increase your event ROI. If instead you lump all your leads together, your reps will follow up at random, if at all. By the time they get to any SQLs, those leads may have gone cold, or already made deals with your competitors. 

Overall, lead segmentation helps with the following areas:

  • Faster follow up
  • More targeted campaigns
  • Better meet prospect expectations
  • Align sales and marketing
  • Higher event ROI
Lead Qualification Helps You Capitalize on SQLS and Hot Leads

Lead Qualifiers & Capitalizing on Hot Leads

To determine if leads are SQLs, MQLs, or MLs, you will want to use lead qualifiers in the booth. For best practice, these should be a list of quick questions to ask across all teams and events. The questions should also be assigned to predefined values to determine a lead’s quality (such as the qualifier “having budget” being assigned to a hot lead). This removes the subjectivity of each rep qualifying the lead based on gut feeling. Plus, it standardizes the trade show lead capture process.

These lead qualifiers might include areas such as prospect pain points, product interest, new/current client, buying timeline, budget, etc. Since every company is unique, you may want to rely on sales’ input to determine what matters most for your company. Once you have a list of questions and possible answers, you can decide which answers match with what lead type. Automation, such as a mobile lead capture solution, streamlines this qualifying process. Overall, lead qualifiers enable your team to capitalize on the hottest leads first, as well as reach out with more relevance


Lead generation is at the very core of trade shows and events. Companies from around the world exhibit for the hot, qualified opportunities coming out of shows. But how companies capture leads plays an even bigger role in their event ROI. Successful teams qualify leads in the booth and route the hottest leads to sales right away. This stops quality leads from falling through the cracks, and aligns teams and strategies. While trade shows are a target-rich environment, lead segmenting is the key to unlocking the potential at trade shows, capitalizing on hot leads, and raising ROI. 

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Trade shows are target-rich environments

Trade Shows Matter

Why Attend Trade Shows?

Thousands of trade shows, events, conferences, etc. take place every year. They play a major role in marketing strategies spanning all industries and companies. Trade shows also take up a significant chunk of budgets. According to Bizzabo research, the majority of businesses allocate at least 21% of their marketing budgets to in-person events. 

And the event industry keeps gaining momentum. Based on respondents from a 2019 Statista survey, 84% plan on at least maintaining their budgets, with 36% of those respondents scaling up their event budgets.

Why do so many companies pour time and money into trade shows? What’s the main purpose for exhibiting and hosting events? 

There are many reasons for trade show attendance, including the following:

  • Lead generation
  • Branding
  • Client outreach
  • Connecting with partners/distributors
  • Product launches
  • Upselling
  • Market research
  • Competitor research
72% of companies exhibit to generate new leads

Lead generation and branding top the reasons to attend trade shows. 72% of companies exhibit to generate new leads, and 88% participate to raise brand awareness. But connecting with current clients/customers is a close third, at 65% listing that as a reason for attending trade shows. 

Let’s take a look at why there is so much value in trade shows and other driving factors in today’s event world. 

The Value of Trade Shows

Trade shows and events are a target-rich environment for lead generation, as well as opportune locations to market directly to clients and prospects. Here’s a compilation of research showcasing why events matter for both marketing and sales today:

  • 81% of trade show attendees have buying authority (CEIR)
  • 92% of trade show attendees say they are looking for new products (CEIR)
  • 77% of executive decision makers found at least one new supplier at the last event they attended (CEIR)
  • The cost of a face-to-face meeting with a prospect at a trade show is $142 vs. the cost of a face-to-face meeting at a prospect’s office is $259 (CEIR)
  • 73% of B2B marketers say trade shows are better than other tactics for customer engagement (Demand Metric)
  • 51% of marketers believe that events strengthen existing customer relationships (CMO Council and E2MA)
81% of trade show attendees are decision makers
Trade shows are a target-rich environment to meet with decision makers and other high quality opportunities

Face-to-face Marketing

When was the last time you had a meaningful connection with someone without ever seeing them in person?  We can safely say long-distance relationships rarely work out. Even with all the tech and social media in the world, people still need face-to-face communication to form connections. 

For businesses, that’s where trade shows and events play an important role. Companies invest in events more and more for branding and relationship building. As mentioned earlier, a staggering 88% of surveyed companies attend trade shows with branding as a primary goal. 

And exhibitors are not the only ones paying more attention to events. According to a Live Marketing survey, 48% of attendees find in-person events more valuable now than two years prior. That’s just another reason why more and more companies are increasing their exhibiting budgets and why events play a critical part in marketing strategies.

Trade Shows in a Changing World

Events provide a crucial platform for face-to-face marketing and selling in a digital age. But the style of exhibiting from two decades ago would never work today. Trade shows are vastly different than fifteen, ten, or even five years ago. Thanks to modern technology, attendee expectations and perceptions have shifted.

Think how companies like Google, Amazon, Apple, and Samsung have changed the world. People now have access to the world’s knowledge at their fingertips with smartphones. Consider how many times a day you Google a topic or question. Or even use a device like Alexa to vocally search. Two decades ago, Amazon was a brand new company, and cell phones and devices had a fraction of the capabilities they have now. 

So what does this have to do with trade shows? Simply put, the times have changed, and our marketing and selling must evolve. We live in a fast-paced, digital age where we want results immediately. According to a Microsoft study, our attention spans have dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2015. Today’s prospects expect quick follow up and engagement. Otherwise, they’ll move on, and fast.

Today's prospects expect quick follow up and engagement. Otherwise, they'll move on, and fast.
Face-to-face marketing matters in a digital world

Along with a need for speed, there’s also a need for relevance. With the crowd of messaging that bombardes the world each day, buyers have learned to tune out the noise and be selective. Prospects expect personalization and relevance. Think of companies like Amazon and Spotify that recommend products and services based on individual history. This is smart marketing to match today’s consumers. And that smart marketing cannot end on the trade show floor. We must have relevant follow up post-show, or attendees will tune us out with the rest of the noise. 

The future of trade shows is here. We must keep pace with new expectations or miss out on the valuable opportunities at trade shows. 

Sales and Marketing Alignment

It’s no secret sales and marketing teams frequently clash heads. The two teams set different goals and means of accomplishing them. Sales cares about hot leads and closing deals, which makes sense. Marketing puts more emphasis on effective branding and messaging, which again makes sense. But these goals may not always align. As a result, there tends to be a disconnect between sales and marketing

But trade shows are a unique place where marketing and sales operate together. No other time requires as much sales and marketing cooperation and collaboration. First, marketing uses their budget and resources to make events happen, and reps work booths. Marketing takes those leads from the booth, routes hot leads to sales, and inserts the rest into nurture campaigns. Then the sales reps follow up with leads post-show. There’s an ebb and flow in the trade show process with these two departments. 

Which explains why it is more important than ever to align your sales and marketing teams. Finding common ground between each team’s goals and objectives will help bridge the gap. For example, at events, many marketing teams prioritize positive event ROI, while sales teams focus on targeting hot leads. Since you need hot leads for a positive ROI, marketing should care about hot leads too. And why should sales care about marketing’s goals? Because marketing helps facilitate the capture of hot leads and attending these valuable events.

Events offer this unique opportunity to overlap sales and marketing goals and find common ground. When the two teams work together, they achieve greater event success and build confidence for future collaboration. This is just another example of the great value gained from attending trade shows and events. 

Get sales and marketing alignment at trade shows
Trade shows are a unique place where marketing and sales operate together. No other time requires as much sales and marketing cooperation and collaboration.

Different Show Sizes

Events come in all shapes and sizes, from tabletop events to the world’s largest trade shows and expos. The best part is that each of the various event types offer different value and opportunity

For larger trade shows, you encounter tons of traffic and leads. You can collect thousands of leads for nurture campaigns and sales follow up. Plus, for branding, larger shows give you thousands of eyes on your booth. You can market to a wide audience to introduce your brand, a rebrand, new products, and so on. The opportunities are endless when it comes to reaching a large group of qualified leads.

For smaller shows, like tabletops and conferences, you will interact with a more concentrated group of attendees. Since a much smaller number attends these events, those who do go tend to be even more qualified. Consider conferences for example. These small events often require certain credentials or job titles to attend. This is a great opportunity to target a very specific, select group. Since smaller events in general are more intimate settings, you may only collect a few leads. So for branding purposes, smaller events may not be the best choice. But for sales and lead generation, it will help you focus on a select group or industry, with a higher chance of collecting qualified leads. 

All sizes of shows and events bring your team value


Trade shows and events offer you a gigantic amount of opportunity for both marketing and sales. In today’s digital world, live events matter more than ever. They bring you face-to-face with current clients and new prospects, especially those with buying authority. They also can help bridge the gap between sales and marketing teams. Because of this value and opportunity, events also cost your team significant time and money. That’s why teams must plan beforehand and invest in the right resources to maximize those opportunities.

There’s so much more to explore when it comes to trade shows and events. Here are other major areas to nail down before your next event:

Simplicity Wins

Not All Leads Are Created Equal

Capture the Conversation

Automation Is Your Friend

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