Lead acquisition is the primary reason most companies invest in exhibit marketing. But what happens to those leads once they're acquired? And what percentage of those prospects ultimately become customers? To help you benchmark your efforts and improve your organization's management of these critical assets, here are eight tips – all based on hard data – to improve lead follow-up and ultimately increase your conversion rates.
Follow up on leads within two days of a trade show.
According to the 2014 Lead Response Report from InsideSales.com, between 35 and 50 percent of sales ultimately go to the vendor that responds first. And data from EXHIBITOR Magazine's 2015 Sales Lead Survey indicates that 62 percent of exhibiting leads are contacted within five days. So if you hope to be among the first companies to contact prospects, you may want to reach out within 24 to 48 hours of the show, as only 22 percent of exhibitors respond within that time frame.
Time your post-show communications correctly.
InsightSquared (a Salesforce.com Inc. company) claims that emails sent before noon are almost two times more likely to get opened than those sent in the afternoon – and more than four times more likely than those sent at night. Also, most sources report that emails sent in the middle of the week have the highest open rates. (It's worth noting that others argue Saturday and Sunday are good days because most marketers send their e-blasts during the workweek, creating increased competition for recipients' attention.)
A 2015 VentureBeat Insight Report, which surveyed 257 email marketers, determined that incorporating some form of personalization results in increased click-thru rates. So if you're among the 52 percent of exhibitors who follow up on leads via email, then, consider a personalized missive sent on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday morning. However, if you're among the 33 percent of companies who respond to trade show leads by phone, heed the advice of James Oldroyd, Ph.D., visiting research fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who compiled three years of data and determined it's best to contact prospects via phone on Wednesday or Thursday.
Only pass along qualified leads to your sales reps.
Spending time hopelessly pursuing dead-end leads is a roadblock in itself. Yet the 2015 Sales Lead Survey found that 69 percent of face-to-face marketers pass along all leads to sales without first vetting them to determine whether or not they're qualified. But according to Gleanster LLC, only a quarter of marketing leads, on average, are actually qualified.
So instead of dumping every lead form and routing each badge scan, consider sending your sales reps only the leads that meet certain criteria, allowing them to focus their energy on the prospects most likely to purchase. To help you quickly and efficiently vet leads, establish a lead scoring or ranking system in tandem with your sales reps and prioritize the criteria most important to them, such as budget, purchasing authority and buying time frame.
Establish a three-touch minimum for all trade show leads.
Data from SiriusDecisions Inc. shows that the average salesperson only makes two attempts to reach a prospect before giving up. But according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, 54 percent of sales made with a trade show lead require three or fewer calls to close. (Meanwhile, 61 percent of sales initiating from sources other than trade shows require more than three sales calls.) So it would behoove your firm to establish a three-touch minimum expectation for leads sourced at exhibitions and other events.
Nurture leads through ongoing communication.
According to the 2015 Lead Nurturing Benchmark Study, nurtured leads tend to produce a 10- to 20-percent increase in sales opportunities versus leads that are discarded if they do not convert within a specified time frame. Furthermore, Forrester Research Inc. found companies that nurture leads make 50 percent more sales at a cost that's 33 percent less than leads that are not nurtured.
Still, according to the 2015 Sales Lead Survey, only 16 percent of companies nurture prospects indefinitely or until they become clients. Consider adding all show-related prospects to a database for regular follow-ups so that when those buyers are ready to make a purchase, your brand is still top of mind.
Automate your organization's lead management.
Research from Gartner Inc. claims companies that automate lead management see a 10-percent or greater increase in revenue within six to nine months. What's more, Carlos Hidalgo of The Annuitas Group claims businesses using marketing automation to nurture prospects experience a 451-percent increase in qualified leads. So if you're not automating your lead-management and nurturing processes, try investing in a customer relationship management system that offers those features.
Ask current clients for referrals.
A 2015 report from Influitive Corp. titled "What You Should Know About B2B Referrals (But Probably Don't)" claimed that based on surveys conducted with more than 600 business-to- business sales professionals, leads referred by current clients have higher conversion rates, take less time to close, and represent a higher lifetime value than leads sourced via other means.
Still, fewer than 30 percent of B2B firms have a formalized referral program in place – and according to a statistic from Dale Carnegie and Associates Inc., only 11 percent of salespeople ask for referrals in the first place. This is troubling, considering research from The Nielsen Co. found that customers are four times more likely to buy when referred by a friend.
Bottom line: Making it standard practice to ask current clients who they might be willing to refer during at-show meetings or in-booth surveys is likely to generate heightened returns,as it allows sales reps to open communications by dropping a name that may make new prospects stop and take notice.
Send direct mailers instead of emails.
Data from the 2015 Sales Lead Survey indicates only 5 percent of companies follow up with promising trade show leads via direct mailers, versus 52 percent who follow up via email.
As such, you may be better served by eschewing email and employing a post-show direct mailer – or even a handwritten note. In fact, the Direct Marketing Association's 2015 Response Rate Report found that direct mail achieves a 3.7-percent response rate when sent to a pool of recipients from a preexisting, internal house list, and a 1-percent response rate when sent to recipients on a new-prospects list. That compares favorably to a .1-percent response rate for emails sent to either pool.
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