The Anatomy of a Lead Card

Trade Show Lead CardEven a Trade Show Samurai Master like myself is prone to mistakes. Last night I found myself at an event at the University of Chicago without a lead card. You might say it’s weird for someone to carry lead cards around with them, but you just never know when you will need them. I was forced to scribble notes on the back of business cards. Few business cards are designed to be written on.

A lead card is the essential piece of Trade Show Samurai weaponry. Its value should never be underestimated. A good lead card will have an incredibly positive impact on your success at the show. It’s like a Samurai’s sword. Great care is taken by the guy who makes the sword. If you ever saw Kill Bill, Volume One by Quentin Tarantino you will know what I mean.

There are three main parts to a good lead card labeled 1, 2 and 3 in the image. The first part captures contact information. This is fairly standard, but can vary a little from industry to industry. For instance, you may be at a consumer show and want to capture the names of a spouse or kids. I like to have a stapler handy so I can staple it to the card and not have to fill everything out. I still write down their name and number in case the business card falls off.

The second part is critical and marks the difference between a great lead card and a crappy lead card. This is where most lead cards fail. Most lead cards that I’ve seen (besides my own) have something about budgets and interest level and perhaps timing. Things like this are deceiving and difficult to value—the details as to why are more than I want to cover here…

The second part of the lead card captures the characteristics that will help you later score or rank-order the lead for your sales department. It will also guide your conversation during the Art of Interrogation. This part is made up of primarily checkboxes. The less actual writing you do on the show floor the better. If you can check, check, check the boxes you can move fast, like a gazelle.

The third part of the lead card is for capturing a few of your own sentiments. It consists mainly of a notes section and a few check boxes to indicate your overall vibe. I call the vibe check boxes Hank, Will and Carl. They are fictional salespeople that mean Hot, Warm and Cold. If someone is looking over your shoulder and sees you check “Cold” you may find yourself doing some uncomfortable and time-wasting explaining.

Good lead cards capture just enough information to be useful and nothing else. They evolve after numerous conversations and debates with your team. Discussion, debate and rehearsal will perfect your lead card. Never overlook this step.


Dog and Pony Trade Show

Dog and Pony Trade ShowIt seems that the predominant trade show strategy for exhibitors is the Dog & Pony version where they display their products, pass out tchotchkes, drink coffee and attend parties or events. These shows are great. They are lots of fun. Success at these kinds of shows is expressed in terms of feelings and emotions as in, “what a great show!” Or, “we heard a lot of nice things about our new products,” or “the booth looked great!” Dog & Pony Trade Shows have a lot in common with vacations and holidays. This isn’t to say that they aren’t a lot of work (they are), but they focus on socializing, schmoozing, and fun.

Contrast this with Trade Show Samurai Strategy. This is where the booth is staffed with disciplined Trade Show Samurai who are hell-bent on collecting leads and uncovering valuable sales opportunities. These shows are a rush. The feeling of extreme productivity is infectious not only for the Trade Show Samurai, but also the attendees. The busier the Trade Show Samurai are the more attendees flock to the booth just to see what’s going on. Success at these shows is expressed in quantifiable terms such as the number of leads generated or the overall cost per lead (CPL). Even the parties and events are discussed in terms of the opportunity they uncover. The pinnacle of success is called Trade Show Nirvana.

Both strategies are at opposite ends of the trade show strategy spectrum even though both are at intended to increase sales. Both strategies involve both work and fun.

More and more, however, the Dog & Pony strategy is becoming harder to justify financially. Company managers and executives are increasingly sensitive to return on investment and the Trade Show Samurai strategy produces quantifiable results that are much easier to justify.

As a Trade Show Samurai, I see Trade Show Nirvana as the best of both worlds. I get to enjoy the show and show my impact to the bottom line. Achieving Trade Show Nirvana isn’t impossible. It requires that you and your fellow booth staffers learn the ways of the Trade Show Samurai and that you apply the skills you learn with discipline and consistency. Getting the best of both worlds is entirely within the grasp of literally any trade show exhibitor. You can even bring a few dogs and ponies if you want.

It’s Not Rude to Take Notes

Trade Show NotesA common excuse used by Trade Show Samurai novices is the notion that an attendee may actually be offended if you take notes while you talk to them. This comes up in my training sessions once in a while, but more often than I would expect and I’m not sure why. I think it is part of a human’s natural defense mechanism. Maybe when a human is confronted with a situation with which he or she feels uncomfortable they try to think of reasons why they should avoid the situation altogether.

Being a Trade Show Samurai means that you honor sales and to honor sales means you must provide meaningful information upon which they can act. Notes are an important part of the program and note-taking is not rude.

If you think about it, it’s sort of rude not to take notes. Attendees will see dozens if not hundreds of different companies in one show. Why put the burden of keeping track of your company on them? They are the customer, their needs are important. Taking note of what they want is step one in decent customer service.

Also, taking notes—structured notes—during a conversation with an attendee is a way to keep on mission when you are in the booth. It keeps your interactions quick and to the point. It also guarantees that your sales staff will be able to make informed judgments about how to prioritize the hundreds of leads you will be giving them.

It’s okay to be nervous about initiating hundreds of conversations with complete strangers at a trade show. But, create barriers for yourself like thinking that taking notes is rude. It’s not rude, it’s the point of being at the show.

How David Beats Goliath at the Show

A small company with a 10’ x 10’ booth staffed with a couple of well-trained Trade Show Samurais can beat an established player with a $150,000 booth and an army of salespeople when it comes to cost-per-lead and here’s why: I recently spoke to the sales manager at a well-established company that makes pans and things out of aluminum foil. It’s a company I know quite well; I’ve seen them at the International Housewares Show many times. They always had a well-appointed booth, but it was hard to tell who is actually working the booth because they are not very good at engaging attendees.

I was talking with them about the Trade Show Samurai training program.“No, no, no, no, no…” he said abruptly, “we’ve been doing this for 50 years. If we’re missing something someone’s going to get fired.”

Most large, established exhibitors think they nail the show strategy every year. They believe they are maximizing its value. Many of them believe that they already have the whole market, and that may be so. However, by not properly engaging attendees they are probably missing out on opportunity to up-sell and cross-sell existing customers. When it comes to leads, existing customers make much better leads than non-customers.

Smaller, newer, hungrier companies are much eager to collect lead and are much easier to turn into Trade Show Samurais. They listen, learn, practice and execute like masters. It is for this reason that they can outperform the “establishment” every time.

At the end of the trade-show day, the number of qualifiable leads you bring home is the most concrete measure of your success. Beyond that every other measure is a “feel-good” about how you did. Leads, whether they are from current customers or potential customers, are the barometer for success. If you are open to this concept the sky is the limit. The salesperson I spoke to is, indeed missing something.


Slut ButtonsThe most challenging thing about consulting in the trade show world is spelling the word “tchotchke“. Really, what kind of nut case invented that word? I think it has alternative spellings like “chochkies”. It’s kind of like the word “Czar” which can also be spelled “Tsar” as in “I am the Tchotche Tsar.” What an honor.

I met the guy who owns the domain name www.tchotchkes.com. I wonder if anyone can get there by entering the name directly into the browser.

Here are some alternatives that you, the Trade Show Samurai, can use instead of the word tchotchke:

  • Swag
  • Schwag
  • Premiums
  • Crap
  • Trinkets

The word, apparently, is similar to a modern Hebrew word that means slut.

Passing out sluts from your trade show booth is a sure way to generate some traffic.

Please Don’t Eat the Forks

Here is another good marketer at the All Things Organic Show. This one promotes plates and things. You eat the food; the worms will eat the plates and utensils. That is, of course, if you are using Ultra Green utensils that are 100% biodegradable, compostable and sustainable according to Ultra Green CEO Phil Levin. These remarkable paper products will breakdown in a landfill in about 90 days. The cornstarch and seashell-based plastic will be gone in about 150 days. You don’t even have to throw them away. They will breakdown in a regular backyard compost pile with regular kitchen waste.

Phil Levin, CEO for Ultra Green

A complete place setting will run you about $1 if you use the Ultra Green Picnic/Party Pack which retails for $11.99 and comes in a package that doubles as a tray for chips and dip.

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Toats Gets My Votes

I came across “Toats” at the All Organic Expo in Chicago in 2009. I must admit I was quite skeptical of these “Friendly-O” things when I first saw them. They were little brown discs that looked like they might be the kind of thing you stick in the bottom of a flower pot to feed a plant. Not much to look at themselves but the package they come in is quite nice. And the woman behind the product was hands down the most passionate person I have spoken to in the entire organic foods industry. Even their Web site is certified “Green”.

Marisol with Toats at the Organic Expo

Marisol Fernandini-Gaffney created Toats (ToatsOrganic.com) to bring the world a healthy natural snack that you can feed to humans and horses and dogs or anything else that has a mouth. Rarely will I admit to eating much less enjoying something designed to be consumed by animals as well as humans but these things are addictive. She gave me five sample packs each containing two cookies and I just at the last one. I’m already jonesing for my next fix. It’s downright frustrating to be out of them so fast!

The cookies do take a leap of faith. They do have the texture and odor of an animal snack. They are hard and grainy at first bite but by the time you swallow the first you are eyeballing the second. The next thing you know you’ve eaten ten, (beware, they are 290 calories!) The good news is that the entire experience was good for you, good for animals and good for the environment.

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Trade Show Training

If you have ever been involved in a trade show, ask yourself this: how much time have I spent training for the trade show before the day of the event? Probably none. In fact, I’ve never heard of serious any pre-show training in at any company.

If a company does any sort of training at all it’s usually held in the morning on the first day of the event. They tell all the booth staff to meet an hour before the exhibit hall opens so they can go over a few “key messages” and go over some new products or how the spin-to-win game is going to work. Most people come late and miss part of it. They don’t have a problem blowing it off because they figure they already know it. This kind of training is the equivalent of no training.

It’s no wonder that trade shows are so ineffective for most companies.


Trade Show Nirvana

Several years ago I was starting a new company which helps students find the right college. My partner and I visited the National Association of College Admission Counseling.  I found a company that was already doing something similar to what my partner and I were planning. I spent almost two hours in their booth. I spoke to their President, CEO, CTO and lead investor in detail about their company, how their software worked, who their customers were, and even their sales and marketing strategy.

Why on earth would they spend that much time with a potential competitor instead of talking to potential customers who were walking by us as we talked? I wasn’t hiding anything. They knew I was a potential competitor. I guess they just liked talking to me.

So on the one hand you have people manning the booth who have no idea what to say; and on the other hand you have top-management spilling their guts to complete strangers!

It’s time to rethink the game.

The Unions

I know Unions get a lot of flack, but I realize they are an important part of many people’s livelihood.

My gripe with the unions is that while they are well-trained and do a nice job, their contracts with the expo centers tend to be a hassle for the exhibitor when it comes to small stuff.

For instance, at a recent trade show about 20 boxes of supplies were delivered to the hotel and not the show floor. We stuck all the boxes, which were heavy, on one of those luggage carriers. We pushed it down the hallway to the entrance of the exhibit hall where we were stopped by security who said that we had to hire a union guy to move it the rest of the way. There was a two-hour wait for the workmen and a minimum charge of one hour or $75. Moving the cart from the entrance to the booth would have taken less than five minutes.

We would be allowed to carry the boxes, one by one, in ourselves; but we couldn’t use the cart. We had to lift one box at a time so it took two of us about a half hour to move the boxes in ten trips. We were nice and sweaty by the time the exhibit hall opened for business.

Moral of the story? I’m not sure. Maybe make sure your boxes get delivered to the right place?