Cashing in on conferences: Lead follow-up is the key

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Why following up makes the difference and how to do it effectively.

Whew, you made it back.

You invested a lot of time, energy and resources participating in your industry conference. It was all worth it, you say.

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Now the real work begins.

Following up with all those leads and business cards you collected is the critical first step in turning those prospects into qualified sales-ready opportunities for more business.

Start before you even head off to the conference

If you didn’t, keep this in mind for next time. Plan to bring along preaddressed overnight mailers to send the leads back to the office each night for immediate data entry and response. A new lead is like a new plant; the opportunity will wither and die unless you give it the proper care.

Step 1: All leads and business cards go into your CRM system ASAP

Yes, data entry is tedious, but it’s got to be done or you might as well throw the leads away. I personally eliminated some of my data entry burden by investing in a CardScan® business card scanner. Its fast capture of business card information is far easier and more accurate than my manual data entry. And the latest version of its software allows me to do drag-and-drop data entry from emails, Web pages and electronic documents too. If you don’t already have a CardScan, I recommend you visit www.cardscan.com and look at the models designed to put this data directly into Outlook or your CRM system.

Finding someone else to do it is another time-saver. Call your local temp agency if everyone in your office is swamped. The good agencies have data entry specialists who can be at your office in an hour.

Step 2: Get information to the prospect

The good news is that the email addresses on most of the cards you collected are up-to-date. And you did get email addresses from booth visitors, I hope?

Email each prospect with “Nice to meet you?” or “Thanks for dropping by” with links to relevant information on your website or attach marketing materials. Prospects will be impressed if you’re the first to follow up quickly after the conference. You may even be the only one to do so. This makes a great second impression.

Now put in print. Yes, real paper. Mail similar “Nice to meet you?” and “Thanks?” letters and materials to those prospects who didn’t share their email addresses.

I’d also send printed letters and materials to the prospects you emailed earlier. Email experts admit that nearly 70 percent of email is now being blocked by junk filters–and the senders never know it. And this percentage refers to email they requested! Redundant mailing is cheap insurance that your prospects actually get your information.

Step 3: Put on your headset and start dialing the phone.

Schedule calls to each prospect in your CRM system, allowing a few days for prospects to catch up.

Midmorning is the best time to schedule these calls. You can finish processing your email, and both you and the prospect are still fresh. Also, try making the calls in sets of ten, waiting to do other things until you have attempted to reach all ten. This will help you get the calls done before you’re pulled onto something else.

I dislike cold-calling as much as anyone, but the good news is this isn’t cold-calling. These are people who expressed an interest in your products or services when you talked to them personally or they visited your booth.

Here’s what to say.

To avoid sounding like just another salesperson on the phone, as well as to put the prospect at ease when you call, I recommend you open each call by saying something like this:

“Hi (prospect’s name), this is (your first and last name) from (your company name). We met (or ‘You stopped by our booth’) at (conference name) in (city name) last week. I’m interested to hear your thoughts about the conference, but first, is this a good time to speak?”

This approach will set your call apart from the majority of the other calls your prospects receive, which usually start with a dumb question like “Did you get the information I sent you?” Why is this a dumb question? Because usually the answer is “No,” which is difficult to move past. Be sure to avoid the overused “How are you today?” (Want to have some fun? The next time a telemarketer asks, “How are you today?” answer “Terrible” and see what the reaction is.)

By saying “I’m interested to hear your thoughts about the conference,” you’ve established a reason for the call that feels comfortable for the prospect. Asking “Is this a good time to speak?” sets a warm and professional tone. Besides, if it isn’t a good time for the prospect, he or she won’t be receptive anyway. If the time isn’t convenient, ask what time would be better.

Next, if it is a good time to speak, start the conversation by asking questions like “What are your thoughts about your time at (conference name)? Did you find it to be worthwhile?” or “Of all the booths you could have visited during the conference, why did you stop by ours?”

The objective is to learn if the prospects are sales ready. The answers will allow you to learn more about the prospects’ businesses, situations, interests and needs.

Whether prospects are sales ready or not, tell them what you think the next step should be and ask them if they agree.

Step 4: If you want the business marriage to happen, start dating.

Research shows 3 out of 4 sales come from leads who aren’t ready to buy right away. Only 1 in 4 buys within six months. Half can take a year or more. So you’ve got to find a way to “date” them until they are receptive to your business proposal.

Save money and have more time to invest with sales-ready prospects by starting with less costly one-to-many marketing techniques. Why? Salespeoples’ time is costly. You’d pay $15 to $20 per call to have a telemarketer or inside salesperson reach out by phone. So save this for the qualified prospects.

To send a letter or a postcard to a prospect, picking a high number of $2 each, you can invest $24 to touch longer-term prospects twelve times a year. The advantage is staying in sight over a longer consideration/buying cycle.

Step 6: Here’s what to send.

  • Give some thought to the major three or four reasons why someone would decide to buy from your company.
    • What would cause them to need your products or services?
    • Why would they select your company instead of the competition?
  • Create a series of mailings or emails, with each addressing one of these points.
  • Then repeat.

Your success will come from communicating with the right prospects at the right time with the right offer-not from saying something completely different every time you contact them.

Be sure each mailing (or call, for that matter) includes a suite of offers or calls to action that are designed to encourage the prospects to take the next step. Educational offers– how-to guides, checklists, case studies, white papers, and Web or live seminars on the same subjects– usually work best.

Remember, when it comes to turning leads into sales, it’s all in the follow-up.

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