Fishbowls that overflow are just a slow “no” waiting to happen. ~ Top 10 Inside Tips on Trade Show Selling

Which brings me to this story. Last year my boss asked me to visit a few booths at a trade show we were attending while producing one of our client’s booths. She wanted me to gather information on their event marketing efforts and how they were gathering leads. To my amazement, many of these exhibitors, even the large ones, were still throwing business cards into a fishbowl or the staff was pocketing them. Mind you, this wasn’t a small show with low attendance where collecting a few leads via business cards might be warranted. I’m not card shaming, but event technology has changed the way we can gather leads that’s quick and easy for booth visitors and more efficient for company follow up.

Here are five reasons you should ditch tossing business cards into a fishbowl and upgrade to digital lead retrieval.

  1. Not everyone carries business cards, or they run out.
  2. Business cards are small, limiting the amount of information that can be written on the back. Your sales team needs as much information about the prospect as possible for effective follow up.
  3. Many business cards have printing on both sides. Now what?
  4. Who is going to input the contact information into a spreadsheet?
  5. Business cards do not capture the attendee’s full registration data, such as purchasing authority and timeline.


Are you convinced yet? Research indicates that sales from trade show leads go to those companies which follow up quickly, yet only 22 percent do so. (Source: The Center for Exhibit Industry Research, CEIR) No wonder, if companies are scrambling to organize business cards post-show. With electronic transfer of data in real time, follow up could start back at the office before the show even closes.

Three common methods for capturing leads available for most trade shows today:

1. Lead Retrieval Rental Systems

Most shows name an official contractor that provides rental devices such as mobile hand-held units. (Lead retrieval vendors have moved away from desktop scanners because they don’t allow for mobility.) Scanning the barcode, QR code, or typing in a badge number captures a wealth of data from the prospect’s registration information that can be viewed in real time. The information is backed up and accessed on a website, and downloadable lists and beautifully designed reports are available.

Scanner. Photo credit CompuSystems.

Scanner. Photo credit CompuSystems.

2. iPad and Smart Phone Apps

Again, these apps are an option for exhibitors available from the official show lead retrieval contractor. Research indicates that many exhibitors are moving away from lead retrieval devices in favor these mobile apps. (Source: Skyline Exhibits.) Exhibit staff can use their own iPhones, iPads, or Android devices to capture leads anywhere, not just on the trade show floor. After the app is downloaded on the devices and activated using the provided code, exhibitors are ready to scan and qualify leads quickly and easily. You can purchase multiple activation codes so that all of your team members can download the app on their devices. This turns your entire booth into a lead-generating machine. Again, the contact info can be accessed through the lead retrieval company’s portal. The leads can be downloaded and reports created.

Two of the most common lead retrieval companies you will come across at a trade show are CompuSystems and Experient.

Downloadable lead retrieval apps. Photo credit CompuSystems.

Downloadable lead retrieval apps. Photo credit CompuSystems.

3.  A Custom Designed Lead Retrieval Application

Not to get too into the weeds, but if you exhibit at a lot of trade shows throughout the year, working with a third-party app developer on a customizable lead retrieval system might be the way to go. Instead of purchasing from multiple onsite vendors and relearning each method, you have the same app at every show! From the lead retrieval vendor you purchase what’s called a Developer’s Kit, or Lead API. With the help of a third-party developer, TPG created a custom lead retrieval app for Ford Commercial Vehicles because of the myriad of trade shows they exhibit at each year. The ease of use and consistent technology has streamlined lead gathering and increased leads ten-fold. Plus, the export files integrate seamlessly with Ford’s CRM. (The topic of a custom designed lead retrieval app is worth its own article, and will be tackled in a future blog.)

TPG custom designed lead retrieval app for Ford Commercial Vehicles.

TPG custom designed lead retrieval app for Ford Commercial Vehicles.

Here’s the beauty part:

  • The above-mentioned lead retrieval methods accommodate custom surveys and notes that correspond to each prospect’s scan. Instead of scribbled, undecipherable notes on the back of a business card, now your team has detailed information about the prospect for quick and accurate follow up.
  • You can even send thank you notes and fulfill literature requests as soon as the leads are uploaded to the cloud.
  • Wi-Fi connection is not required to capture a lead, which is a life-saver considering the poor reception common to most exhibit halls. Leads can be uploaded later offsite where reception is stronger.
  • Order forms for rental devices, apps and Developer’s Kits are easily found in the exhibitor information materials.

Ok, but what if…

…the show is still in the stone-age and organizers don’t provide a badge with anything to scan?

Well, low-tech meets low-tech. Create a paper lead form to collect the visitor’s contact information and include a few well-thought-out survey questions. Then enter the information into a spreadsheet. Or, if using your own app, manually type the contact info in the fields on your iPad or smart phone. If collecting business cards is your preferred option when scanning isn’t possible, you could purchase a business card scanner that outputs data into a spreadsheet. This would at least be a step up from manually capturing leads on a paper form. Are you confused yet? The point is, be prepared with Plan B. It’s rare that the trade show organizer doesn’t provide scannable badges, but it does happen.


We’ve come a long way, baby! The same is true for digital lead retrieval at trade shows. Lead acquisition ranks as the top show objective of exhibitors and it is rated highly important by 88 percent. However, only 63 percent are highly satisfied with meeting this objective. (Source: Trade Show Executive) Any technology that streamlines lead capture while providing companies with as much attendee contact information and interests as possible is guaranteed to increase leads and future sales.

If you can’t part with your fishbowl, fill it with colorful rocks and display it on the welcome desk.

Related TPG articles: Taking the Lead – Why a Lead Generation Program is the Key to Event Success

Skyline Exhibits – Tech for Trade Show Exhibitors


C.C. Carr - Lead Onsite Director

C.C. Carr – Lead Onsite Director