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Dec 08, 2004
Case Study

How to Schmooze Only the Most Qualified Prospects at a Big Trade Show

SUMMARY: Arrrgh! Two weeks before the big show, exhibitor Todd Cieplinski was told he wouldn't be able to do his planned pre-show promo mailing after all. How could he make sure the top prospects visited his booth? Most hadn't heard of his company before. Plus, Cieplinski suspected only 10-15% of attendees were truly perfect prospects. How could he slice them out from thousands of others at the show to generate the best qualified leads possible? If you exhibit at trade shows, this is the Case Study for you:

"Macromedia's MAX Show is the best show for possible leads for our consulting services," explains Todd Cieplinski, CEO Universal Mind.

"Everyone is using the technology. 10-15% of attendees are decision-makers. We knew there were good leads to be had. It was just a matter of finding them, as well as making ourselves stand out from the rest of the exhibitors."

This was much harder than you might think. "Last year we only got 40 leads out of about 2,500 attendees and I can't say that one closed."

Universal Mind wasn't a famous-name brand; and, Macromedia's policy of restricting exhibitors to cookie-cutter 10x10 kiosks wouldn't help the company stand out. Cieplinski and his marketing team started pre-show planning six months out to beat these challenges.

The big idea? Email out an iPod giveaway offer to all registered attendees the week before the show this November. The creative team sweated over making the email invite as enticing as possible...

And then came disaster. At the last minute, show organizers abruptly announced no mailings could go out to the list.

Universal Mind's marketing team had less than two weeks to come up with another concept to make the show perform. All they needed was one lead to convert to cover their show expenses, but naturally they dreamed of generating many more.


Let's face it - free stuff is a pretty big motivator for trade show attendees to visit your booth. The team planned to go ahead with the iPod giveaway, but without pre-show publicity, they needed to give the promo more oomph.

The answer was more free stuff.

The team decided to invest in two additional branded giveaway items - both chosen for the likelihood that recipients would wear them immediately (thus functioning as walking displays for Universal Minds) rather than shoving them into their bags.

Cieplinski was suspicious of the most obvious idea - a t-shirt giveaway. Many people won't put a shirt on over their current outfit, and those that do won't continue wearing the same t-shirt over a multi-day show.

Instead he decided on (link to creative samples below):

#1. Flashing pins: These use magnets now instead of sharp pins (so you can get them through airport security.) Universal Minds had them branded with their logo and show slogan "Master Your Domain." They bought 300 for roughly $2 a piece.

#2. Embossed baseball caps: These were similarly branded, and produced in a Harvard Crimson-style red that stands out and looks pretty good on almost everyone. They cost more per piece, so the team bought two gross (144 per gross) and only took 200 to the show, leaving the rest at the office for follow-up sales activities.

The team wanted to give away every single cap and button they came with (there's nothing more depressing than paying return shipping charges for show materials.) But, with 2,500 attendees, how could they distribute the limited freebies most effectively?

The day before the show floor opened, the booth team of three met to plan strategy. The rules:

Rule #1. No badge gets zapped unless that individual is pre-qualified as a true sales lead.

Rule #2. Every booth visitor gets asked a similar series of pre-qualification questions. These would be gently worded. "What are you hoping to learn from the conference? Are you looking for assistance? If you've been tasked to research consultants, do you also have the decision-making power as to who to work with? Has there been a budget allocated? How about a time frame?"

Rule #3. Visitors whose answers revealed they weren't leads were handed the magnetic button as thanks for their time. They were told if they wore the button day and night during the show, they might win the iPod when the giveaway spotter was looking around.

Rule #4. Visitors who were leads received baseball caps, and their badges were swiped. They were also told to wear the hats to all show events day and night to increase their chances to win the iPod.

Rule #5. Respect elbow bumps! The team invented a few silent baseball signals, each initiated with an innocent-looking elbow bump, to indicate when they needed to hand off a conversation. For example, the CEO might need a techie to answer questions, or the sales rep might need to pull in the CEO.

Rule #6. Outside the booth, talk to the hats! Since anyone wearing a logo-ed baseball hat was a strong lead, everyone on the team made a point of schmoozing hat-wearers at all lunches and social gatherings. Hopefully this would help speed the sales cycle.

During the last social event of the show, the team asked a show staffer to select a pin or hat wearer as the winner of the giveaway. To make things fair, they gave her complete selection power. (Note: To get more people to wear the branded items longer, this time and place wasn't pre-announced. Folks only knew it would happen sometime during the show.)

The show ended on a Thursday. The very next day the sales team began to make follow-up calls. They didn't expect to reach many people in the office, but why not leave a message while the lead is as hot as possible?


"We struck gold," crows Cieplinski. Instead of 40 leads, the team garnered 240 leads. About 17% of leads weren't as qualified as they appeared -- people will sometimes brag at a show about power they don't really have.

But the remaining 83% were so rock-solid that the team landed four significant consulting contracts in less than 30 days, and they expect this number to double in the final tally. The free giveaways drove traffic. "It was amazing the amount of traffic we got and how many people deep we had in the booth trying to get something for nothing." And attendees were more than happy to wear the hats and buttons. "You could look out on the show floor and see hats with our name everywhere. The flashing buttons became the rage outside the conference at night when people partied in New Orleans."

The team ran out of both hats and buttons by the last day of the show, and used their extra stash back at the office as an excuse to call the best leads when they got back.

Does leaving messages the day after a show work? Yes indeed. While Cieplinski's team reached almost no one in person, the following week they received a ton of inbound callbacks.

Useful links related to this story:

Snapshots of the booth, the blinking pin, and the exuberant iPod winner wearing his branded cap:

Randy Harrison - the marketing consultant who helped Universal Minds invent and manage the campaign:

New Era Cap Company - vendor for logo-ed baseball caps:

Universal Mind:

See Also:

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