Database Marketing Special Report: Speaking Directly: Comdex exhibitors should maximize data

The following column, which appears each issue, looks at new and emerging trends in direct marketing. Alternating columnists are Barbara Canning Brown, a leading figure in the Canadian direct marketing industry, and David Foley, a specialist in database marketing programs.Strategy also...

The following column, which appears each issue, looks at new and emerging trends in direct marketing. Alternating columnists are Barbara Canning Brown, a leading figure in the Canadian direct marketing industry, and David Foley, a specialist in database marketing programs.

Strategy also invites other news items or column submissions for this section. Enquiries should be directed to Mark Smyka, editor, (416) 408-2300.

Comdex, the mammoth computer industry show, descended upon Toronto earlier this month, and, trudging the aisles, I focussed on two questions (each proof positive that I’ve attended far too many trade shows.)

Question No.1: Why does the producer of this large trade event in the ‘high tech’ industry not use the methods of the very industry it is showcasing to gather names for follow-up by its exhibitors?

(This show used credit card-like imprinters rather than bar code readers.)

Question No. 2: What will the exhibitors do with those names when they get back to the office.

This column deals with the latter question. The exhibitors should deal with Question No. 1.

Regardless of how they are collected, names from a trade (or consumer) show are not created equal. Somewhere in that data, there’s gold, but where?

Two categories

The most common approaches to show follow-up can be grouped into two categories. Neither works especially well.

The first is to presume that all of the names are valuable business prospects, and to give them to the sales force follow-up. Then, the salespeople call on the first, get nowhere, and, frustrated by the whole process, toss the rest.

The second method is to presume that none of these names have any value and to do nothing with them in the first place.

Perhaps a better approach is to anticipate that some people on the list are truly qualified leads, and to figure out how to separate them from everyone else.

Here are some suggestions for Comdex participants that can be useful for firms that exhibit at most other trade shows as well.

In almost all cases, the show attendee has requested information from your organization, which is the very reason that his/her name was recorded in the first place.

In addition to sending that information, include a questionnaire about the show, your organization’s presence at the show, and the organization that requested the information.

Qualitative assessment

The purpose of these questions is to obtain a qualitative assessment of the show, your organization’s participation in it, and some baseline information on the ‘leads’ in order to qualify them.

The show-related questions are fairly obvious: ‘Was the ————- show of benefit to you? In what way? Were our booth personnel helpful? Did you attend our seminar on ————-?

The lead qualification questions are trickier. They must be phrased with precision so that a positive response, to one question or a group of questions, would constitute a qualified lead, while a negative response to the same question(s) would not. (Otherwise, a fundamental purpose of the questionnaire, to identify qualified leads, would be compromised.)

Faxed replies

In most cases, this questionnaire would travel without any additional mailing cost, and a surprising number of individuals will respond by fax (particularly if you suggest it in the covering letter), which costs you, and, just as importantly, can get the information to you faster than Canada Post.

A similar approach can be taken by telemarketing the show-generated names to qualify them. A telephone survey can be even faster, although it is usually more expensive.

The point is to make the survey form a useful document, both in terms of future show participation/planning and lead qualification.

This survey can point out deficiencies in your organization’s ‘performance’ at a show (from the attendees’ point of view) and provide valuable direction as to which ‘names’ should be followed up first.

To assume all names are of equal potential is usually a costly mistake.

It’s quite true that not everyone will respond to your questionnaire, in fact, it is most likely that relatively few will. However, isn’t it better to know something relevant about some apparently interested folks than to know absolutely nothing about everybody?

I’d want to follow up with everyone who took the time to respond to the questionnaire, whether they were qualified leads.

It’s just that I’d call the qualified ones first.

David Foley is a marketing consultant and an instructor in database marketing at York University in Toronto. He may be reached at (905) 940-8784; fax (905) 940-4785.