Trade Show Resources

Paper Versus Paperless – Determine Your Ideal Lead Capture Method

Good old-fashioned paper forms, fancy lead retrieval systems, and sophisticated computer-based applications all offer lead capture capabilities at a trade show. But which method works best for your company? For booth staffers who habitually lose documents as soon as paper falls on their desk, a lead retrieval system may be preferable. On the other hand, if your staffers resort to the “hunt-and-peck” method of typing, then a paper form might be more ideal. All three types of lead capture methods exhibit advantages and drawbacks. It’s time to weigh your options.

Paper forms are a flexible, low-cost and convenient capture method. While paper forms may seem antiquated to some exhibitors, paper forms don’t rely on computers and/or internet connections, both of which can fail at the most inopportune time at a show. Booth staffers can also attach the prospect’s business card directly to the form, optimizing time and future lead tracking.

If your company chooses to implement a paper-based system, be certain to take advantage of check boxes to save time for everyone. Categories such as current customer, preferred contact method, purchase timeframe, budget, followup plan, buying authority, product/service interest, and relationship all lend themselves to check boxes. You can also save time by pre-printing items on the form, including trade show name, date and location. Arrange your questions on the form in the same order as your database program to be kind to your eyes and improve accuracy when entering data after the show. If you choose the paper route, leave plenty of room for sprawling handwriting and some space for comments. Many managers opt for a tall, narrow form, such as 5” by 8” (think of a standard 8.5” by 11” piece of paper, with two forms printed per page). Paper forms are adaptable, easy to manage, and don’t require any special equipment - other than a pen.

A lead retrieval system (LRS) can be rented from the show management, usually for a few hundred dollars. The LRS swipes, shoots, or scans a visitor’s badge, allowing staffers to automatically capture and print a form with basic contact data. At the end of the show, your staffers pick up their data disc for transfer to your own spreadsheet or database. While a LRS may save some time and improve the accuracy of data capture compared to a paper form, there is a possibility that the pre-show attendee data is inaccurate or incomplete. Also keep in mind that if you have a large or packed booth, you may have to rent several LRSs to avoid a traffic jam.

Another disadvantage of the LRS is the limited ability to customize the form. Hurdles such as running out of paper tape, or badges that won’t scan, can also occur. If you are still enthralled with a LRS, you can improve its effectiveness by adding note-taking capabilities, offer extra training opportunities, and develop a back-up plan. But remember, power failures can and do happen.

The third capture method, computer-based systems, is fast-loading, accurate, and can be customized to suit your needs. Software can be designed so that either the staffer or the visitor completes the form, either online or directly into your computer program. You can choose clear, easy-to-read fonts, and quickly enter data - provided your keyboarding skills are reasonable. As with the LRS, though, computer technologies are not immune to problems. What happens if your computer crashes during the show? How do you react if your internet connection fails? Customized computer-based systems may look dazzling and impressive, but remember that you are at the show to develop rewarding, personal discussions with visitors.

Each lead capture method warrants consideration. However, in terms of reliability, flexibility and cost, the tried-and-true paper form seems to have an advantage over its technologically-savvy counterparts. Whatever method your company selects, be certain to give careful thought to the overall layout and to a dependable backup, if it’s required. Time is precious at a trade show, so make sure your lead capture system is convenient, accurate, clear, and as painless as possible.

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