By Henry Schuck, co-founder and CEO of DiscoverOrg

After a long week of trade show exhibiting, you arrive home tired, with an aching head, and you are behind on all of your normal tasks. But wait! It is not yet time to soak your feet and relax. Collecting leads at the show is only one piece of the prospecting puzzle. You can’t rest until your plan for following up with trade show leads is put into motion.

An astonishing 98% of exhibitors collect leads at trade shows – but committing resources to gather the leads is simply wasteful if the processes aren’t in place to effectively qualify, contact, nurture, and close prospects. The misconception is that following up on trade show leads has to commence immediately after the show ends, but that is not correct. The best prospect-focused sales teams start following opportunities before the show even starts. Careful planning and execution is required to get good-fit leads in the hands of sales reps. So let’s talk about the plan.

1. Define. Before the show, sit with sales management and create a clear definition of a qualified trade show lead. Discuss what questions should be included in your lead collection strategy to identify the hot prospects, and which will qualify a lead as sales-ready. Once the definitions are in place, lead collection needs to be designed to gather the details that will enable sales to categorize the show leads efficiently and begin show follow up quickly.

2. Collect. Prepared with your qualifying question, your booth staff will be able to devote the most attention to the attendees that most closely match with the sales team’s ideal prospect. Understanding who you are looking to connect with will help the team in every interaction.

3. Listen. Make sure that the process of collecting lead data includes gathering the most critical details: what is the prospect seeking? Your booth staff may have come to the show educated with the latest Real Time Trigger data from their target accounts – but talking with contacts from those organizations may provide further insight that will help your sales reps to nudge the prospect further down the line with a targeted solution. To understand your prospect’s current needs listen carefully, ask good questions, and take good notes.

4. Append and clean. Trade show lead data is notoriously incomplete. Even with your best efforts to collect data, people still omit important details. To make sure that all of your leads are put into the correct queues for follow up, the data has to be cleaned and appended with data from your sales intelligence solution. Having access to the technology to be able to paste in a list of leads and have each record automatically completed and cleaned up will save your sales team days of work.

5. Consulting the chart. Before follow up communications begin, consult the company’s org chart to see if there happens to be someone else in the team you should also include in your communication. Sometimes the trade show attendee is not the person responsible for the technology they are looking to source. Make sure the decision maker is looped into the post-show communications.

6. Following up effectively. Post-trade show buzz fades incredibly fast. The window of opportunity for following up on trade show leads is really “only a few days, and once you reach 20 days out, people can barely remember they attended the event, let alone remember a specific product.” Make sure that your follow up is not only effective and targeted but also timely. This means that you should design follow up campaigns before you go. Once your leads are cleaned up and prioritized, initial follow up emails can be rolled out using an integrated marketing automation.

7. Get personal. Maximizing the ROI from trade shows requires that you make follow up calls quickly. Our customer, MECLABS, conducted a study on the effectiveness of trade show follow up which demonstrates with incredible clarity how important rapid contact is: 60% of the contacts that yielded any results were contacted in the first day of calling. Calls made after 3 days had incredibly diminished results. So open up your sales intelligence database and get the direct dial phone numbers of those critical contacts and get calling!

8. Technology is Your Friend. DiscoverOrg’s tool, Red Alerts, allows you to take your “hot list” of qualified leads at the trade show, and create a related alert system that notifies your team when any new contacts or updates are added to the target account’s company profile. Or your sales team can use our related Real Time Triggers functionality to be stay on top of leadership changes or new initiatives occurring at your top prospect accounts. Sales triggers like these give your team an opportunity for future follow-up if the prospect is not ready to purchase right after the show or requires some additional nurturing.

So, after all of the parties, booth set-up, demos, and squeezie balls, the real work from a trade show has only just begun. However, if you have a solid plan and strategy in place, you can reap the significant return of this valuable marketing channel.