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Follow up: key to show success

I know what you’re thinking – not the old “follow up” pitch again! But, with our major winter boat shows well underway and, happily, doing much better than expected, a study of trade shows by the Center for Exhibition Research (CER) should give us some heartburn. Admittedly, the CER report was a study of industrial trade shows and not, specifically consumer boat shows. However, I see there are object lessons in it for us on the consumer show side. Among others, CER offered two relevant conclusions:

First, less than half (46 percent) of all exhibitors set any specific objectives for their show participation. Objectives can include anything ranging from the number of lead cards completed to actual sales contracts signed, but they should be clearly reasonable, measurable objectives.

Second -- and this one blows me away-- the CER report goes on to say only half of those who set any objectives will actually follow up after! Good grief . . . that’s less than 23 percent will follow up in spite of the fact that every good sales training article, seminar or program always emphasizes the importance of following up.

Now, maybe if you’re selling widgets or welding rods you don’t need to follow up. No, I take that back – you do, regardless of what you’re selling. But, we are in the boating business. We must recognize that our prospects respond in long purchase cycles. Accordingly, following up with a clear objective of establishing a relationship with a prospect is critical.

It seems we continue to measure our boat show’s success solely by the sales contracts signed at or just after the show. Perhaps that was a rational standard in the 1980s, when people were lining up to buy our boats, but it doesn’t work today. In fact, we need to change our perspective and recognize that a major objective of our boat show exhibits is to open up the possibility for a long-term relationship that will likely pay off down the road. In other words, laying solid ground work for future sales should be equally important to closing a sale today.

All this gives new meaning to following up after the show. Moreover, it also calls for a specific plan to maintain some form of communication with prospects over the longer haul.

Is everyone on your sales team really following up? Or, are you just assuming they are? If the CER report mirrors our industry in any way, and I’ll bet it does, I suggest it’s time for a complete review of your team’s follow up policies and activities. Why, even follow up can be a measurable objective.

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