Follow the Leads

New tools put contacts at exhibitors' fingertips

The PDA-based scanner from ExpoExchange

The PDA-based scanner
from ExpoExchange

Even though the first-ever Portable Media Expo is just now setting up at the Ontario Convention Center outside Los Angeles for its mid-month debut, exhibitors and attendees have long been exchanging related information through the show’s website.
    Online visitors checking out the list of exhibitors coming to the show can select a check box next to the names of the companies in which they are interested. On the click, a form pops up, the visitor fills it out and the information is e-mailed to the exhibitor.
    When buying a booth, the exhibitor gets the online space without charge and has the option of uploading an auto-reply message that gives the visitor a quick follow-up. This simple pre-show lead-retrieval system was built by LightMix Design Studios (www.lightmix.com) of Vienna, Va., creators of the expo’s website.
    “We’re trying to extend our exhibitor’s investment beyond the two or three days of our shows,” says Tim Bourquin of TNC New Media, which is producing the expo. At the beginning of September, he notes, “some exhibitors were already getting four to five leads a day. A couple
of exhibitors have said the early lead-retrieval is one of the reasons they signed up early.”
    This is only one example of the way the lead-retrieval process has been transformed. In the past, after an exchange of business cards, exhibitors returned to the office to decipher the notes they had scribbled on them. Most shows now provide attendees with cards on which their information is encoded on a magnetic stripe or a smart-card chip that exhibitors swipe through a reader at the booth. But even that process has been morphing steadily.
    These days, leads are being captured online before the show begins and then sent by Bluetooth-enabled devices to servers on the show floor or scanned by camera phones. Following are some of the latest trends.

Before the show
ExpoExchange (www.expoexchange.com), part of Twinsburg, Ohio-based Conferon Global Services, offers a sophisticated pre-event system as part of its web-based registration solution, SmartEvent. Called SmartBooth, it creates a personalized web portal for each trade show participant, whether exhibitor, attendee, speaker or student.
    The system has an analytic element that looks at the information entered by attendees and then presents sessions and exhibitors they might be interested in, much the same way a website like Amazon offers its customers personalized recommendations.
    “The more you define yourself, the more the system will be able to point you in directions that will be useful,” says Bob Lucke, executive vice president of business development for CGS. “Then, any participant can extend an invitation to another participant to make a connection; if you choose to participate, the names are exchanged.” He adds that the system is Internet- and portal-based, not e-mail-based, so no one can hound another attendee beyond the first “do you want to meet?” contact.
    A byproduct of the online, pre-show activity is that ExpoExchange gathers behavioral statistics on the connections between the participants. “[A show] can have a great audience and a great exhibit, but if they aren’t compatible, you can have dissatisfaction on both sides,” says Lucke.

RFID REACHES OUT
Would your exhibitors like to know who visited their booth but did not have their badges scanned? Some registration companies are using information collected from RFID badges in just this way. Laser Registration, whose main lead-retrieval system scans magnetic-stripe cards, also offers an RFID-chip badge and gives exhibitors the opportunity to place an RFID antenna in their booths to collect data from the badges of those who happen by.
    “This appeals to many larger exhibitors who want to see who visits which part of their booth,” says Sylvain Caron, executive director of business development for the Montréal company.
    For instance, at a show for car dealers, exhibitors with a booth featuring more than one vehicle can put antennae near each car to see which one gets the most attention and how long people gaze at each set of wheels.
    “We’re also seeing a demand from events that never had lead retrieval, such as consumer shows,” notes Caron. Attendees always are informed that the data on their RFID tags is being disseminated to exhibitors.
    “Attendees can opt out of having the RFID tag on the badge,” Caron adds. “It’s funny, though. At the beginning of this RFID thing, we thought people would want to opt out. But we get less than 1 percent of people opting out of being tracked by RFID.” -- S.B.

Off the floor
In the past, if an exhibitor made a great connection for a potential sale during a session or a reception, often the best he could do was to take his new contact’s business card and make a few notes on the back, hoping he wouldn’t misplace that slip of paper.
    Today, though, a growing number of lead-retrieval companies are providing portable scanners or other gadgets allowing exhibitors to capture information even when they are away from their booths.
    ExpoExchange offers a PDA with a printer attached. (“Ironically, exhibitors still want to be able to print immediately upon scanning,” says Lucke.) The battery-powered device reads magnetic-stripe badges; for those reluctant to go all electronic, the printer function gives them immediate confirmation that the information was scanned correctly.
The first-generation nTag

The first-generation
badge from nTag

    The communicating RFID (radio frequency identification) badges offered by Boston-based nTag (www.ntag.com) give attendees the ability to exchange contact data wherever they meet during the conference including at a restaurant or in a hotel corridor. If they are outside the main venue and not in range of the show’s wireless network their tags still talk to each other, and the information will be downloaded to their personal nTag web pages once they return to the venue and are back in range.
    “Information usually flows in one direction, from the attendee to the exhibitor, and it only happens on the expo floor,” says Jim Rowins, nTag’s director of sales. “Everyone who is attending an nTag event is wearing an nTag device. When attendees ask for information, the data is traded. I get your information and you get mine.” The leads are automatically uploaded to the show’s wireless network, and participants access it through personalized web pages that show not only with whom they traded electronic business cards, but, at the exhibitor end, people who wandered into a show booth but didn’t exchange information what Rowins refers to as “near misses.”
    By the end of the first quarter of next year, nTag will begin offering the second generation of its device, a lighter model with a color screen that will allow attendees to take notes using a stylus. Participants also will be able to send messages from tag to tag. Event organizers will be able to send messages to single attendees, groups of attendees or to the entire conference list. Incorporated will be a basic name badge, as it was difficult to read a counterpart’s name on nTag’s original badge.
The bar-code scanner from ExpoBadge

The bar-code scanner from ExpoBadge

    ExpoBadge Mobile e-Lead, the handheld bar-code scanner offered by Anaheim, Calif.’s American Exposition Technologies (www.expobadge.com), also needn’t be confined to the exhibit floor, storing scanned data in flash memory on the device. The ExpoBadge Network version of the system offers 300-foot Bluetooth functionality, so scanned leads are automatically downloaded to the show’s servers.

On the phone
Camera phones aren’t just for taking pictures anymore. Some providers of lead-retrieval technology have created software that turns the devices into scanners.

The key-chain scanner from ScanEventThe key-chain scanner
from ScanEvent

    Aside from offering a little keychain scanner for collecting encoded badge information, the ScanEvent system from event marketing/management company Global Executive (www.globalexec.com) uses advanced Optical Intelligence technology, created by Scanbuy, which allows exhibitors to use their camera phones to capture lead data.
    “The show producer pays to license the software; exhibitors download the free application to their cameras,” says Leonora Valvo, president of Global Executive. The retrieval system is totally online, she notes, so whether exhibitors use the keychain scanner or their camera phones, the lead information is sent directly to the web.

Attendee-operated
Traditionally, trade show attendees received the bulk of their information in the form of brochures and various tchotchkes left as giveaways on exhibitors’ tables. Today, however, the Bluetooth-enabled ExpoBadge bar-code scanner can be distributed to attendees to help them learn more about the products they see at a show, a process called reverse lead retrieval.
    For instance, at a show selling restaurant products, buyers can scan the UPC codes on items of interest, and the information will be stored on the scanner and transferred wirelessly to the show’s servers, with data going to both the attendee and the exhibitor. Participants can access the data they’ve gathered at kiosks placed around the show floor or online at any time.
    A sheet of action bar codes also is given to each attendee, so once they scan a product, they can scan a follow-up action or note about it, such as “call me” or “send me information.”