Time to rethink the badge scanning approach to collecting leads at trade shows. The Gartner Security & Risk Summit in London this week highlighted that the whole process of collecting leads by scanning badges at trade shows is badly broken.

Even post-GDPR, my badge was scanned for everything. However, I’ve got no idea what information was shared. Most people working the scanners didn’t seem to have any idea of how to opt-out of any follow-ups from sponsors – or said, “don’t worry, it’s just to count how many people had coffee”.

As that sponsor knows, I had two coffees on the first day. I also visited the “lounge” sponsored by another vendor several times in the fruitless search for somewhere to sit and drink the coffee. After attending the sessions and some 1:1s upstairs with top analysts, I headed to the exhibit area for the evening drinks reception and picked up a cold beer. There’s a vendor who can tell you the exact time this happened since they scanned my badge.

The frenzy for unqualified leads
At conferences, we’re all used to having our badges scanned for activities like this. Need a sugar hit as you wander the show floor? Pick up some vendor-branded jelly beans … and oh, can we just scan your badge?

For exhibitors, the pressure to gather leads from the show floor is immense. As tickets were quite expensive, there weren’t (m)any people who attended simply searching for promotional items. The Summit is a valuable event because every attendee is a qualified lead, a partner, competitor, or works for Gartner. There were even reports that a handful of analysts were seen – gasp – wandering the show floor. This is rare: They’re usually tucked away in 1:1s, huddled in the workroom finalizing presentations, or rushed off to VIP receptions.

Placing refreshments in the exhibit area is a sure-fire way of drawing attendees in – and when all the food and drink is provided from exhibitor stands, it’s badge-scanning frenzy time during breaks.

Collecting a couple of hundred “leads” on the first day sounds good. Still, for one hapless vendor, this turned to disaster when – for what was later blamed as human error – some 200-plus people attending the event all received a promotional email to join a session on day two – and yes, all the recipients were in the “to” field. Not a good move, especially at the Security and Risk Summit.

This caused a lot of embarrassment for the vendor (which launched an investigation into the incident, then later followed up to say it wasn’t considered a breach). And yes, there was a smartass who hit “reply all” to remonstrate about this ( no, it wasn’t me).

Adding value beyond sharing a chotsky
My concern is that I don’t remember “interacting” with that vendor: Was it to get coffee? Did I grab a snack? Therefore, I’m a worthless “hot lead”. On the other hand, well played to the exhibitors who used their food/drink/giveaways/booth entertainers as a lure to engage visitors in conversation. I gained insights from several vendors this way.

Post-show, I’ll be busy opting out of follow-up emails (but thanks for the coffee).

A very nice pair of socks!

There are more effective ways for exhibitors to zero in on the handful of scorching leads at a show – such as the good old lead capture form. Mixing up really hot leads with people who don’t even remember being scanned is not a winning approach. It just slows you down in following up with the people who really are genuinely interested in engaging.

Just picking up a booth giveaway doesn’t turn me into a hot prospect – although I do want to give a special mention to ServiceNow for the funky socks. And they didn’t even scan my badge!