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Exhibition Data Capture Methods

Posted By: Stephen James

The most important thing when having a stand at an exhibition is capturing data of potential leads. You can hand out as many promotional materials as you want, and while this may lead to a few people contacting you, way more conversions will come from those you contact and continually market to after the event.

But what is the best way to capture data and how do you ensure you are utilising it in the best way? Here are the pro's and con's of each data capture method and some key things you need to consider when planning for your show.

1) Clipboards

The classic method of getting people to hand over their details. Pens and clipboards have the main benefit that it is very cheap to do, you can pretty much buy as many as you want and people can fill them in much quicker than an iPad form. While good for high volume and fast sign-ups there are two main downsides. Firstly, you will lose 10%-20% of your leads due to bad handwriting or the data being incorrectly keyed into your database after. Secondly, the fact it needs to be keyed into your database creates an admin burden and an unnecessary time delay between capturing the data and hitting the customer with marketing.

2) Business Cards

Collecting business cards is by far the quickest way to get someones details (if the lead has a card to give you). The benefit it has on clipboards is you don't have to interpret their handwriting, apart from that it has all the downsides of clipboard data capture as you still need to key the data into your system later. There is also the issue of legal consent, if someone gives you their business card what needs to be communicated to ensure they have given sufficient legal consent to be added to your database and marketed to? Consent when being handed business cards is a debated issue.

3) Badge Scanners

Most big shows will have a badge scanning company where you can hire a scanner or app to scan attendees badges. The main benefit is that it is very fast to capture someones data and you get it in a electronic format that you can easily import into your in-house systems. One of the problems with this approach is that event attendees sometimes give incorrect contact details at registration to avoid loads of emails from companies who have scanned them. The barcode scanning companies usually take advantage of their monopoly at the event and charge too much to use their service as well. Also, as with taking business cards, there is the issue of what needs to be communicated to ensure they have given sufficient legal consent to be added to your database and marketed to.

4) Forms On Websites & Apps

I would personally argue that this is the best way to capture data - each lead filling in a form on a tablet or phone. If you have the technical capability in-house you can create a mobile optimised form on your website for this, I would always recommend doing it yourself if you are technically able as you can fully integrate it into your systems and not have to pay a 3rd party. Alternatively, there are loads of online services that you can use to can use to create forms (just type "form data capture service" or "form creator" into Google). There are also dedicated phone app services that can do this such as Akkroo, iCapture and atEvent. The main downside of this is approach is; the cost of the tablets/phone, the time it takes leads to fill in their details and that you need reliable internet (unless you have an app or form that works offline). I think these downsides are outweighed by the fact it allows for marketing automation, CRM integration and makes complying with data protection legislation easier.

5) CRM Integration

CRM integration is a key consideration when deciding how to capture data. Whether it be keying the data in, importing a file, integrating with a third party app or having a form on your website that writes to your online database. The main two things to consider are what data you need to capture and how the data will end up on your database. Off course the ideal approach is automate it so you don't have to action anything to get the data into your CRM.

6) Plan & Automate A Workflow

Another reason to integrate data capture with your CRM is so you can automate following up on the leads. Put new contacts into a marketing workflow so that the communications are sent to them automatically. The reason automation is important is that you want to hit your leads with the right messages at the right time. For example, you may want to hit them with emails or SMS messages during the show, or time it for 10am on the day after the show when they get back to their office and you are fresh in their minds. You can play around with sending different communication workflows at different shows (A/B testing) so you can see what workflows lead to most conversions. This approach also saves a lot of time - let's face it, after a 3 day show you will have enough emails and work piled up at the office without having to remember to email all the leads as well. If your in house CRM can't be integrated with, or does not support marketing workflows, you can still integrate a data capture form with a 3rd party marketing service (i.e. Mailchimp, Hubspot) to put leads into a marketing workflow.

7) The Legal Stuff

When storing data you are legally required to comply with the GDPR legislation, and when you contact people you are required to comply with PECR. This will affect how you implement your data capture at shows. For example:
- Leads have to be informed about certain things when they give their data over.
- You need to let leads specify how they are willing to be marketed to (i.e. email, SMS, phone).
- You need to record for each lead when/where they consented to you using their data and exactly what was communicated to them at the time.

The above are just 3 examples that will affect how you capture data, and there are loads more. Making it even more complicated there are different rules for different types of marketing and you need to select what legal basis you are using to justify holding the data. Make sure you are on top of the legislation before your shows, as it can cause problems trying to be compliant after you have already captured the data. Some marketers argue that GDPR does not apply to B2B in the same way as B2C and can be ignored, and the truth is that this depends on the exact circumstance and (often debated) interpretation of the legislation. If you are building a long term database from data captured at shows I would suggest putting the same level of consent requirements to B2B that you would apply to B2C so you are future proofed against any future legislation that may make B2B stricter (this it also covers you for self-employed people at the show, as sole traders should be treated the same as B2C individuals when it comes to data protection law). As a side note, the E-Privacy directive is coming at some point in the future to replace PECR (but this legislation has not been finalised by the EU yet).

8) Getting People To Comply

So you have looked at all the data capture methods, set up all your plans/workflows and are now at the show ready to meet the leads and get their juicy contact details. Now the challenge is how do you get them to actually hand their details over? That is where I come in, I specialise in increasing the amount of leads my clients capture at shows. I do this by becoming part of your team throughout the show and using magic to stop people passing the stand. Once I have stopped people, I check that they qualify as a potential customer, if they do I will connect them to your team warmed up and ready for a sales conversation which should end with capturing their data. Having me doing this can increase conversations with leads by 20%-60%.

I hope this article has been useful. If you have any questions regarding data capture, or if you would like to talk about how I can use magic to increase the amount of leads you speak to, then please email me on

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