After forty years of success in business, it can be a daunting challenge to see your business differently.  Yet now, more than ever, the future of any company boils down to innovation and differentiation...

In our case, that meant imploding on purpose - a radical recasting.

This is precisely what began to happen one November evening last year after I read (in one sitting), “Behind the Cloud:  The Untold Story of How Salesforce.com Went from Idea to Billion-Dollar Company-and Revolutionized an Industry” by Marc Benioff.

A bit of context:  At that time my companies, Bartizan Corporation and Bartizan Connects, had an established tenure of success - 40 years as a manufacturer of credit card equipment and 20 years producing electronic data collection equipment for use by trade show exhibitors – but we were in the middle of a major product change. 

iLeads, our new trade show lead retrieval system, was largely the result of my exposure to two technological advances:  the iPhone and Salesforce.com.  It was starting to take shape and we were making good progress. However, my enthusiasm for iLeads was not universally shared within the company.  There was a fear that our equipment inventory, which was viewed as our major asset, would become obsolete if iLeads was a success.

My response was, “That’s what we want to do. I want Bartizan, not a competitor, to make our equipment obsolete!”

I wasn’t getting much buy-in.  If anything, iLeads was seen as a threat and was met with a great deal of internal resistance.

But after ordering I for all key staff to read, a remarkable change in attitude happened almost immediately.  It provided just the inspiration and impetus needed to push the iLeads project to completion.

Apps are the Future

“Apps are becoming the norm for how people quickly and easily access the information they want.  People are used to getting information on demand,” says Alan Hall, Technology Communications Manager for the Ford Motor Company.  Today, there are over 140,000 iPhone apps with over 3 billion downloads – this is where the growth is.

So in order to get in the game, we had to move ourselves out of the equipment business and go to another level.

As an app, available at participating trade shows, iLeads allows businesses to confront a huge problem they face each time they exhibit at an event:  lead follow up.

The Issue of Lead Follow Up

Remarkably, over 70 percent of all trade show leads are not followed up even once, according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR). 

In another study by MillerPierce, it was found that:

  • 15% of closed leads want to be contacted immediately by the sales team.
  • 30% of non-purchasers will be ready to buy in six to nine months.

Much of the problem is attributable to the process of collecting and managing leads.  On average, more than 50% of all exhibitors do not use electronic lead retrieval.

For some, it is the perceived cost, although generally the rental cost of a lead retrieval terminal works out to much less than one-percent of a company’s total cost of exhibiting. More often, exhibitors are put off by other factors.  For example, the operation of a lead retrieval terminal is often not intuitive. In addition, in order to take advantage of its features, instruction is required – and sales people are at a trade show to sell, not learn how to operate a piece of equipment that they may never encounter again.

In order to prioritize leads and follow them up effectively, it is essential to do more than simply scan a visitor’s badge. Each lead must be qualified, either by using the terminal’s standard lead qualifiers or, better yet, through the use of custom qualifiers. Notes, either text or voice, should be appended to leads.

Typically, leads that have not been qualified are not followed up…which can mean lost sales.

If all leads are created equally, that is, without qualifiers, the following generally occurs:  A salesperson is handed 100 or more leads and told to follow up. The first 30 calls net the salesperson mostly voice mail or “not interested as the only response.”

Will the salesperson make call number 31?  Probably not….

Instead the remaining leads are placed in a desk drawer for follow up “next week,” which morphs into next month, at which point they are dismissed as “old” leads.

I once asked the president of a California electronics manufacturer if his tiny booth at the huge CeBIT trade show in Hannover, Germany was worth the investment.  He raved about how they got over 300 leads - although it turned out that the leads were never followed up.

“You see”, he explained, “after ten days in Germany, when we got back to San Diego, messages and work had really piled up. By the time we got out from under, a couple of months had passed. The leads were pretty stale. But next time….”

Oops.  Someone forgot to tell him a 2010 world is going to be different – he may not get a next time.

Exhibitors fail to embrace electronic lead retrieval for many reasons:

It is not particularly easy to use

  • Rental terminals vary from one event to the next, making it difficult to develop a familiarity with the technology. 
  • Rental terminals are typically distributed only an hour or two prior to the start of an event, leaving little time to get acquainted with a unit’s features.
  • Most systems depend on scanning an attendee’s badge containing a 2-dimensional bar code, a system subject to many error-inducing variables.
  • Exhibitors generally have to stand in line to not only collect their rented lead retrieval device prior to the start of an event, but also wait in line again at the event’s conclusion to return the equipment.

These factors, rather than cost, have inhibited the use of electronic lead retrieval, which in turn has diminished the results that exhibitors obtain from their trade show investment.

The Future Is Here

Forming relationships with existing and potential customers is at the heart of a company’s business. Supplying an endless stream of customers is the underpinning of future success.

Lead follow up is not a luxury anymore – it is a necessity to the vital operation of business in a fast, and sometimes abruptly changing climate – and iLeads helps you do it instantly with immediate customer interaction and involvement.

By using the iPhone and iPod Touch in conjunction with cloud computing, iLeads also eliminates the friction (shipping costs, staffing, capital investment, maintenance and availability) generated by dedicated lead retrieval terminals - including those manufactured and marketed by Bartizan.

There is no point in ignoring the handwriting on the wall.

We are anticipating integrating iLeads with Salesforce.com. This project is under way using a Salesforce-recommended third-party developer. The combination of Salesforce.com and iLeads is compelling for exhibitors and the reaction to iLeads introduction has been enthusiastic.

Like Benioff describes in his book, we had our own “incredible awakening” one night and, as a result, at Bartizan, we have started our own revolution in the exhibition world.

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