Trade-Show Card Swipes and Sales Followups

Shop owners explain in detail to a salesman how they feel about follow-up calls from trade show vendors. March 26, 2010

I am a salesman who recently worked at the AWFS show in Vegas. I am curious as to why people ask to have their badge swiped to get more information, then get mad when I call and/or do not return calls or respond to emails. You were the one who asked for more information and I am just trying to get you what you asked for. Thanks in advance for your responses.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor G:
Perhaps you are mistaken as to what is in fact being asked for. Wouldn't you imagine that some folks were expecting a mailing giving details of your product that they can peruse at their leisure and are reacting poorly to a sales call for a product that they have yet to decide they are interested in? I don't view your job as selling, but as facilitating purchasing, once I have made a decision that I might be able to use your machine/service/program, etc.

I prefer detailed product literature and if not an operator's manual, then a web link to one, instead of a call. Too often I get a time wasting call from a salesman who, while assuring me that the product will do the most amazing things and will solve my every problem, actually does not have a clue if the item will do what I want.

I also prefer pricing information. Then I will contact you if I have further questions or interest. I also do not like a half dozen calls asking if I have made my mind up yet. None of this may apply to you or your product/service, but this is a possible reason that people who request more information are unresponsive to your calling.

From contributor M:
It is unfortunate, but the lack of basic decency going around is amazing. Of course, sometimes the day is simply not long enough to do all that needs to be done, let alone return calls. Still, to get mad when one originates the contact, well... There are times also when one stops to browse something in a booth and the attendants practically grab your card. I would think you are not one of those people.

Of course, there is the persistent sandpaper salesman, who keeps calling even though you tell him you don't use enough to bother, but who continues to call nonetheless, even if you ask not to be called again. Time to get mad then.

From contributor C:
You mean the sandpaper salesman that called and offered me a "free grill" (just add my own propane tank) if I simply placed an initial order for almost $400 of sandpaper? I don't know how many times I told him I did not want a grill, but he kept pushing how much I could barbecue at one time, before I told him to move on to his next call and hung up on him.

Oh, yeah. It had nothing to do with AWFS. The call came weeks before the show.

I agree with contributor G on the purpose of allowing an exhibitor to scan my card. I am usually after the printed catalog/materials to be mailed to me for a couple of reasons. 1) I do not want to carry a ton of materials around the show floor all day long, and have to try to pack all of those materials in my luggage (if I flew to the show). 2) I want to be able to read the catalogs/materials at my convenience before I decide if I am truly interested in these products/services for my business.

By the way, over the years I have learned to resist the salesperson who simply wants to "scan my card" so his numbers look good for his sales manager. I can generally decide on the spot if a product/service is appropriate for my business. Sometimes I am just curious what other folks in the industry are doing. I may stop, ask a few questions, but politely refuse to allow my card to be scanned. Please don't take offense to folks who do this. We just saved your company (and us) a lot of time, money, and effort by letting you know we are not interested in purchasing.

As far as the newbies to the shows, there may always be folks who want to have everyone scan their card. Then, when all of the sales literature and phone calls arrive, and they are in over their heads, some will be rude. Don't take it personally. These folks didn't!

Finally, I have a couple of comments for all of the exhibitors. First, thank you for taking the time/dollars/effort to attend the shows and explain your product/services. And please remember that we, the attendees, also spent a fair amount of time/dollars/effort to be there.

Second, if you did scan my card, and promise to send a catalog/sample/literature, please do it! I remember those companies who failed to live up to their initial promise of sending me something. If you fail to live up to your word on something as simple as mailing me what you promised, how can I ever trust you as a reliable supplier to my business? (I don't care if your sales manager says, after the show, that it would cost too much to do what you promised. That decision should have been made before the show. Now you will never get any of my money.)

From contributor D:
I think many people at the trade shows are just looking. In fact, aren't these shows one massive tire kick? That said, most folks don't realize that when their card is scanned, they are agreeing to a call by you or your cohorts. Not that rude replies are appropriate for when you do call.

On the other side, I have had salesmen just eagle eye the registration card for the code as to how "important" you are, and never look you in the eye.

The show management likes this arrangement, because they can talk about all the leads the booth rental will provide, and your boss likes it because you will come back from the show with 60 days worth of leads to pursue. The harried shop owners and mangers get assaulted by about 75 calls, and are already under attack by every telemarketer and widget peddler under the sun.

I would prefer a two tier approach. One level of very interested, call me, and another that is less interested, I'd like a catalog or brochure beyond what I can get here at the show. Any individual can control this a bit at registration. Fill out your card so you are the purchaser of equipment for a 200 man shop, and you will get the Full Tilt treatment. Fill out as a one man shop, and even the guy at the Delta booth will yawn.

From contributor I:
I suspect people just don't understand the purpose of swiping the card. I have a special email account just for trade show registrations. This protects my business email box from exploding. I also do not give a phone number. Finally I only allow a few companies to swipe my card. I think I allowed 6 to 10 companies to swipe my card in Vegas. I said "No thank you" to a hundred! It is hard for me to talk to a rep then refuse their offer to swipe my card, but I don't want to waste my or their time.

I knew an old man who ran a large shop in Texas who had a unique way of dealing with sales guys. He and I would be sitting in the shade in front of the shop, or in his office shooting the breeze, and if a sales man pulled in the parking lot, he would watch them get their brief case and samples. As soon as the unsuspecting guy would turn to walk towards the office, the Old Man would holler (not yell, there is a difference) "Get the hell out of here!" The sales guy would turn around, get back in his car and drive away. The worst part is that this shop is like 30 miles north of Fort Worth, so the sales guy likely drove over an hour to get there.

I have to admit I thought it was really funny. But I could never do that myself.

From contributor N:
I, too, refuse to let booth personnel swipe my card. I don't want literature, don't want gimmes, don't want any calls in the future. I go to a show with a few specific items in mind, and occasionally I see something new and interesting.

But my goal is conservation - conserving my time, conserving resources that I know I will not be interested in, and conserving the hot air that sales droids are so full of. In all fairness, I used to work in sales, I know it is difficult, but if I am not a good lead, it is better to spend your time elsewhere.

From contributor S:
They asked for more information and only for more information. They did not ask you to call them, and they never promised you to answer any of your emails or return any of your calls. They don't have to. And if you are too persistent, there is less chance they will get back to you. All you need to do is mail (not email) them the information they asked for and wait; they will get back to you if they have any interest in your product.

From contributor B:
When I go to the show, I'm there for information that I want to put in my library unless it's something I'm really hot after, so I ask them to swipe my card. I resist letting everyone swipe the card. I don't want to lug around a bunch of pamphlets all day. And I'm okay with one follow up call - they're just doing their job, but only after I've received the information. If we have a need, we can continue.

Speaking of show etiquette, I won't start talking until they finish reading my name tag. It's rude to talk to the top of their head and they aren't listening anyway. Sometimes, I'll put my name badge in the badge holder upside down just to see them turn their heads over or I'll put the card in the holder in front of my name so they can't read it. I've worked many shows from the booth side and understand you want to know who you are talking to, but there is a way to introduce yourself and get a name without staring at someone's name tag.

From contributor R:
Here is a bit more from the other side of the saw fence. As a salesman, I am often at trade shows. After a couple of decades in the business, I cannot place every face I have met, so I look at the card first to see who you are. No dishonest intention or underhanded game is being played. I just want to jog my memory.

As to the literature, it costs companies thousands of dollars to print all the guides, manuals, and samples you require to make your decision. If you have asked for this information, please have the courtesy to answer at least one follow up call on the mailing. We are trying to judge your level of interest and answer any questions that the literature brought up. After that one call, the salespeople should not call again unless you ask them to. If they do, they deserve whatever you give them.

As to the sandpaper guy, he gives all the professional salespeople a black eye.

Lastly, this economy has given us all one thing: more time. Now is the time to evaluate new vendors, new products and ideas. If you are refusing the salespeople at the door you are also turning away new ideas, market information, and the best source of local industry knowledge. Yes, some are schmucks and fools, but some are worth every minute of your attention. Now is the time to learn.

From contributor K:
Sometimes it's how you say it. May I suggest...

"Hi, Mrs. Smith, this is Mike from XYZ Company... we met at the convention in Whatever Town... and my guess is you probably don't remember me right off the bat, right? Well, we provide XYZ Widgets, and with all the activity at the convention, you requested that I follow up with you in regard to scheduling an appointment to see how we can help you. You even gave me your card to swipe... Is it starting to ring a bell? When's a good time to get together, earlier or later in the week? Earlier? Okay... Do you prefer Monday or Tuesday... 9 or 10am better for you? Great, I'll see you then... and don't worry, I won't bother filling your inbox with brochures. But if you get curious between now and then, our website is Besides, I'm probably the best brochure they have..."

Keep a smile on your face throughout the conversation, as people can hear inflection in your voice. Get as much info as they will voluntarily give you on the phone, but keep it light.

From contributor I:
I have experienced show remorse before, where I let my badge be swiped at too many places. Anymore, I just put my fax number on my card; that takes care of any calls. If you want to talk to me, email is my preferred method of communication. Give me some links to back up what you say (a salesman says just about anything).

And finally, I wholeheartedly agree with the time thing. I usually have about a dozen things that need to be done today, and only time to do about 6 of them, and when sales people call, it does nothing more than reduce my time down to getting 5 of those things done. If you send an email, preferably with some informative links, that is the most helpful for me. Forget the printed stuff, I lose it anyway. I have folders in my email client where I store info that I really want to keep from sales people like you. If you call, I will forget everything you said and only remember that you interrupted my busy schedule. If you send printed literature, I will glance at it and place it near the trash can in case I have time to look at it before it falls in.

From contributor E:
When I was a show virgin I made the mistake of giving my info out to everybody, not thinking of the consequences. Lesson learned!

Don't over think it. Attendees get caught up in the moment when at a show and have "badge scan" remorse afterward. We were a vendor at a show a few months back. Only about 1/4 or our show leads took the time to talk with us or responded to our follow ups. The name of the game is volume and making a connection with a small percentage of the people you meet.

On the other side of the coin, I stopped by a couple of booths at AWFS asking specifically for sales aids materials so I could add their product to what we offer and sell their product to my clients. 4 out of the 5 I asked have sent nothing! I didn't ask for brochures or more info, I flat out said "I want to sell your product, get me info and sales aids out immediately." What a piss poor follow up performance by some vendors at the show.

From contributor V:
I attended the AWFS this year and exhibited for another company in 2007. A couple of things to keep in mind:

- The best prospects tend to lay low. They won't easily give up their contact info unless they're really interested in what you have. I know of several large cabinet companies who go to see the machinery reps but won't set foot near the other hall where the wood vendors are.

- Startups and tire kickers like to have their badges swiped because they want/need vendor contacts. Also, they may be fishing for information. Try to qualify them well. Often newbies will overstate their business to get you interested and go MIA when you try to follow up with them later.

- Being in a laid-back environment like Vegas makes people drop their guard a bit. When they get back into the office, the guard goes back up.

- Some people are not confrontational by nature. If you ask "Can I swipe your badge?" they will say yes even if they don't really want you to. They'll hide behind voicemail when you attempt to follow up.

It's not a rejection of you. Don't take it personally. If you're not being shot down once in a while, you're not trying hard enough.

From contributor G:
"They'll hide behind voicemail when you attempt to follow up." You make this sound like a cowardly act.

It is not a moral obligation for anyone with a phone to answer it at any time for anyone, or to call anyone back. As it was once said, "It's your nickel." If you choose to call, do so, but I don't have an obligation to listen.

Nowadays it seems as if it is expected that everyone must carry a telephone 24/7/365 and that we are obliged to speak at length to anyone about anything. Nonsense! It is my phone and I will speak to you if I feel like it. Having my number does not give you a right to my time and attention, nor does it imply any obligation on my behalf to speak to anyone.

Just send the catalog and forget about the calls, unless someone has actually asked to be called.

From contributor O:
I agree that no one should be a slave to their phone. I screen and selectively answer calls all day. It's a timesaver for sure. I do take some issue with telling someone that they can follow up and then not taking their call later. I wouldn't call it wrong or cowardly, but it's pretty lame.

I just want to let the questioner know it's not unusual post-tradeshow behavior. Contributor G's point is well taken - no one is obligated to take your call later. Come to the show prepared to impress!

From contributor G:
I agree with you. My angle was a bit different. You go to a show and someone asks if they may please swipe your card. Being brought up in the Midwest (I don't know how it goes in NYC or the west coast), you say sure. (I figure the guy gets paid by the number of swipes he gets.) I don't figure any part of that transaction involves my agreeing to answer a sales call, or return a sales call.

If I ask for a catalog, and the guy at the show says "Sure, let me swipe your card," I figure the same. I know it costs dollars to send out a catalog, so I figure that I am obliged to only ask for ones I intend to read, and read the ones that are sent. Still no obligation to discuss anything with the sales staff.

I know that catalogs cost money. An ex-wife used to ride the same bus into Chicago back in the eighties with a man who was involved in catalogue distribution for Montgomery Wards. Their big book cost at that time $11 buck each (circa 1980), and they sent a lot.

I will reverse the concept. Do the dollars spent on hiring salespeople to call everyone that swiped a card at a show make money? Each call must cost so many bucks. How does that compare to sales generated by the calls? (That requires that the sales folk break down the sales honestly and compare the number of sales they would have made without the calls from people who contact the company to initiate a sale) to those where the sale would not have taken place without the company initiated call?