Conferences can be a great environment for meeting new people, catching up with industry colleagues, and, of course, parties. But let’s face it: you wouldn’t pay to exhibit at a conference unless you are trying to grow your business. Conferences are a fantastic source of leads yet so many exhibitors end up with zero additional revenue when they look back at their results. Why does this happen? Simple: most people have never spent time building a conference strategy. Don’t let that be you. Here are some techniques that will ensure you have a productive and profitable conference:
Before The Conference
- Research and Connect
The best thing you can do before a conference is research the attendee list. Conferences like Cosmoprof have developed tools to allow vendors to connect with buyers and distributors beforehand to plan their meeting schedules. Don’t skimp on building a robust profile on these types of platforms – buyers form their first impression about your business from these tools.
Taking advantage of pre-conference tools can be the difference between a successful conference and a mediocre one.
- Make sure your outreach message is personalized
There is nothing more annoying to a buyer than a message they can tell has been copy and pasted one hundred times to a hundred other buyers. Take some time to personalize your message to each buyer. Think about it: would you rather have five high quality, strong leads or 100 sent messages that result in zero leads?
- Study how to sell
This may sound basic but there are tons of business owners who pay tens of thousands of dollars to exhibit at conferences and yet neglect to study how to best sell to their targets. The best way to study is to work with an experienced conference salesperson but the best thing you can do in lieu of that is buy a copy of The Sales Bible by Jeffrey Gitomer. It’s by far the highest ROI business investment you will ever make.
During The Conference
- Know who you’re talking to
Imagine this scenario: you were just having a great conversation with someone who came to your booth – the person asked lots of great questions, seemed to understand exactly what you were doing, and overall was a fun person to talk to. But you made one big mistake: you didn’t ask who they were. Guess what? Turns out that person was your competitor and you just gave them a bunch of useful information.
This is elementary advice but so many folks neglect to follow it: Find out who you’re talking to as early as possible in the conversation – you’ll discover that you’re better able to speak to the prospect’s needs and concerns when you know the perspective they’re coming from.
Plus, conversations go better when you know the other person’s name 🙂
- Listen twice as much as you talk
This is related to the advice above but I’ve seen too many companies think a pitch is 100% about telling.
This is completely backwards – if anything, a “pitch” is about understanding the needs of who you’re talking to and figuring out if there’s anything you or your company can do to solve those problems.
How are you going to find out what the prospect needs? By asking questions and then shutting up. Trust me on this one – you need to listen more than speak if you want to sell effectively.
- Make sure to discuss next steps AND get their contact information
After having a great conversation, the best thing you can do (other than closing a deal on the spot) is to discuss follow up steps. The biggest mistake you can make at that point is not exchanging contact information with the prospect. Exchanging business cards is the easiest method but if you’re out of cards or don’t have them, use anything to exchange contact information: your cell phone, a scrap of paper, a friend’s business card – use anything.
Exchanging contact information is crucial if you’re using the conference to sell or generate leads (and why else would you be exhibiting?).
After The Conference
- Follow-up with the people you met
There is one difference between companies that close deals and those that just have lots of leads in their pipeline that don’t close. That difference is follow up. The best companies have a system for following up that doesn’t come across as too pushy but keeps them top of mind as their prospects search for ways to solve their problems.
I call this follow-up strategy elegant persistence. If you’re too pushy, the prospect is going to start ignoring your emails (or even mark them as spam) but if you neglect to follow up, they’re going to completely forget that you exist.
The best follow-up strategy I’ve seen is to be helpful to your prospects…for free. If you see an article that’s relevant to what they’re working on, send it to them. Of course, this tactic has its limits too – don’t send an article every day – but trust me, this is way better than pestering your prospect weekly about “that deal we discussed”. People buy when they have to, not when it’s most convenient for you.
If you’re exhibiting at a conference and want to get the most return on your investment, let me know by sending me an email at [email protected]. I’ve been on both sides of conference selling – I’ve been an exhibitor and now am a buyer/distributor, representing clients like The Estee Lauder Companies. We’ll work together to devise a conference sales strategy that will result in more leads, better conversations, and ultimately, more business for you.
More about Neil Soni
By utilizing a dual technical and business background, I’ve built, grown, and created ventures – both within large organizations and as an entrepreneur. Most recently, I’ve helped build and grow Estee Lauder’s External Innovation capabilities, working across business units, brands, and R&D to identify technical and business gaps, build innovation pipelines, and ultimately, create and execute on innovation strategy.
Before joining Estee Lauder, I led the growth team at MomTrusted.com, a venture capital backed social marketplace for education and care. The company leverages the social graph to create a social commerce platform. I took over the growth role when the company was in the pre-revenue stage and helped grow it to a profitable business with thousands of customers, over 3M users, and over 15M monthly impressions.
Prior to MomTrusted, I founded and ran CollegeZen, an innovative platform that leveraged the social graph to help high school students connect with and learn from peer mentors attending colleges of interest. This effort caught the attention of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which named CollegeZen one of the worldwide winners of the College Knowledge Challenge. I was also named a Finalist for Entrepreneur Magazine’s College Entrepreneur of the Year for my work at CollegeZen.
I currently work with a variety of groups in the innovation ecosystem, including startups, venture funds, accelerators, and large brands.
Email Neil at [email protected] to find out how you can make the most of your conference investment!