Ian’s Articles available on Forbes.com
Each time I speak at a business conference, I take the time to visit the vendor exhibit area. I see sales and marketing professionals unleash approaches to create awareness, attract customers, and win business. Sadly, in most cases, businesses waste a ton of time and resources at events without producing results. On a recent podcast, I shared the three proven ways to ensure success at your next business conference.
The Measuring Numbers Fallacy
By the time you get to an event your company has typically invested a small fortune just to have you there. From hotels to airfare to marketing materials and the booth itself, presenting your organization at live events can be costly. And because in most cases many people aren’t properly prepared prior to attending an event, it doesn’t pay off as much as it could.
Too many organizations are content with the typical marketing department’s direction: get as many business cards as possible. The goal is to simply get there, talk to as many people as possible, collect as much information from as many of those people as possible and then follow up post-event.
This approach is extremely ineffective and one of the biggest mistakes I see people making when attending events. Rather than blindly gathering as many business cards as possible, take the time to prepare in advance. Know who is going to be there, and be willing to invest the capital to find out. Once you know who is attending you can send a note to potential attendees who might be a fit for you.
According to Derek Coburn, author of Networking Is Not Working and cofounder of high-value Un-networking group, CADRE says, “Effective networking happens when you never lose sight of your most important connections, and constantly seek where you can be of service to them.” When you serve others, they quickly see where you can be helpful.
Consider the profile of your ideal client who would be attending. Instead of thinking about generic demographic data like company size or industry, define specifically the symptoms your ideal client would be facing. For example, if you have a novel medical device, work on messaging that would describe the problems on conditions that your ideal customer would be facing. Instead of targeting every medical facility who might want a new device, you want to attract the ones who experience a loss of patients or reduced reimbursements because they lack the properties the device delivers.
Plan In Advance
Once you know the problems you are good at solving, reach out to the job titles of the people in attendance who are likely to be experiencing those challenges. Instead of inviting people to see your new device, invite them to discuss the problems and new approaches to overcome those challenges. Attendees want to know how you can help solve their problems, they don’t care about your latest and greatest anything unless it solves a significant issue they are dealing with. If you can find out their issue (or issues), you’ll be in a much better position to discover if they are a good fit for you and if you can do business together.
Set Proper Goals
Once at the conference or trade show, your goal with a new prospect is to entice interest, qualify, and then if they are a good prospect, schedule the next steps. A mistake many people make is that the first qualified prospect at the conference gets you so excited that you ignore the dozen people behind them. The person in front of you might be a good prospect on a scale from 0-10 of an 8. The person behind them might be an 11. I often refer to this as a catch-and-release program. You might even take a team approach to hand-off the highly qualified prospects to someone else who can focus their time on the most qualified prospects. Don’t let one potential client monopolize your time. It’s also rude to think that they should give all of their time to you and your product or service. Simply suggesting, “I look forward to continuing our discussion, and certainly don’t want to monopolize your time at the show,” can go a long way toward building trust and demonstrating respect.
In the podcast episode, Growing Your Revenue Through Conferences and Trade Shows I also uncover how to use predictive tools to uncover the best opportunities to produce tremendous results at trade shows.
Make It Human
However you engage with your prospects, do it in a personal, human way. For example at one conference event my team from a prior company, chartered a sailboat trip for the day for eight clients. During our day, we didn’t discuss business or our products and services. We simply connected on a human level. They appreciated being able to enjoy the day, and that we created a remarkable experience for them. Over the next year, we did business with seven of the eight participants. Of course, we know those eight all fit the right profile of clients facing issues we excelled at solving.
At a recent event where I was the keynote speaker, one of the sponsors scheduled a deep-dive session with their ideal clients to discuss my keynote topic informally for their specific businesses. The attendees appreciated the value the sponsor was providing for them, and it paid off by building trust between the sponsor and their potential clients.
It’s Your Turn
What methods have you seen work well at conferences or trade shows? Which methods do you see as an attendee that serve to repel your interest instead of attract it?