It’s baaaaack! Conference season in the Market Research industry, that is… in the US and around the world.

There are a lot of reasons to put these events on your calendar… but the three biggest reasons for participating in conferences are:

  • Networking
  • Speaking
  • Exhibiting

Let’s explore how to get the most out of each of these strategies this conference season.

NETWORKING

I strongly believe – even with all of the technology that surrounds us – that we are still in the “people business.” And the opportunity to connect face-to-face with people at a conference is one of the best ways to start and accelerate a relationship. So, to that end, here are several tips to make sure you connect…

  • Take LOTS of business cards… running out of them is not an option!
  • Create and practice your basic 4-step elevator pitch (winging it is not allowed!):
    • Who you are and who you work for
    • What your firm does
    • Your target audience and the primary problem you solve for them
    • What makes your firm unique; this is difficult – which is why most people skip it – but it’s the most memorable aspect of the pitch
  • Do you know of any key clients or prospects who will be there? If so, reach out to them to get on their calendar while at the conference.
  • Consider wearing a logo’d garment… you never know who might see it and start a conversation.
  • Dedicate time to walking through the exhibit hall and talking to exhibitors. The latest tools and technologies come from these companies – and might open the gateway to developing new services at your firm.
  • Take networking notes. After meeting with someone and swapping business cards, most people stick the card in their pocket and move on; some might scribble a note on the back; I suggest talking a little 3”x5” notepad with you and writing down more detailed comments following each conversation. After meeting with 20, 30, 40 or more people over 2 or 3 days, there’s no way you’ll remember all of the conversations (and certainly any of the details) – unless you take notes.
  • [And what most people DON’T do:] Follow-up! As soon as you get back to the office, make sure all of the business card data is entered into your CRM system. Then, go back to your 3”x5” notepad and begin prioritizing and planning out your follow-up. Also, where appropriate, invite the people you met with to connect on LinkedIn.

Networking is very uncomfortable for a lot of people. Are you one of them? It’s OK… almost everyone else at an event feels the same way. So, shine your shoes, smile and go shake some hands. I promise good things will happen as a result!

Want some additional ideas? Download “13 Tips for Becoming a Networking Rockstar” from our Cup of Coffee Tip Sheets™ series.

SPEAKING

Speaking at a conference (even if you have to “pay to play”) is one of the best ways to build awareness for you and your firm, as well as establish and cement your reputation as an SME – Subject Matter Expert. So, if you’re speaking this Fall, follow these guidelines to get the most from your presentation:

  1. It starts with a good PowerPoint deck. And by ‘good,’ I mean:
    1. Heavy on images: it must be visually appealing
    2. Very few words: PPT decks are not meant to be read, but to be a ‘guide’ for your presentation; if all you’re going to do is read the slides… why are you even there?
    3. And don’t sell! No exceptions!
  2. Don’t allow the presentation to become a lecture. Let the attendees know it’s OK to ask questions and share remarks.
  3. Regularly, throughout the presentation, ask questions of the attendees – to draw them into the conversation.
  4. Tell stories, particularly about other people/firms who were involved in what you’re speaking about. Storytelling is the #1 way to get attendees to ‘connect’ with your message.
  5. Employ activities to break up the ‘monotony’ of the presentation; this could be a written exercise, one where attendees interact with each other, etc.
  6. Get to the room early and welcome the first of the attendees as they arrive in the room. Then, during the presentation, use their names and anything else you may have learned. That is… make the presentation personal.

If there’s a theme above for successful in-person presentations, it’s this… to “treat the audience as people, not just as anonymous faces.” Do that, and the presentation becomes a lot more enjoyable for them… and you!

EXHIBITING

I’m a big fan of exhibiting… done right, exhibiting can be an outstanding marketing vehicle and can help you to generate highly-qualified sales leads, launch a new product or service, generate market awareness and supports your association. Here are some Before-During-After tips to get you started…

Part 1: BEFORE the event

There’s a lot of preparation that goes into exhibiting at an event… and it starts months before:

  • Read the exhibitors’ manual… everything you need to know is in there.
  • Pull your display out of hibernation… take a look at it to make sure it’s still current.
  • Check your booth supplies – make sure you’ve got plenty of pens, business cards, note pads, sales literature, etc.
  • Staffing… who’s going to go? And are they trained to ‘work the booth?’

Part 2: DURING the event

Sadly, most firms have no idea how to effectively ‘work a show.’ They pop up their booth, set down a table and a couple of chairs, print some literature and think they’re ready. Virtually no thought goes into how to create an experience inside the booth that generates a very positive perception in the eyes of everyone who visits. Here are some tips to help you do that…

  • No chairs allowed! Never sit. When sitting, you look lazy and uninterested – and prospective clients will sense this and walk on by.
  • No eating or drinking in the booth – it looks unprofessional and you certainly don’t want to spill your drink.
  • Never put a table across the front of your booth. It creates a barrier between you and a prospective client.
  • Consider a ‘uniform’… have the entire booth team wear polo shirts in your corporate colors and with a logo.
  • Use a form to record info from every booth visitor; attach their business card to it and then add in details about their interests.
  • Silence your cell phone. You do not want a good conversation with a prospective client to be interrupted.
  • Keep breath mints handy… for obvious reasons.
  • Finally, don’t break down early. You never know who will walk by at the last minute. And if you have a flight to catch… change your flight!

Part 3: AFTER the event

There really is only one thing to worry about after an event… follow-up! That’s it. The question is, what’s the best way to do that? Here are some proven ideas to help get you started on the right path…

  • Immediately after you get back to the office, gather the booth staff to review every lead from the event… one by one.
  • Make sure every name is entered into your CRM for future marketing… and make a note that you “met them at the XYZ conference.”
  • Sort all leads into Hot – Warm – Cool. Then assign each lead to whoever will be responsible for follow-up. Their job is to then follow-up with all of their leads in the appropriate manner.  
  • Hot leads should be followed up with ASAP. And that doesn’t mean in a couple of weeks… that means no more than a couple of days – before the contacts forget they even met you.
  • Did you agree to schedule a follow-up appointment with any of your booth visitors? Don’t delay… jump on those right away.

One last thing… ROI for exhibiting is difficult to measure. That’s why it’s important to track your leads from the conference for an extended period of time – 6-12-18 months – following the event. It requires some discipline, but because of the long sales cycles in our industry, it’s important to stick with it.

Want some additional ideas? Download “Exhibitor Checklist: 20+ Ways to Ensure Success at Your Next Event” from our Cup of Coffee Tip Sheets™ series.

SUMMARY

Participating in events as outlined above can be – and should be – a critical part of your sales & marketing efforts. Done effectively, your involvement can:
Help to position and differentiate your firm in the marketplace.

  • Establish and cement your personal reputation.
  • Build a level of awareness that’s difficult to achieve with other tactics.
  • Reconnect you – in person – with existing clients and prospects to help nurture those relationships.
  • Generate a large number of qualified sales leads… not just names on a list, but prospective buyers with whom you had the chance to personally meet.

So, now that you know what to do… go have a great “conference season!”