Prospecting During a Conference - as an Attendee, Speaker, or Booth Sponsor
In our last blog post we shared five tips for lead prospecting that you can use before you head to a conference as part of your overall outbound sales strategy. To follow up, we wanted to dig into three ways that you may be participating (and investing) in a conference and the lead prospecting strategies and tips you can consider using during the big show.
Prospecting at a Conference - If You’re an Attendee
Ideally, you’ll have booked several meetings before the conference even starts. Whether you have or not, here are a few things to keep in mind to make the most of your time.
Don’t come with a hard sell.
Both in your meetings and when you meet people around the conference, ask questions. Let people talk about themselves and their businesses. Use this time to determine whether they’d be a good customer for your company.
Many of the people you’ll talk to are getting pitched all day, and they’ll shut down if it looks like you’re trying to make a sale. Just see if they might be a good fit for your business. If they are, make a later appointment to talk about it in more detail.
One of the best questions you can ask up front is, “Why did you personally want to attend this conference?” Inevitably they will bring up the company they work for and why the conference was a fit. But you will also receive some human, personal insight into what makes them tick and what their motivations are for attending a conference.
Do they like to attend every educational session they possibly can? Do they maybe hit a few sessions and get some work done in between? Are they there to let loose at the happy hours, networking, and after parties? Understand their motivations, take mental notes, and use these motivations in your follow up communication.
Respect people’s time.
Conference attendees aren’t there just to talk to you. They have other meetings, sessions, and presentations to attend. Keep your meetings short.
This is also a great way to get people to say “yes” when you ask if they have time for a chat—most people can spare 15 minutes, but few are willing to block out an hour.
That’s plenty of time to see if someone might be a good prospect. If they are, suggest catching up at a later date to discuss it in more detail. That’s all. No need to lay out pricing, discuss implementation, or even list off a bunch of benefits.
Attend conference-adjacent events.
Depending on the conference, you might be surrounded by thousands of people vying for the attention of the same prospects you are targeting and who are all doing the same (or a variation of) prospecting techniques as you at the conference. It’s a crowded battlefield.
Another way to connect with leads on a more personal level is by attending events happening just outside the perimeter of the conference center and schedule. Many companies expand their presence off the expo floor for innovative, no-stress events that allow for networking and connection outside the conference environment. For example, SPJ Go-To-Market Accelerator hosts “Startup Suite” events usually a block away from large conferences at a nice hotel suite where they invite their startup founders, C-Level executives, thought leaders, and partners to attend fireside chats, meetings, and happy hours throughout the week of the conference.
You can find these events by searching the conference hashtag on social sites, looking at meetup groups, checking out sponsor social sites, and following industry influencers that are attending the conference. These will all likely reveal an event or two happening offsite that is open for you to attend.
Invite your highest-quality prospects to join you at one of these events or ask which ones they might be attending and tag along. You never know - you might make some very valuable connections for your pipeline that you wouldn’t have inside the conference walls.
Prospecting at a Conference - If You’re Speaking
Being a speaker, panel participant, or panel moderator is a great way to find prospects at a conference. Because you’ll be up on stage (or seated at a panel), you have very high visibility. Also, speaking makes you an insider: you’ll meet other speakers and leaders in your industry as well as get to know the conference organizers.
But you need to walk a fine line.
Captive audiences want stories not advertisements
You should consider every single person who chooses to attend your session, panel, or lightning talk a high-quality lead. They have chosen to essentially enter your funnel, in person. Therefore you aren’t going to give them a glossy “sales deck” presentation - they are ready for education.
Forget the pitch and come with customer case studies. Your talk should be all about how your product or service solved a very specific problem for your customer(s). If the leads sitting in those session chairs can connect to those same problems, they will convert into post-conference engagements.
Get your prospects involved
The worst thing you could possibly do at the beginning of a speaking session is to jump right into the presentation talking about yourself and your company. They already know who you are and what you do - your bio was posted on the conference website next to your speaking session highlights.
Use this opportunity to get to know your prospects, and just like any good outbound sales strategist, gather some useful data! One technique could be to have everyone stand up in the room and start to ask “qualifying” questions - example, “Sit down if you use X.” Or, “Sit down if you have X problem.” And continue to ask until a single person is left standing and make them your “teacher’s pet” throughout the talk.
Another useful data gathering tool is to use polling technology throughout your talk. Presentation Guru gives 10 tools that you can use to get instant feedback from your audience. Many of these then deliver the data directly to you including attendee email addresses, names, companies, and job titles.
Prospecting at a Conference - If You’re a Booth Sponsor
Here come the crowds! The keynote speaker just wrapped up and the flood of attendees is washing ashore onto the exhibit floor. If you’re manning a booth at a conference, it’s important to understand that leads won’t be throwing themselves at your feet. You’ll have to work hard to find the right people. And sometimes you’ll find that the right people just aren’t showing up. That’s the nature of this type of conference prospecting.
That being said, you will talk to a lot of people. So it’s important to make sure that you’re talking to the right people.
Pre-qualify booth visitors right away.
One of the best things you can do is ask pre-qualification questions as soon as someone shows up at your booth.
If you sell electronic healthcare record software, consider opening with something like “Hi! Are you looking to convert from paper to digital records?” Some of the people will say “yes,” and you’ll know to give them your attention. This is a little different than the question we suggested above when you are an attendee - reason being that it is acceptable to be a little more “business-forward” at the booth. After all, if someone is walking up to your booth, they aren’t naive that this is a sales opportunity for you.
A good guideline to know if you are talking or “pitching” too much is to follow the 80/20 rule - you should be listening to what your prospect has to say 80 percent of the conversation while you are only talking 20 percent of the time. And avoid a prepared pitch - you will sound lifeless and robotic. Let them talk and respond accordingly.
But you’ll also get people that say “no, I wanted to grab this free pen” or “no, I’m just wandering.” You don’t need to stonewall those people, but you also don’t need to give them much of your valuable mental energy.
Discover who the decision makers are
Just like when you are an attendee having prospect conversations, the same goes for the booth - this is not the time to close a sale. I know, gasp! You are investing all this money in a booth and sponsorship and you may walk away from a conference without a single contract signed.
Depending on your ideal buyer, the buying process at their company could take weeks. They aren’t ready to sign on the dotted line right there on the expo floor. They might need to involve other decision makers, possibly a procurement department, and may want to show a demo to their team.
The booth is an opportunity to discover the steps in their buying process as well. If you are having a very productive conversation with a prospect, the ask or call to action that you may give them is to help you understand, “who else can I share this demo / product / service with on your team?” And from there you will understand who the decision makers are to follow up with post-conference.
Make Human Connections
We’ve said it a few times and we’ll say it again: conferences aren’t for selling.
And in the end, they’re about more than going from person to person checking off items on a prospecting list. Conferences and industry events are for making connections. Some of those connections may become customers.
But others will refer to you to their contacts. Or give you a tip on another great industry event. Or be a great hire for your company in the future. You absolutely never know what you’re going to get from a great connection.
So go easy on the selling and be more strategic about your prospecting during a conference. Filling your pipeline is definitely the goal. But there are many ways to go about it at a conference. Be a real person, approach people without pitching hard, and you’ll leave the conference with a lot more than you came with.
Many of the people you’ll talk to are getting pitched all day, and they’ll shut down if it looks like you’re trying to make a sale. Just see if they might be a good fit for your business.