I’ve gone to my fair share of conferences during my career. Collected countless pens, stress balls, and koozies. Pocketed hundreds of business cards, lip balms, and tiny pads of paper. Took home tons of tote bags, cell phone holders, and keychains.
One thing I didn’t do, however, was spend much time thinking about all the prep time that vendors logged in advance of these events. Aside from ordering the swag and booking the travel arrangements, I sort of thought vendors just showed up, sat at their tables, and waited for people to come by (and in some cases, I wasn’t wrong).
What I learned during this week’s chat with Seth is that if a vendor wants to have a truly successful conference experience, they need to be purposeful and prepared in their approach. They should have clear objectives for what they hope to gain from being at the event, along with a methodology to know if those goals are being met. In other words, you can’t just arrive at your booth and hope that something will happen. You need a plan, and in this week’s Conversations from the Corner Office, we talked about how to create one that works for the commercial real estate industry.
Seth Garber – Historically, what we’d do in other industries was this – you’d be at your booth with your team and you’d try to schedule appointments to meet people. Your sales team would do a lot of pitching so you’d have to have your speech down cold. However, in CRE our plan is not to just pitch – our goal is to show a demo. Typically, the vendor-to-company ratio is good at CRE conferences. There’s not a ton of vendors so you have more time to spend building interpersonal relationships and friendships, and helping your prospects gain a better understanding of your product.
SG – Definitely. The great thing about these conferences like the ones put on by ICSC is that they allow us as vendors to engage with the end user in some way, and all the companies that we want to meet with are right there on the tradeshow floor. Plus, our prospects are there with the mindset of doing deals, which saves a lot of time for all of us. They don’t have to talk to us a dozen times. We can determine in 15 minutes if it’s a good fit.
SG: The first thing we do is we get a list of the companies who are going to be there and then our sales teams gets to work getting meetings scheduled. One of the best things that can happen is that we get all our appointment slots filled going into the conference. That’s actually pretty typical for us.
SG – It’s a true multitiered approach. We have a world-class marketing team that helps us create pre-marketing automated mail sequences, social media campaigns, voicemails and custom landing pages where we integrate automated scheduling for our sales teams.
SG – No. Most companies will just send emails that say, “come by our booth” and that’s about it. We come at it from the position of how can we provide value? Our messaging is friendly – we’re not trying to hit them with the hard sell. We just want them to have a conversation with us and then we’ll find out whether our products make sense for their business.
SG – Ideally, we have our calendars full when we arrive. We set up appointments in 30-minute blocks so our sales team realistically will do between 8-10 appointments each day. Plus, we don’t just have people stop by our booth – we’ll go do demos for them at their booths. The great thing about these types of conferences is you can go directly to where your prospects are, ask for time with them, and get an appointment scheduled right there on the spot. And throughout the event, we’re constantly tracking our metrics and our ROI.
Another strategy that works well for us is that that we always bring along a member of our Client Success Team. Because we’re so ingrained in the industry, our current customers will often stop by our booth and this is critical because we’re not there only to sell new business but also to support our customers. Client Success can also make real-time changes to their accounts and answer questions they might have.
SG – I’d say our booth activity is about 75 percent existing customers stopping by to say hello or find out about our new products. They actually provide a great service in that they can talk with our prospects about how they use our software – sometimes our customers end up being better at selling than we are!
SG – One of the funniest things I’ve seen was a company that had a guy who created balloon hats with their company name on it. You’d just see all these people walking around with giant balloons on their heads – it was great advertising for them. Another great idea is reaching out to your local humane society and having them come in and fill your booth with puppies – because who doesn’t want to go to a booth filled with puppies? It’s a huge opportunity to promote pet adoption while attracting people to your booth, and the humane society will manage all of it.
SG – We typically run another automated email campaign encouraging people who were at the conference to reach out to us. We also follow up with the people we actually met to deepen the relationship, whether they’re existing customers or new prospects. When we look at ROI, we’re typically very successful. We never lose money on a conference, and not everyone can say that.
SG – You have to create a stringent accountability and spend plenty of time planning on the front end – we’re talking months in advance, depending on what the conference is. Then you need to stick to your plan. A lot of companies do have good plans in place, but they get to the event and then things get lax. You have to stay focused on your strategy and maintain accountability throughout. And don’t only measure conference success by how many sales you make. It’s not just about the bottom line – it’s also about what happens 30, 60, or 90 days later. The foundation can be laid at the conference, but it’s important to keep the conversation going. It could pay off in ways you won’t even imagine.
What are your best conference strategies? Leave them in the comments below.
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