You’re planning to attend a conference. This means you’re taking at least one day off work, plus expenses like travel and often tickets. You want to make the most of your time and money, but how?
As a team we have attended hundreds of events so we sat down with Gavin Page, our VP of business development, to offer you ways to not only make the most of any tech event you attend, but to use it as a way to position you and your brand as a thought leader in your tech niche.
Step One: Try to Speak at It.
Yes, this takes planning ahead, but you definitely get the most out of any event by being on stage, participating in a panel or a talk. You can always do a sponsored talk, but it’s good to try to reply to Calls for Speakers, which comes with notoriety and a free ticket or two.
What should you talk about? So long as you wear your logo-ed tee, it doesn’t really matter as long as it’s interesting. Nobody likes a product pitch or demo, so tell your story — or better yet, invite a satisfied customer or user and have them tell their story! Applying this proof of work and use cases gives you more credibility.
Especially if you are selling to developers, you speaking is brand awareness enough, so instead of trying to push your product down them, do something interesting — I’ve a friend who does crazy Alexa hacks — and then just at the end remind the engaged audience what your product is and where to find your stand.
Nervous to talk the first time? A Meetup is a great way to practice your talk and potentially recruit local developers.
Step Two: Get a Stand.
Or a specific location that’s easy to find with seats. Preferably both. And have a team member stay there, the whole time.
Take photos of that location — with humans, preferably a mix of your team and interested others — and share it everywhere with specifics, especially on your company Twitter (then retweet as individuals) and on your individual LinkedIn profiles. Some conferences like Mobile World Congress are ginormous so any detail, like next to X eatery is key. Add to that, being near to food or coffee makes for a more fun location.
Gavin reminds us that you don’t need to spend your whole marketing budget on swag — who needs another stress ball, anyway? You just need A5 fliers that simply highlight your unique value proposition, your product fit within sectors and address the challenges of your prospects. Make sure to include an easy-to-type, custom URL (using a tool like bit.ly) that you can use to track your effort
You still want to gain prospects’ permission to continue marketing to them. Gavin recommends offering something that’s of great value but doesn’t cost you ahead of the conference, like performing the service of scoping or status assessment or a digital environment analysis, as a valuable prize draw.
Step Three: Become a Sponsor.
This is a great step for brand awareness and recruitment. It also helps with achieving Steps One and Two, and usually includes all-access tickets that give you places to conduct small meetings.
Remember to be cautious in deciding which events to sponsor because you will probably only have budget for a few a year. Decide which conferences attract the most of your prospective users or employees, and invest wisely in them.
Step Four: Promote. Promote. Promote!
Two weeks before any event (or longer for the big ones), start promoting how you’re attending. Use the conference hashtag. Post on individual LinkedIn profiles. Send a newsletter out to your prospect and customer lists, and then a follow-up a few days ahead.
“Your whole team should be sending out to your community,” even if you can’t attend. Gavin says it’s easily explainable like “Actually I can’t make it but my CEO is there.”
“Just push out the message that we are going to be there,” he continues.
Speaking at the event? That’s your hook. Want to cross-promote partners? Talk about them too.
Try to plan meetings as far in advance as possible to make the most of your time. Gavin says that anyone who is performing any lead generation for you should be ending calls, asking if the prospect is attending the event and try to close a meeting. And why not put a banner in everyone’s email signature.
Step Five: Network. Network. Network!
Besides your time on stage or perhaps learning from other speakers (whose findings you share amply on Twitter with the conference hashtag), your conference time should be spent talking to your current customers — see if you can grab video testimonials! —, your potential customers, and your prospective integration and strategic partners.
It’s rare to get a list ahead of who is attending an event, but hashtags are free. Who is tweeting about attending the event ahead? Which key partners are sponsoring and who is speaking?
Add people on LinkedIn and try to schedule ahead.
Don’t forget that press attends conferences too. If you have anything exciting to announce, make sure to contact the main names in your field again.
Step Six: Plan your follow-up game.
Tech startup mentor and our CEO Rick Pizzoli reminds us that right after you meet a lead, pause a minute to take notes about your discussion.
“This will be critical for your memory, and showing the lead that you listened and care about what they have to say,” Rick says.
Then, have a clear company policy for capturing those leads and business cards in a CRM.
Plan to start your follow-up starting the week following the event, prioritizing your leads and setting tasks for additional follow-up if they don’t respond to the first.
Rick also reminds us that “If your company receives hundreds of leads and you don’t have the resources to process, we [at Sales Force Europe] can help with event-focused callers to work this list.”
And don’t forget to add everyone you meet on LinkedIn, via a computer not mobile app so you can add a friendly but copy-pastable note like “Nice to meet you at MWC!” before hitting Connect.
Any other tricks for making the most out of working the conference circuit? Tell us in the comments below. And will you be at this year’s Mobile World Congress or any other awesome tech event we should be at? Let us know, we’d love to meet up!