Love them or hate them conferences are part of business life these days. Every industry has their specific conferences. Some of them are large some of them are small, some are well organized, others are less so but you do not know what you will get until you try. What we have written here is by no means a complete list of everything you are going to need to know about sales conferences but it’s just our thoughts and advice to try to help people and businesses get the most from them when they attend.
Have A Goal
This is probably one of the most important bits of advice that I could give to you, and it is something that often I am guilty of myself. A lot of people take the “let’s go and see what happens” or make their goal “get sales.” While admittedly the second goal is much better than the first one they are still not good enough. Know what you want to get out of the conference, and each conference can be something different. For example you could say my goal is to get 4 articles written about my business, get 8 customers and 8 re-sellers, build connections with 7 investors (most of these have a very “startup” feel to them because they are the goals me and my team have used at our most recent conferences).
It is important to understand what you are looking for, I have personally chased down every person I saw with a “media” badge at one conference because my goal was to get 4 articles written about the company (eventually I got 6 articles published), this may have meant I spoke to a lot of cameramen and photographers but I also spoke to a lot of journalists as well.
Having specific goals will focus your efforts and help you seek what you are looking for.
Wear comfortable shoes
Regardless of whether you are just attending a conference or have paid to have a booth, conferences are hard work. You will be on your feet for 9-10 hours a day and that can get tiring quickly. It may sound so simple, but it is amazing how many people overlook one simple aspect of their wardrobe, their shoes. People attend these events in usually the same footwear that they would wear to office. In an office you typically spend most of your time sitting and not standing. We are lucky that we are in the startup world, which means people judge you less by what you wear. Unlike many industries suits are not compulsory, in fact sometimes actively discouraged, so we can get away with wearing whatever shoes we want. My suggestion will always be wear a comfortable pair that is still comfortable after 9-10 hours. Ladies this means no heals. You need to have energy to work, you do not want to be uncomfortable after hour 4 and looking for chances to sit down and not be active working the room.
Make sure you are wearing shoes that you can stand for long periods of time in and are comfortable.
People are what conferences are about, and you only have a limited window in which you can meet them so you have to engage at every opportunity. I understand this can be much harder when you are not exhibiting and are wondering around. You would be amazed at the number of times I have seen someone at a conference show some interest in an exhibitor but the sales team is too busy chatting amongst themselves or focused on something else, that could be a potential million dollar client or your new partner that just walked by. At all our events, where we usually only have a small table or booth to be pitching from, if you make eye contact with me chances are i’m going to have a go and pitch you. I literally try to talk to everyone that walks past my booth. I know some people reading this right now might be recoiling in fear of this suggestion and think it may seem too much like a used car salesman, well guess what you are at this conference and so are your competitors so you better make the most of every opportunity you have. Conferences are actually some of the easiest times in your life to talk to people, because that is what they are there for, to learn, buy or sell. Very few opportunities in life where you can just start talking to someone and there is a 50/50 chance they will continue talking to you.
Another tip about engaging is to try and understand what your target person might look like. As I said I can only talk about my experience in startups, when i was looking for investors at a startup conference, i noticed that they all tended to be more formally dressed. So I approached anyone in a jacket and tie, and hey, guess what I met loads of investors I would not have otherwise just by being able to identify what they potentially could look like.
Make eye contact and engage with people. Just start talking to them, yes some will walk right past you but you will be surprised at how many engage you in conversation.
Exhibitors need at least 2 people
This may seem like a strange tip, but it really makes a difference. If you are exhibiting you really need to bring a minimum of two people to the event. I have done exhibits where i worked the stall on my own, and it is very difficult to talk to everyone at the same time. Plus we all need to go to the bathroom, eat, and generally take a break. Not having someone else there with you means that you are almost tied to your booth with the occasional sprint to the bathroom when you just can’t hold it anymore.
Some of the best connections I have made have been just walking around the conference and meeting random people who may not have walked by your booth. Having someone that can cover for you while you do this is really important. One of the key rules I have is never to leave the booth empty, you never know who might stop by.
Another bonus tip I will add here is that as much as you can avoid it, do not eat at your booth. It looks very unprofessional and people will not approach you if you are eating. Everyone needs to eat of course, so take an extra 5-10 minutes and find a table somewhere sit down and eat. It will probably help you with your energy for the rest of the day.
If you are exhibiting at an event, make sure to take a minimum of 2 people.
It may sound simple but we are all guilty of this, we go to a conference we meet loads of people, get piles of name cards and then do not do anything with it. What is the point of even going to the event if you are not going to follow up with the people that you meet there. Sometimes it is helpful to divide the people you meet into piles, such as prospective clients, media, everyone else. This means you can send crafted and tailored messages specifically for that group of people.
Something I often find myself doing is quickly writing notes on the person’s business card once the conversation is over (be careful how you do this as in certain cultures writing on someone’s business card can be considered rude, as the card is an extension of that person). If I do not write notes, then usually it’s just some stars so that when I am going through my pile later I know that this person is someone I need to contact or remember. At some events I can easily meet upward of 200 people, so having little clues as to who you had a connection with or who could be a potential client is very important.
Make sure you follow up with all the people you meet otherwise the conference may not be as good as it could be.
Some other posts that will help you with sales