As an ad sales executive, conferences are a “no-brainer” way to meet people. Whether you are attending a training event, participating as a vendor, sponsor or even if your company is hosting the event, there are always great opportunities to meet new prospects or enhance an existing relationship. Face-to-face time is still a powerful driver in closing sales. After 20 years of attending and participating in such events, I wanted to share a few of my top takeaways for sales leaders.
- Design your mission. Look up the attendees and determine if you have any known prospects or clients that will be in attendance. If so, reach out to them ASAP and let them know you will be at the event, schedule some time to catch up and determine if your new offerings are a fit for their changing business. Use this roster as a prospect list too to figure out which other attendees make sense for your business. Then you can be on the lookout for them during the event. If it is a big event, I often print out a target list that includes photos to review in advance of the event. This helps me find my prospects in the crowd.
- More peanuts, please. Networking can start before you even arrive. I can’t count the number of times I have met a fellow conference attendee en route to the event location, whether at the airport, on the flight or train. I recommend requesting the middle seat on the plane. Before you roll your eyes, think about it. This gives you twice the odds of a productive connection than if you sit on the aisle or by the window.
- Let’s lunch. Once you are at the event, never eat with your coworkers or alone. Don’t think of breaks in the program as a time to catch up on emails or with your teammates. This is prime networking time! Always eat with people you don’t know in an open-seating venue. And like the airplane, sit where you can converse with more than one person.
- Be social. Attend the pre and post-function gatherings, cocktail receptions – everything. Yes, we are all tired after a full day of sessions, but these planned networking events are great places to make connections. Remember, most people at the event are in the same boat as you: They want to meet new people.
- Be prepared. Never, ever, ever run out of business cards. Bring lots. If you need this explained, you’re in the wrong business. Every piece of luggage I own has business cards stashed in it somewhere.
- Deliver the hook. Have a very short compelling statement about how you can help your prospects solve their problems. While this is an “elevator pitch”, no one really cares what you do; prospects want to know that you can help them. Take the time to create a few versions. During small talk you can learn enough about your prospect to determine which one to use to capture their attention.
- Be an early bird. Go to the breakout sessions 15 minutes early. You’ll be the only one in the room…with the speaker. This can be a great way to network one-on-one with industry leaders, consultants, and people you might not otherwise get an opportunity to meet.
- Be a connector. If you know someone that a fellow attendee is trying to meet, provide an email introduction after the conference. This positions you as a valuable resource within your industry. The people you introduce will be more likely to return the favor in the future, and make introductions on your behalf to potential prospects.
And most importantly, ask the most powerful question there is: “How can I help you?” You immediately demonstrate that it’s not about me; it’s about you. Too often “amateur networkers” are only thinking how people might help them. That’s backward! If you ask how you can help someone that you’ve just met, you immediately build rapport. Plus, most often their natural response after they’ve answered, is to return the favor and ask, “How can I help you?” Thus, a valuable contact is born.
Attend your next conference with the list of event attendees, your prospect wish list, and business cards in hand. From the time you set foot on the plane, to leaving the convention center or hotel, always be networking. Make a lasting impression on new connections, and nurture existing relationships to surpass your sales goals.