Column from Florida Trend's Business Coach
Strategies for getting the most out of business events
An event is a great way to connect with targeted prospects and solidify relationships with current customers. Whether you're exhibiting or attending, it represents a major opportunity to promote your brand, generate leads, and drive sales -- but only if you’re prepared.
Most companies don’t maximize their event participation. It requires a strategy and an action plan that’s executed before, during, and afterwards. Otherwise, it’s a big waste of money and time.
Recently I attended the American Telemedicine Association conference on behalf of Stratus Videoin Clearwater. The exhibit hall was packed with more than 200 exhibitors and thousands of people ready to make deals. Yet, it was amazing to see how many companies were totally unprepared to engage potential buyers.
From messaging that gave no clue to what the company did, to booth personnel ignoring a visitor or eating, and poor signage -- I wondered how some of these companies managed to close any business at all.
Here’s what you need to know to make any event a success.
Event Success Strategy
- No matter if you are exhibiting, attending, or hosting an event, have an objective and plan. Decide on what results you want to get, and then prepare your activities around that goal. Do you want to introduce a new product, meet industry leaders, find new strategic partners, or learn about the competition?
If You're Exhibiting
- Your prospects and customers are attending with their own objectives in mind. Many of them will only be there for a limited amount of time. Make sure you get on their list of companies to see. Send a series of three to five mailings before the event -- snail mail if you can along with email. Entice them with education and scheduled demonstrations or presentations.
- Don’t forget that people buy for their reasons. Mailings and booth signage needs to tell them in clear terms that you understand their pain and how your company will fix it.
- Make sure everyone on your team knows the profile of your ideal customer. Have 6" x 9" plastic clipboards that have pre-printed forms with five to seven questions to help identify and qualify prospects. Leave a little room for notes. Make sure that all booth personnel carry them. Your company is spending money to be at the show to generate qualified leads -- if a booth visitor can’t benefit from what you have, politely but firmly disengage from the conversation as fast as possible.
- Ask the event’s press representative to arrange introductions to the reporters and industry analysts covering the event. Try to set up interviews in advance.
- Have a booth training session before the show for everyone on your team. Make it mandatory. Use it to go over some basic rules (no gum chewing or eating in the booth!), review the objectives, rehearse planned demos, and iron out last minute issues.
- Meet as a team after the event each day to go over what happened, what went wrong, and to discuss needed adjustments for the next day. Again, this is mandatory.
- Follow-up on all the leads within a week.
If You're Attending
- If two or more people from your company will be there, review the strategy and plan of attack together, then divide up the tasks and conquer.
- Create a storyboard that supports your objective. It should be around ten or twelve slides, but you’ll rarely go through it all. An iPad is ideal, but an old fashion binder that you can flip through works well too. Carry it with you everywhere -- you never know who you’ll meet.
- Schedule targeted meetings with prospects ahead of time. If they have a booth, that’s probably where they’ll want to meet, but if you can, ask them to join you for a cold drink or coffee somewhere where it's quieter and you can sit down. If it’s a large event, the first thing you should do is walk the entire floor to get a sense of the layout. That’ll help you quickly get from appointment to appointment -- and discover where the snack bars and bathrooms are!
- Have a commitment objective for each meeting. This will help you gain agreement from the person you’re meeting with to move the sales process forward. And of course, once the two of you agree to the next step, follow-up.
- Strike up conversations with as many people as you can while waiting in coffee and food lines. It’s a wonderful way to meet new contacts.
Your company can benefit from all aspects of event participation when you plan ahead. You’ll engage qualified buyers and generate sales.
Ron Stein is the founder and President of FastPath Marketing (www.marketing-strategies-guide.com). He has more than 20 years experience in sales, marketing, and business development, working positions ranging from salesman to vice president of sales and marketing to CEO of startups with industry leaders such as Motorola, VideoServer, Paradyne, and SercoNet. Ron is a member of the advisory team at the Tampa Bay Innovation Center, a nationally recognized entrepreneurial and startup accelerator for the state of Florida. He can be reached at 727-398-1855 or Ron@FastPathMarketing.com