If you’re not in field sales, chances are you do your prospecting online. And even if you spend your days traveling, there’s a big difference between a day of scheduled sales calls and the mayhem of an industry event.
Fortunately, in-person prospecting can be highly productive if you enter a trade show or conference with a gameplan. Follow this 6-step checklist to make the most of your next event.
1) Pick your conference wisely.
Choosing the conference isn’t all that different from choosing the leads you reach out to. Just as buyer personas can help define who you sell to, they can inform where you sell as well.
Think about your target buyer. What conferences are they likely to attend? If you work for a B2B company, you should also consider where target prospects might be exhibitors or vendors.
2) Research attendees ahead of time.
As with all prospecting, you’ll spend your time most wisely if you have a deliberate attack plan. Try and get your hands on a list of attendees or exhibitors before the event so you know who’s attending.
Many conferences have a hashtag or Facebook page devoted to the event. Scour social media to see who’s registered. You can also learn a lot from an agenda -- research sponsors, partners, and speakers to round out your target list.
In addition, if you’re attending a major industry trade show, you can use it as a trigger event to refresh your prospect database. Worked a lead that went silent two months ago? Running out of reasons to reach out a target account? Check in to see if they’ll be at the conference.
3) Schedule meetings beforehand.
Going to a conference with the intention of generating new leads doesn’t mean you can’t do some prospecting in advance. Don’t count on being able to grab even 15 minutes of your prospect’s time at a hectic event, especially if they’re speakng or participating in some other way. Ask for a brief block of time to meet up during the conference, and don’t book a meeting during conference-wide talks such as keynotes.
Note: Ask for your prospect’s cell phone number. They might not be checking email, so make sure you have a reliable way of reaching them during the conference.
4) Spend some time building rapport.
Depending on your selling style, you might not always spend a lot of time building rapport in a prospecting email or cold call, but meeting someone in person is far different than sending them a message.
You don’t have to try and become your prospect’s best friend, but you should at least ask them how they’re doing or how they’re enjoying the conference. (Hint: failing to ask your prospect how they’re doing through email or the phone isn’t a good idea, but it will seem especially cold in a face-to-face setting.)
Building rapport at a conference isn’t just polite, it’s necessary. You’re probably not the only salesperson your prospect will meet at this event, much less the only person. If you’re able to forge a genuine connection, your prospect is that much more likely to remember you.
5) Keep your meeting short.
You wouldn’t write your prospect an 800-word opus in a first-touch email. Similarly, you shouldn’t attempt to run through your whole sales process in one meeting.
Yes, it’s tempting to deliver your elevator pitch on the spot, especially if it turns out you’re speaking with an influencer or decision maker. After all, they’re right there. But resist that urge.
Don’t try to do too much. Get on your prospect’s radar, do some initial discovery to see if they’re worth pursuing, and try to set next steps. Leave your qualification checklist and hard sell at home.
6) Respect your prospect’s conference experience.
What’s the worst thing that can happen when you’re prospecting at a conference?
Getting in the way of your prospect’s conference experience and forever solidifying yourself in their minds as that guy who couldn’t take a hint.
Remember, your prospect isn’t here to talk to you. They attended this conference to learn, present, or maybe even do some selling of their own. So don’t interfere with that. Respect their time limitations or other obligations.
If you do your homework and plan ahead, attending a conference can be incredibly productive. How do you generate sales leads at industry events? Let us know in the comments below.
Originally published Aug 26, 2015 8:00:00 AM, updated February 27 2019