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The Art of Making Conference Connections and Landing the Deal

Posted by Sarah Scudder on Oct 4, 2016 12:30:00 PM

scudder6.jpgI have been told that I have a Type A personality; so I looked it up on Wikipedia:

The theory describes Type A individuals as ambitious, rigidly organized, highly status-conscious, sensitive, caring for others, truthful, impatient, always trying to help others, taking on more than they can handle, wanting other people to get to the point, proactive and obsessed with time management. People with Type A personalities are often high-achieving workaholics who multitask, push deadlines, and hate both delays and ambivalence.

I also read that Type A personalities are more prone to heart problems. How rude.

After pulling myself off the floor, I gathered what was left of my pride and began to write this month’s article. If you’re going to go to a conference, you might as well use it to your advantage. Perhaps I should retitle my article “Attending a Conference: A Type-A Perspective.”

Most of the conferences I attend fall between March and October. I’m often leaving one conference to attend another. My friends and family tell me, “I wish I had your life — traveling to fun cities, eating fancy dinners, staying in nice hotels and attending lavish parties.” If they only knew  it’s not the glam life it seems to be. It’s a lot of work, and it’s expensive. Don’t get me wrong, I always try to have fun, but leads don’t just fall in your lap. You have to go get them!

I attended a conference in April in Scottsdale, Arizona. I was well-prepared, full of energy and ready to meet new people. On the second night of the conference, I ran into my friend Greg in the hotel lobby. Greg has started, and sold, three successful companies in the industry. He’s very well-known and respected; people seek him out for referrals. Greg introduced me to the CEO of a San Francisco-based company in his group, and I told him about my company. The CEO explained his company was expanding quickly and was in need of a print portal to be rolled out no later than Q3. I asked him what problems he was looking to solve with a print portal and what he thought his needs were. I asked permission to contact him so I could meet the person on his team overseeing the project. I followed up the next day and was able to close the deal. Their print portal system launched the week of July 11.

There are two key takeaways from my story: 1) I spend a great deal of time getting to know and establishing credibility with key influencers in the industries I sell to; and 2) I make sure the influencers clearly understand what I do and the value my system provides.

Top 10 Ways to Get the Most Out of Attending a Conference

  1. Begin networking early. Do whatever you need to do (try not to break any laws) to get the attendee list. At a minimum, you want the name, company and title of each attendee. ZoomInfo is the system I use. Make friends with the people putting on the conference. Offer to provide PR opportunities and to get sponsors and more attendees. Then, when you ask for the list, they will gladly send it to you. I invite clients and prospects to the conferences; it allows me to check in, get face time and to be thought of as someone who adds value.
  2. Book meetings. After I get my Type A hands on the attendee list, I spend four to six weeks booking meetings. I plan out my agenda for the conference and then fill in my time slots with as many prospect meetings as possible. I leave a few minutes between meetings in case they run over, but I schedule my meetings back to back to maximize my time. Remember: Prospects get bombarded with meeting requests, so your message needs to stand out and address a need. Clients have told me they get over 5,000 emails/phone calls before attending a conference.
  3. Make a prospect list. I take the attendee list and narrow it down to a shorter target list. I then find each person online and add his or her photo to my list as well as any other info I can obtain: hobbies, past employers, connections and associations. I want to know what each person looks like before I go. This prevents me from having to rely on nametags, as they are often too long or get flipped around.
  4. Get — but don’t give — business cards. Don’t give out your business cards; 99.9 percent of the time you will never hear from the person. Ask for your prospect’s card so you can take notes and follow up. Carry a pen so you can put notes on the back or take notes in your phone.
  5. Have a client make introductions for you. Select someone to be your “introducer” at each conference. This person should be well connected and have an excellent reputation. Walk the floor with this person — he or she will introduce you to the executives you want to know. A client is great because they can give the prospect a testimonial about how your print system is helping them.
  6. Don’t do a booth: Having a booth is boring. And it will prevent you from networking, making meetings during the day, and strolling the lobby and hallways during sessions. I won’t even go to a conference that requires me to do a booth.
  7. Throw an event. Plan an event during the conference. It’s a great excuse to contact a prospect and invite them to something fun and social. I like to plan dinners. If it’s a large deal I’m close to signing, I’ll keep it one-on-one. If it’s a larger group dinner, I’ll often pair up with other non-competing vendors to host. It allows us to share the cost and invite different people from our networks.
  8. Take and track notes. When I meet with a prospect, I take notes. I write them on their business card, record them in my phone or type them on my computer. I don’t want to forget anything. I ask lots of questions but let the prospect do most of the talking. I always ask a few personal questions (but not too personal). Prospects are impressed with details. If I find out someone loves white lilacs, I’ll send a lilac with a handwritten note the day after as a follow-up. Each night, when I get to my room, I enter my notes into my CRM system. This can take a while but is well worth it. I now have personal and business info to use in future correspondences.
  9. Follow up. I don’t believe in the “wait for a few days” method. I start my follow-up immediately after I leave the conference (sometimes even during the conference). I want to be the first supplier to re-engage the prospect. If you make your presence known, your product will stand out. I connect with all my prospects on LinkedIn as part of my follow-up process. I’ll send a personal note requesting to connect (I don’t use the automated LinkedIn note) and then send an email. I make sure my LinkedIn notes add value. I don’t want to come across as a pushy salesperson.
  10. Take care of yourself. I have a special section in my closet labeled “conference wear.” I want people to remember and recognize me when I walk into a room. I need my sleep. I try not to stay up past midnight. Most people perform at their best when they get enough sleep. Lastly, eating healthy is a must if you wish to maintain maximum energy. I pack snacks (often fruit and nuts) so I can eat every four hours. This keeps me fueled and in a good mood.

Be authentic and let your personality show through. At the end of the day, people still buy from people. Time is valuable. Don’t waste yours or theirs. And remember, you are never going to get anywhere without asking.

Topics: Conferences, Deal-making, Networking, Prospects

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