Face-to-face marketing is not dead.
In fact, business-to-business events and conferences comprise an industry worth close to $30B and 200 conference centers exist in the U.S. alone. Whether you attend as an exhibitor, sponsor, attendee, or speaker, you’re sure to get something out of every event you attend—provided you are willing to invest the time and focus it requires. Here are three suggestions for getting the most out of your presence.
1. Marketing conferences help you define the future. At all of them, you’ll usually learn about trends and new products/services that can add value to your company. Competitors (new and old) will often be there, which is helpful in developing your own offering and brand positioning. You’ll find several different types of events in this space:
- Vendor events, which are produced by larger marketing and sales technology companies
- Media events, which are a product of business and channel-specific publications (conventional and online)
- Association events, created by industry groups.
2. Vertical conferences get you closer to your customers. Even if you don’t exhibit at or sponsor a specific industry trade show or other event, you’ll get to spend time with the people who work in the industries you market for. Inviting clients for meals, cocktails, or coffee during the event is a great way to get to know them outside of day-to-day business transactions.
3. General technology and innovation conferences like Collision, the Inc. 5000 Conference & Gala and the Fast Company Innovation Festival are great places to gather creative ideas and meet a wide range of professionals in different industries.
No matter where and how you go, be sure to follow these four important rules:
1. If you exhibit or sponsor, set very specific objectives for return on your investment. Make sure you have a booth or table presence that really stands out and looks professional, have a compelling “draw” that encourages people to stop in, bring enough (and the right) staff to talk to potential customers, and train the team beforehand on “booth behavior.” You never know who might stop by, so tearing your table down early or talking on your phone during exhibit hours is a sure-fire turn-off.
2. Download the conference app. It will give you a great way to research the companies and attendees and interact with people before, during, and after the event.
3. Create a pre- and post-event marketing strategy. Invite targeted guests to meetings and allow enough time immediately after the event to follow-up. Send LinkedIn requests to prospective clients and connections.
4. Remain open to meeting people wherever you go at the conference. Over the years, I’ve made some terrific business connections in after-hours events, hotel gyms, at coffee shops, and within conferences sessions themselves.
Speaking at conferences can also be a great way to expand your reach and build credibility for your company. The field is very competitive, but once you have a track record, securing the next speaker slot becomes easier, especially if you get great audience reviews. Allow about six months to a year for getting on the speaking circuit. Most conferences plan their agenda well in advance.
As with all marketing efforts, to be sure to leverage your presence at events. Announce where you’re going to be via social media and other company communications. Clients will respect the fact that you’re “out in the industry” learning ways to serve them better.