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Make it stop! You try to look away, but you can’t. It calls out like an alarm, a constant reminder of missed opportunities, a collection of budding relationships cut short.
No, we’re not talking about a slideshow of your former sweethearts. This regret is that dusty stack of business cards from your last business conference.
You know how it goes. You discover an outstanding event, and you get pumped up. You know you’ll gain inspiration and knowledge. You’ll develop powerful connections with influential people, maybe even find a new client or two. “It’s a business investment,” you tell yourself.
The event is terrific! It’s energizing. You meet new people. You gain skills and tactics to grow your business. By the end, your pockets bulge with a bounty of business cards. You plan to follow up the moment you get home.
But when you finally cross the threshold to your office, you automatically hit the “back to reality” button. Invoices are piled up, clients need attention, and a major project is nearing its deadline. And so the business cards collect in the corner of your desk drawer. You’ll get to them when you have some spare time. (Which really means never, right?)
Sound familiar? Are you ready to leverage conferences as an opportunity to bring in new leads and actually turn them into clients? Then this playbook is for you.
Read on to gain top strategies for maximizing the potential of conferences. These tips will help you bring in new leads, follow up the right way, and save time. Sound good? Let’s get started!
"If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”— Dr. Wayne Dyer
How would you like to build out your entire year’s client pipeline in a single conference? It’s possible—with a bit of strategy.
Most attendees focus solely on what they can learn from an event and miss the business-building treasure trove just below the surface. Shift your mindset from “What can I learn?” to “Whom will I meet?” and watch your business grow. You’ll never let a pile of business cards gather dust again.
1. What's your purpose for attending?
Before you attend an event, decide exactly why you’re going. Do you desire to learn as much as you can and apply those new skills to your business? Or are you looking to meet people and build relationships? Perhaps a combination of both? There’s no right or wrong answer, but you’ll want to decide before you get there. Then you can create a strategy that easily produces that result. (We’ll show you how to develop it shortly.)
2. What result do you want to achieve?
You know your purpose for attending and you've created a concrete goal to ensure you stay focused.
Want to make 40 new leads and turn 5 of them into new clients? Is there a specific person you hope to meet, maybe an influencer in your field? Or are you looking for a new resource or referral? Get specific about exactly what you want to get out of the event. That way you can celebrate success at the end of the day.
3. How can you add value for others?
Attending an event or conference shouldn’t be all about you. Figure out how you can give value to the people you meet.
Is there a tool or resource you’ve found or created that you can share? In the next section we’ll work on crafting your strategy for success. Deciding how to add value is a critical element of your strategy.
Giovanni Marsico, founder of the Archangel Academy, says that networking at events is all about being of service. “I always focus on how I can help serve the people I’ll run into at an event,” Giovanni says.
Here are his 4 tips for becoming valuable to event attendees:
1. Be a connector
Before the event, find out who you know will be attending. Ask them who they need to meet. Then help connect them to that resource.
2. Be an information curator
Document your top takeaways from the event. Then share them with your community and folks you meet at the event. By sharing the most valuable nuggets of wisdom, you save your community their most precious commodity: time.
3. Be a strategic implementer
Take what you’ve learned and actually apply it! But skip the fire-hose approach (trying to incorporate every single thing you learned at the event). Be strategic and choose the ones with the biggest impact for you, your business, or your community.
4. Be a follow-up master
Want to show your appreciation? Follow up right away! Even if it costs an entire day sending emails or making phone calls, be the one person who follows up with your new found leads.
“Success is 20 percent skills and 80 percent strategy. You might know how to read, but more importantly, what’s your plan to read?” — Jim Rohn
Let’s refresh. You now know your purpose for attending your event. You’ve set goals and you know how to give back to the people you’ll meet. Now it’s time to organize and strategize.
Make contact before you go
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with some of the people going to the event, reach out and connect.
Have you found appealing leads? Invite them to meet up for lunch or coffee. See if they’d like to check out the event expo with you.
Invite your clients and partners
If there are people in your sphere of influence who would benefit from this event, invite them. Everyone appreciates a shared resource. Plus, it’s always nice to have a familiar face to break up all the new introductions.
Review the attendee list for possible connections
Prior to the event, take a look at who will be attending. A list of attendees may be available.
If not, search for a Facebook group or conference app that connects participants. Sign in and start mingling! Check out the other attendees’ websites and/or social media profiles. Determine if you can help each other. What kind of value can you offer to them? How can you be of service?
Create your own conference agenda
Now that you’re prioritizing making those new contacts, it’s time to draft your personal conference agenda.
Before you arrive, check the event schedule and decide which breakout sessions are a “can’t miss” and which are worth sacrificing for an in-person meeting. Are organized mixers on the calendar? Those are always worth attending. Put them on your list too.
Connect with speakers and influencers
Don’t be afraid to talk to special guests, speakers, and experts at conferences.
Do you admire their work? Can you share how it’s impacted your life and your business? Influencers love to receive that praise. Reach out to them on social media prior to the event. Let them know you’re excited to see their keynote, and they’ll likely remember you when you introduce yourself at the conference.
Prepare and practice your elevator pitch
Are you ready to talk about yourself?
Try this formula for your introduction: “I help (your ideal client) with (the result you provide) by (the magical way you do it).” Want to make it even more compelling? Keep it concise and incorporate intrigue if possible. For example, you could say, “I help online entrepreneurs double their revenue in 90 days by using my signature ABC system.” Something like this will pique the listener’s interest and compel them to say, “Wow! How do you do that?”
Organize group meetups
Get a group together. It’s a great way to make a lot of connections quickly, and as a bonus, you’ll be seen as an influencer.
By simply organizing a happy hour, you’re making yourself the center of influence. Act like a host and introduce people to one another based on their needs and interests. The group will see you as the go-to person for resources, referrals, and connections. You’ll instantly build trust and credibility. Meetup.com is a great tool for facilitating a get-together like this. Make it easy for people to find by using keywords that conference attendees are likely to search. Interested parties can RSVP, and you’ll know in advance who’s coming. Share the Meetup link on social media with the event’s hashtag, or in the event’s app if one has been provided.
Surprisingly, you’ll have greater success connecting with others the less you say about yourself. Prep a list of universal questions to help you get to know your new friends. Then lead the conversation by asking and listening. People love to share about themselves. If you’re a great listener, they’ll automatically love you too.
Marsico recommends asking questions that generate interest. He suggests, “Forget the old ‘what do you do?’ conversation. Recently, I heard someone ask, ‘So, Nancy, are you cool?’ and you wouldn’t believe the conversation that followed!”
You’ve done your research. You know who will attend the event. Now it’s time to add value. Create a lead magnet or free resource for the people you meet.
Not familiar with lead magnets? They’re a terrific opportunity to add value by creating a resource such as an ebook, white paper, or checklist, and then sharing it as part of your follow-up process. You’ll get their contact information, and they’ll get a useful tool. Make it a format that’s easy to deliver by email. The trick is coming up with an offering that your new contacts and/or potential prospects desire.
So what kind of lead magnet or free resource should you offer? Ask yourself, “What would be most useful to other participants at the conference?” There’s probably a piece of your business that aligns with the event content. Give it away as supplemental information to anyone in need.
There’s no need to rack your brain on this one. It could be as simple as just taking great notes at the conference and offering a summary.
You’ve connected with all those new people. Why not make the follow-up easy? Personalized, automated follow-up, simplifies the process and ensures that follow-up happens. Have you ever wished you had 10 hands and 2 brains to help get everything done in your business? That’s what automation can do for you. And it’s especially helpful when it comes to simplifying your follow-up process with new leads.
With automation you can create customized follow-up emails. The emails can be personalized and sent to multiple people at the same time. We’re not talking about generic emails with a “Hey you!” salutation either. With smart client management software, you can add elements to your follow-up emails as unique as the people you meet. And all without having to manually compose and send each individual email.
According to a study conducted by Gartner Research, companies that automate their lead management experience a 10% or greater increase in revenue in 6 to 9 months.
If you're not ready to jump into automated follow-up just yet, you can make the manual process of following up easier. Sending individual emails is a daunting and time-consuming task. To simplify the job, create an email template you can use when you return from the event.
The message can be generic. Then, all you need to do is copy and paste, then add specifics for each person you met. Incorporate in at least 1 personalized element so they know you care. For example, referencing something you discussed at the event. Just be careful when you copy and paste your message. It can be easy to accidentally send an email with the wrong name or detail—or to the wrong person! Take the time to double check before you hit send.
“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” — Abraham Lincoln
Here’s where the rubber meets the road. All that prep work is now behind you. It’s time to execute your strategy.
When you get to the event, dive into making those connections, both in-person and virtually. If the event host has provided a hashtag or an app, get in on the discussions. You’d be surprised how many additional connections you’ll make.
If there are organized mixers or networking events on the agenda, attend them! Remember your “How can I add the most value?” strategy. Queue up your unique conversational questions. And prepare to connect like crazy.
Each time you meet a new person, whip out your smartphone and use a client management tool tool like Keap (or a similar app that stores client information) to add their contact information. That way you don't have to deal with carrying around a stack of business cards or worry about losing them because all the information you need to follow up after the conference is stored for later.
Pro tip: Snap a photo of yourself at a local coffee shop or a recognizable area at the event (like an expo booth or break area) and post it on social media with the event’s hashtag. In your post, invite people to meet you at the event. Specify a day and time to meet, then get ready for some group networking. If the event hosts have provided an app for the event, you could post it there as well.
“Follow up right away! Even if it takes all day.” — Giovanni Marsico
It’s time to follow up—like now. The longer you put it off, the less likely you’ll be to get to it at all. Block off time right after you return from a conference to reach back out to new leads. Show them you loved meeting them.
If you use client management software and set up automated follow-ups, you're well on your way to follow up like a champion. By the time you get home from the conference you should already have leads ready and waiting for you in your inbox or the dashboard of the client management software you use.
Decide which leads are “hot” and require more immediate action. Set up meetings with those leads, and add notes to their contact information in your client management tool. For leads who don’t turn into an immediate sale, create a long-term nurture plan for ongoing follow-up and relationship building.
Just because they declined today doesn’t mean they won’t become a client tomorrow. According to a MarketingSherpa study, poor follow-up accounts for missed sales conversions on 79 percent of leads. That’s a lot! For the long-term follow-up, think about resources each lead might find valuable. Then research and share items that can fill their needs and encourage them to engage with you.
All right, you did it. You prepped and planned. You strategized and executed. You followed up and nurtured relationships by adding value. We hope you made a few sales because of your new conference attending skills. Now all that’s left to do is to find a new knick knack to take the place of the stack of dusty business cards that no longer darkens your desk.