You’ve decided to go to the big show. You know the one. The conference that everyone in your industry attends that is overflowing with your ideal prospects. It’s literally a stocked fishing pond of pre-qualified leads that are open to networking with, connecting to, and learning from new people and companies. You’ve got this.
Attending industry events can be a crucial part of your outbound sales strategy. Unfortunately, many organizations craft their conference outreach strategy all wrong - they’re trying to sell before and during conferences when they should be prospecting instead.
This is especially true if you’ve adopted an outbound sales program as part of your overall growth strategy. Conferences are a great place to generate high-quality leads. And you don’t have to be one of those annoying, hard-charging salespeople.
But you can’t show up at a conference and expect leads to land in your lap. You need to prepare, and you need have to have a conference prospecting strategy.
Want to turn your next conference into an effective lead-generation event? Here’s our tips for how to prospect before you even take one step onto the conference room floor.
How to Prepare for Prospecting at a Conference
Effective event prospecting requires a lot of preparation. If you show up with a stack of business cards and hope to network, you’ll have a hard time finding the right people.
But if you’ve laid the groundwork for success, you’ll have a productive event that generates a lot of leads. Here are five things you can do to foster the prospecting process:
1. Understand What You’re Going There to Do
Conferences aren’t for selling. Sure, you might be able to make a couple sales—but if you’re pitching hard, you may find that you don’t get much out of the event.
Instead, think of the conference like a networking event. You’re there to make connections, build relationships.
Your goal is going to be to set up sales calls for the future. Schedule follow-up appointments. Develop brand awareness. All these things are valuable, even if you don’t come away with new sales. Keep that in mind during your preparation and the conference itself.
An effective outbound sales program requires a full prospect pipeline. And conferences are a great place to fill that pipeline.
2. Consider Sponsoring or Speaking
As a sponsor or speaker, you’re getting your name in front of everyone at the conference. You may find that people seek you out to connect—which saves you a lot of time.
At a lot of conferences, holding a speaking spot on a panel or leading a session is sometimes included in certain sponsorship levels. At others, you need to apply separately from a sponsorship to be a speaker, it all just depends on the conference. Check out the options on the conference website and reach out to the organizer with your questions.
Pro Tip: If you are serious about wanting to speak or lead a session at a conference, look way in advance! Many conferences set their speaker lists sometimes up to 10 months in advance.
You should still do your own research and outreach, but being visible at the event can make your efforts even more effective. Keep reading to find out a few tips for prospecting when you’re speaking at a conference.
3. Know Your Buyers
Who’s your ideal buyer? If you don’t know, you’ll have a hard time finding the right prospects—which means your outbound sales process will be less efficient. Having up-to-date buyer personas solve this problem and gives you a great resource for finding prospects at an event.
Approaching everyone you can find at a conference is a waste of your time. And, worse, it’s a waste of theirs. So make sure you know who it’s worth approaching.
Need help with building your buyer personas? Here we share why they are important and how to create them.
4. Research Attendees Ahead of Time
Who’s going to be at the conference? If you’re a vendor or a sponsor of the event, you might get a list beforehand. That’s a big help. But even if you’re not, you can do some research on your own. Get on social media and look at the conference’s accounts and hashtags. Who’s engaging on social media? Who’s presenting? Who’s taking part in panel discussions?
Make a list and keep it updated as you find out who’s going to be there. Use your buyer personas to highlight potentially valuable prospects.
It will take some man hours to manually search and source for accurate email address data on each of these prospects (that is, if you haven’t received the list as part of a sponsorship) or of course you have the option of using Leadium to do that work for you.
5. Do Some Pre-Conference Outreach
After researching, you’ll have a list of conference attendees that you think might be good prospects for your outbound sales program. Start a pre-conference outreach campaign to build connections and suggest catching up at the event.
Here’s an example of an outreach email you might use:
I saw on Twitter that you’re going to be at Outbound World in September. I’m taking part in a panel at the event, and I’m super excited to be there. Jason Davis is one of the keynotes, and his presentation at Outboundify was phenomenal. Are you planning on attending his talk? If so, I’d love to meet up for a few minutes afterwards to catch up on what you’ve been doing and chat about how we might be able to help each other.
It creates a connection over the conference, makes a low-pressure suggestion for a meeting, and is short enough that your recipient will actually read it. You can customize this email to fit your particular situation and the conference you’re going to for best results. If you’re speaking or on a panel, invite your prospect to come check it out. Schedule short meetings before you get to the conference and you’ll make even better use of your time.
If you start early, you can also consider a multi-touch campaign. When you see that someone has opened your email, give them a call. A week later, reach out to them on social media. Email again right before the show to confirm the appointment you set or to ask one last time for that quick chat.
In short, use your regular outbound tactics to get in touch. (Be sure to use your outbound sense of not overwhelming people, too.)
Avoid the Sales Talk Before a Conference
Put yourself in your prospects shoes for a second - a lot of times, a month or two prior to going to the “big show” they are excited about the city they are going to, the hotel they are staying in, and the overall experience (ahem...fun and drinking) that the conference will provide. The last thing they want in their inbox is a hard sell.
Remember, prospecting before a conference is the first touch in building a relationship. It’s not the time to hit them hard with pain point and solution messaging about your product or service - that’s for follow up communication.
In our next post we will share our tips on how to continue your prospecting efforts once you’ve actually stepped onto the conference room floor.