Events, whether you love them or hate them, still form an integral part of the marketing strategy. Although there’s a move to virtual events such as webcasts, you can’t beat personal contact with potential customers at a conference, trade show or product launch.
While many companies still heavily invest time and/or money to participate in events, most fail to get maximum value out of the opportunity. I have observed many trade show exhibitors blaming the organiser for not delivering leads and therefore not making the event a success. The same holds true for product launches and industry networking events.
An event organiser can’t force attendees to visit your stand, nor can they make anyone buy from you. What they are required to do is attract people to the event; what happens to a visitor after that is primarily up to you.
Most companies quite simply fail to plan properly. A well-targeted event provides you with the opportunity to see more clients in one place, in less time than being on the road. At worst it’s an opportunity to identify and qualify a number of potential leads; at best you will walk away having closed a few sales and opened the door to a number of others.
You need to ensure that the staff you have attending any event know why they are there and what your goals and objectives are. Don’t be afraid to set targets, individual and shared, that reflect your objectives and make sure the results are monitored. Mining an audience is not a skill everyone has and you will find that forcing a reluctant staff member into this situation is not going to give you the results you desire. So choose your front people carefully and make sure they are well equipped for the job at hand.
At the very least everyone needs to be trained in ‘stand etiquette’ and know how to identify and engage with serious prospects. Equally important are techniques for getting rid of the inevitable tyre kickers that just about every event seems to attract.
Take the time to find out as much information as possible about likely attendees and which of your competitors are present. Better yet, invite your customers and get them to extend the invitation to anyone else they think could be interested.
When you’re at the event, use your time wisely. The aim is to meet as many key prospects as possible without engaging in too much small talk. Ensure your people are rostered effectively to give everyone coffee and lunch breaks, plus the ability to get off the stand and reconnoitre a section of the show. Often some of your hottest prospects can be fellow exhibitors and it never hurts to see what the competition is doing.
Business events are typically not transactional in nature, so you shouldn’t expect to make too many direct sales. However, you want to open the door to as many prospects as you can. One effective way of doing this is by spending more time listening than you do selling.
Apply the 80:20 rule to find out as much information as possible about a prospect. If they have taken the time and trouble to come to your stand there is something they want to know. Don’t overpower them with too much hard-hitting sales banter, but do make sure you learn enough about them to effectively re-engage at a later date.
Following up after the event is possibly the most critical part of the entire equation. Ensure you have qualified the leads you generated within two working days. Too many companies let leads go cold and a prompt follow up paints you as being both professional and enthusiastic.
You do need a well-defined, timely process to follow and a personal approach is essential; avoid the temptation of simply sending out a broadcast email at all costs.
Approaching any event wisely can be a great lead generator – even the most low-key networking event can give rise to quality prospects if you put some time and effort into planning, training and follow up.
• Bob Pinchin is the director of Sway.tech, a specialist communications house for technology companies. Email firstname.lastname@example.org