Representing Your Organization at a Conference
Getting the Most From Conferences
Conferences and trade shows are popular ways of marketing your products and attracting positive attention to your business. They're also great places to expose your organization to key people in your industry.
Do you ever attend conferences for your company? If so, you know that the impression you make on others can stay with them for a long time.
In this article, we outline the steps you need to take before, during, and after the conference to get the most out of it and to take advantage of any leads generated and connections made.
Your role at a conference can vary. You may be an attendee, you may have a company booth to exhibit products or services, or you may even be a speaker. Regardless of your involvement, you must do a lot more than simply show up and wait for new business opportunities to come to you.
With careful planning, you can get the most out of your investment in the conference, and make the most out of every potential business opportunity. In the lead up to your conference, it's important that you take the following five steps.
1. Set Your Objectives
What do you hope to achieve by participating in the event? Are you:
- Looking for sales leads?
- Launching a new product?
- Developing customer loyalty?
- Building new relationships with suppliers, distributors, and other stakeholders?
- Developing your brand?
When you know your goal, it's much easier to focus your attention in the right places. Make sure that you link your conference objectives to overall company strategy as well.
2. Establish a Budget
What can you afford to spend? This is an important pre-conference consideration: these events can use up marketing budgets very quickly. When you know what you can spend, you'll be able to customize your exhibit and other marketing materials accordingly. Consider the following promotional materials:
- Business cards.
- Giveaways (pens, paperweights, T-shirts, and so on).
- Display booth (ranging from very large and elaborate to small and simple).
- Press kits (press releases, photos, interviews, CDs, and so on).
3. Publicize Your Involvement
Let your key customers know that you'll attend the conference or trade show.
- Send a mailing to your customer database.
- Use your website to announce the event, and invite people to stop by your booth.
- Mention the event in promotional material and press releases.
- Sponsor an activity at the conference, like a breakfast or reception.
- Put your logo on bags, pens, or other conference giveaways.
4. Develop a System to Follow up on Leads
The leads generated from conferences are already highly qualified. Make sure you know how you'll deal with each one. Enter all names into a database, and assign someone to follow up immediately after you return to the office.
Also, have a system to deal with direct sales at the conference. It's important to have someone back at the office to process such requests.
5. Research Other Attendees
Find out who else will attend the event, and develop a plan to talk to key representatives. Whether you're an exhibitor or an attendee, you may want to talk with speakers, contact industry leaders, and network with many other people to make the most of your time at the conference.
During the Conference
"Impression" management is key to a successful conference. You're essentially on display for everyone to see – so make a good impression and be a good ambassador for your organization.
1. Know Your Product and Business
Be prepared for any questions. Familiarize yourself with new developments, research topics on the conference agenda, and understand how your organization fits into the industry.
2. Prepare Your Materials
If you're an exhibitor, keep your booth simple. Choose one main message, and reinforce it with all your materials. Make sure that you understand your Unique Selling Proposition (USP), and stick to it: the more focused your message, the easier it will be for your contacts to remember that message – and remember you.
If you're speaking or hosting an activity, prepare in advance. Practice with your team, and make sure you're confident with your material. For specifics on presentation skills, see Delivering Great Presentations and the Presentation Planning Checklist.
3. Be Professional at All Times
It can be easy to "let your guard down" at a conference, but it's important to remain professional. Keep in mind the following rules of thumb:
- Establish a dress code.
- Make sure someone is at the booth at all times.
- Keep the booth clean. (Try not to eat at the booth, and make sure coffee cups and other personal items are put away.)
- Remember that you're always representing your company – whether you're on a lunch break, relaxing after dinner, attending a cocktail party, or simply walking around the exhibit floor. Don't say or do anything that would reflect poorly on your organization or be offensive to anyone.
If you're at an evening event, make sure you don't overindulge in food or wine – it's easy to do this if you're nervous, but keep in mind that it could undermine all your hard work so far!
Conferences are great opportunities to make connections. Make sure you've got plenty of business cards on you and try to hand out as many as possible. Be curious: ask questions and have a snoop around other stalls – you might be surprised by what you discover and the people you meet!
If possible try to stay at the hotel where the conference is held as this will help keep you in contact with other attendees. In general, try and talk to as many different people as possible. It's easy to seek out people you already know and spend coffee breaks and other social time together. But try and keep meeting new people, and split up the people on your team as much as possible.
5. Be Enthusiastic
You're there to sell and effectively represent your organization so find ways to keep that energy high and your teammates motivated!
Following up After a Conference
When the conference is over, you and your team will probably be exhausted and just want to relax. Unfortunately, that'll have to wait! The days immediately after the event are critical for following up on leads. These five steps are crucial to make sure that you harvest the rewards of your hard work at the conference.
1. Prioritize Your Leads
As a team, discuss the most promising leads and develop a plan to follow up with the key contacts for each. Track your progress, and record each step that you take.
2. Explore Strategic Business Opportunities
Investigate opportunities that you may have discovered at the conference. Are there new developments, trends, or industry challenges that you must address?
3. Evaluate the Return on Your Investment
Use figures like these:
- Number of leads generated.
- Increase in contacts.
- Sales achieved.
- Cost per contact or lead.
4. Evaluate Your Performance
After the event is also a great time to assess your performance and identify ways to improve. Here are elements to consider:
- Was your objective-setting and pre-planning sufficient?
- Was your booth set up well?
- What was the quality of your marketing materials?
- Were your giveaways well received?
- Did other attendees do things that you could do at the next event?
5. Consider Serving on the Organizing Committee For Next Year's Conference
This is a great way to be more involved in setting the agenda, determining the theme of the event, and making sure your organization's involvement fits well.
Conferences, and others events that bring industry professionals together, are great places to generate highly qualified leads and develop your presence among your customer base.
To be successful at these events make sure your message is clear and simple, try and talk to as many people as possible, and strategize how you'll follow up on any leads. It pays be well prepared and to act quickly after the conference has finished.
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