Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go.
With in-person events happening increasingly, it is timely to brush off those conferencing skills and maximize your effectiveness.
For most sales reps, conferences and in-person events are like a salmon run; the salmon are all swimming through a choke point, and you are trying to pull as many out of the water as quickly as possible. For many companies and sales reps, in-person events are the best and most lucrative lead generation funnel. However, for most, they run their booth and event staff poorly and rarely see the return on investment they expect. If you don’t make hay out of this event, the c-suite may not find the budget to send you the next one.
So let’s go through some of the steps so you can have the best in-person ever.
Table of Contents
Before the event
Prior to the event, set aside ample time to plan and prepare so your team can make the most of their in-person experience. Doing so ensures that everyone will be more relaxed, know their roles, and in turn have an easier time hitting their goals.
Expected ROI & commitment incentives
Even before you hit the floor, review with your prospecting teams as to what kind of metrics you are looking to achieve. Like all things sales, that should be a revenue number that can be taken in and converted to an event return on investment. There could be several different ROIs; at event revenue, post-event (within two months), and long tail ROI, such as any revenue derived from that event.
To spike the ball on revenue, the event committee should come up with incentives that will capture the low-hanging fruit. For software as a service (SaaS), those could be as simple as; committing at the event; the company will waive a set-up and provide a significant discount, committing after the event within the month; the company will waive the set-up fee.
The last tactic to deploy before the event is to soften the field.
Remember, everyone else is going to be sending emails regarding how happy they will be if you stop by their booth. While that is all fine and dandy, it doesn’t pay the bills. You don’t want to incentivize them to show up and take your tchotchke; you want them to buy. In your marketing emails, take a page from Robert Cialdini’s seminal work, “Influence,” and let them know what they will lose by not taking advantage of your offers.
Add some scarcity to the mix by saying there will only be a limited number of deals that can be serviced from the event and appointments set before the event take priority. Don’t do what I did a few times and forget to check when the keynote was and book meetings during that time.
Communication goals & channels
Prospects walking into your booth should be treated as inbound leads per Mark Roberge; inbound has the pain; however, you need to qualify them for fit.
Similar to triaging leads on your website, at an in-person event, you don’t want to be bogged down talking with a ton of low-level prospects that won’t cover the bill. Ensure everyone heading to the event knows the size and shape of the company you are looking for and the types of personas within them that are part of the decision-making process.
This does not mean you will be curt and cut conversations short with prospects that don’t fit the profile; it means being prudent with them and understanding that while they may be low level, they may be able to refer you into larger accounts right there at the conference.
This is also the time to set up the event channel. It could be a dedicated Slack channel, Discord channel, Microsoft Teams, or even a WhatsApp group. The key here is to have a dedicated channel that the on-site team will drop content into and the office team will triage and compile. During rehearsals ensure that all on-site staff has the access they need so that this simple step doesn’t trip them up.
Rehearsing the booth set up and ensuring everyone on the team knows the company pitch cold, pricing, and offerings are the most overlooked part of any event planning group. Think of it, how frustrated are you when you walk into a booth and ask a simple question only to get, “I’m in marketing, I don’t know the pricing, wait for a sales rep to show up.” or “I’m not sure if our product does that, you should ask our sales engineer.” I’m not saying everyone should be a sales engineer capable of compiling the complex pricing structure that many companies deploy, what I am saying is that everyone on the team should know the pitch, how to run a demo, and the fundamentals of pricing. If they are going to an in-person event, there should be a sales hat that fits them.
This leads to the most important pre-event tactic.
Identify on-site and office Czars
Once you and your team are at the event, the key advantage of your competitors is the team at home. While I was at the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE.com) we had two event Czars, the on-site Czar, and the office Czar. These were the people who had all the authority and decision-making powers. While the on-site team was responsible for gathering new information, the office team was responsible for collating, triaging, and finalizing all that data provided by the on-site team.
If you were paying attention, you’ll notice this was the last step in before the event, while it may not be always, it will definitely be a step after determining the ROI since the Czars will be responsible for hitting that number. You typically get a better commitment to achieving the goal after everyone has agreed to what a reasonable target is (“The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” Patrick Lencioni).
While both Czars were coequal, the on-site Czar had supreme authority as they were at the event and ultimately responsible for the highest ROI possible.
Now that you are all set with your pre-event planning, it is time to hit the ground running.
At the event
Connecting with prospects & sending the data
The on-site team is obviously responsible for finding prospects, engaging with them, figuring out where they are in the decision-making process, then guiding them to the next step. At an in-person event, there are many people to be engaging with, so doing this in the most efficient way possible is critical. The two key areas where the onsite team needs to be effective in are first and foremost quickly understanding the value of each prospect they are talking with and use of the office team.
For leads that come into the booth, you may use a scanner to collect the information and scape down some other information. I always found it best to write a brief note on paper or post-it, or better yet, on their business card, if those are still relevant. I would always tag the business in top corner with the name of the event, then compile the most pertinent information. As well, always ask for their cellphone number, never assume it is on their business card, email address, and, importantly, the best way to reach them. This is key, if you ask me, I’ll let you know that text is best and email is awful. Contacting people via their preferred channel often puts you ahead of ninety percent of the other sales reps vying for their attention Once you’ve got all the information, agreed on the next steps, it is time to do the pro-move; ask to take a selfie with them.
Taking pictures and social media
The picture accomplishes three things.
First and foremost, you can crop their headshot and pop it into your CRM, a great visual for trying to remember who the person you met is.
Second, you can use it on social media to tag them, their company, and yours. This is a great way to get some extra exposure out of your interaction.
Third, and most importantly, use the picture in the follow-up; more on this a bit later.
Now take all that information and drop it into the corporate chat channel that you’ve previously agreed upon. Just snap a picture of the notes with action items, drop the selfie in the channel, and let the office team take care of business. The value of this a three-fold.
First, the on-site triage team can focus on pulling in new leads knowing nothing will be lost.
Second, the office team can pull the information, interleave it with existing data and funnel it back to the on-site team. Often times at a long event, if you bump in to the rep again, you can always reference past information provided by the office team.
Third, the office team can compile any follow-up material ahead of time so that yours is the first collateral they have in their inbox. Typically after an event the first three vendors who can reach a prospect move to the next level, the rest are just left out. Your onsite team will appreciate the work of the office team when they aren’t dealing with overly picked-over lead after the event.
With everyone’s mobile device handy and in hand after the selfie, feel free to connect with them on social media.
The move here is a force multiplier.
First, you create a different way of getting their attention after the event; you can message them directly or call them out with an “@”.
Second, you will send a message following the connection, thanking them for connecting with you at the event. This message at the top of your communication thread will help jog your memory in the future when you try to remember where you met them.
Finally, by being connected with your prospect, you are one step closer to connecting with other folks in their company, cause as we all know, selling into a company typically requires consensus from two to three people at least.
Now that you’ve done all you can while the event is happening, it is time to follow-up and ensures that you can achieve the expected ROI.
After the event
Everyone gets home happy, exhausted, with a sense of accomplishment; however, the work isn’t over; just the opposite, it has only just begun.
First things first, as soon as your team is back in the office the whole on-site team and office team should gather in a conference room for a quick debrief and next steps. Debrief to review what went right, what when wrong, and re-align the teams in case there was any sort of miscommunication. Then figure out the next steps
Service committed prospects
Anyone committed to purchasing your product or service at the in-person event needs to be fast-tracked to the customer success team so you can wow them as quickly as possible.
It is essential to service those clients that jumped quickly at the event as news travels fast. If you can deliver a great product, with a great onboarding experience, at a great price out of the gates at an in-person event, expect the word to get out.
Do a good job, and the next time you attend an in-person event, you can anticipate being swamped with interested prospects. This was one of the factors that helped us grow and sell FatStax. If, however, you fail to deliver on your promises, then expect that word on that will get out as well.
Book demos with lagging prospects & triage the rest of the prospects
Next, we deal with the laggards, those are the folks that just needed a bit more time to think, get buy-in from their home office, or weren’t ready to commit on the fly. They need to be called and booked for online demos as soon as possible. Better yet, those meetings should have been put on their calendars prior to everyone leaving the conference by the office team.
Anyone who doesn’t have a meeting booked needs to be connected. Now, remember, don’t be like every other vendor, they will all be sending follow-up, touching base, and thank you emails.
Emails are the cockroach of the internet.
You have their cell numbers, send a text.
You’ve connected with them on LinkedIn, send a message through that channel.
Perhaps you are part of a dark social network, don’t be afraid to connect there. Remember, sales is building a web of trust, the more diverse your outreach, the more they will trust you.
Perhaps they said their preferred communication channel was via email, that should not discount you using other channels. However be cognizant of the fact that when you use email, you haven’t been given the best communication route, because everyone uses email.
The outreach is one avenue; the content is, however, king.
Remember that selfie you took at the event? While other vendors may be sending images of their booth and their products, you’ll be the only one sending your prospect a picture of them, the hero in the middle of their story. This will raise their endorphin levels (happy hormones) remembering the great time they had at the event. Through the transitive property of association, those good vibes will be associated with you, and help you stand out from the crowd.
If you want the ultimate pro-move, you can drop that image into Canva or other digital manipulation software and bling it up. Who wouldn’t be happy to get a custom image of them at a recent event?
While I’ve been doing this for years (prior to Covid), I’ve never seen anyone else do this.
The final point to remember with the laggard leads is to remind them of the incentives they have already lost by not committing at the event, and the further incentives they will lose if they don’t commit by a certain time. This does two things. It proves that you will stick by your word, “you didn’t commit at the event, you lost it, I can’t honor it.” as well it can incentivize them to act before the next incentive expires. This could backfire where prospects will wait until the next event to regain all your incentives.
Heading to in-person events is a costly affair regardless of how you slice it. Even when those events are local and free the cost of taking personnel off their usual tasks and having them distracted prospecting at an event is high. Companies that are disciplined in their approach to working an event and leverage their resources in the right way will have better event outcomes and outcompete their peers.