I am lucky to attend many a procurement conference. The piles of business cards, and the expansive collection of branded grocery shopping bags in my car will attest to that.
I go to learn the content, sometimes to speak, and to meet people (and depending on the content of the conference, not necessarily in that order). In fact, defining the business goals for attending – including sponsoring or exhibiting – is essential if you want to avoid wasting your time and money at events that aren’t right for your business. The process goes something like this:
Will my customers be there?
there’s nothing more frustrating than going to an event marketed as “Special event for government contractors” and there are 2 government contracting businesses in the room. Look at past events, peruse the sponsor information, if published. Talk to the organizers. Ask your industry contacts if they think this is a good event.
Will my industry influencers be there?
Sometimes you have to see and be seen. If a preeminent industry event is happening and all your competitors are showing up and your absence would loudly proclaim that you’re not paying attention — then you better put on that suit and register before it’s all sold out. If a customer tells you that they’re putting on an event and expending effort to bring you a program, get their folks to agree to speak, those should all be good signs that your absence won’t go unnoticed.
Will my resources /vendors be there?
Some of the events may not be all about you making a sale. Sometimes, you may want to learn about trends in the industry or resources that you can use in your business. Looking for a legal pro? An event featuring attorney speakers on a particular subject matter may be a quick way to get a question answered – and perhaps a lead on a good attorney you can retain. Same thing goes for any resource you need: the people putting on events, appearing as subject matter experts tend to be well connected, and may be great resources for your business.
Will I learn something useful for my business?
You’re there to learn – so engage, participate, ask questions, take the opportunity to have a word with a speaker (or at least get their card). You can also make a good impression from the audience if you post / tweet about the event in progress, linking to the speakers’ and organizers’ Twitter handles can get you a few “likes” and “retweets” – building your name recognition and notoriety even as you’re in the audience.
Will I do “better” by exhibiting / sponsoring?
If your customers and partners are walking around and you want to get noticed, having an exhibit table is a quick way for them to find you. If you have something that catches their eye and gets them to your table – all the better. At many conferences, sponsors get advanced marketing, such as social media, print, and website recognition. Bigger events even pre-print giveaways with all the sponsor logos. Word of caution: if you do decide to exhibit or sponsor an event – make sure you’re ready. Do you have something to give away? (even a capabilities statement and some candy). Do you have a professional-looking presence? Logo, tablecloth, banner…. You don’t want to be over- or under- dressed for the occasion. If you’ve gone to an event before, you know what all the other exhibitors will have. You don’t want to look like you didn’t prepare. If you’re a first-time attendee to a particular conference, it’s perfectly fine to just attend and make a decision if it’s worth exhibiting the following year.
Here’s what NOT to do:
- Look at your phone the whole time. You’re there to meet people, right?
- Leave your business cards at home. [I keep a stash in my car for emergencies.]
- Leave early. I know you want to beat the traffic, but I can honestly tell you that government agencies that put a lot of work into the industry days and conferences – and find it disappointing that contractors who claim want to work with them dissipate from the room. I know everyone has multiple commitments; if this event / customer is a priority, commit to it.
- Forget to follow up.
- Follow up as a mass email to everyone – the best I can assume is that you weren’t paying attention when we spoke. The worst I’m going to assume is that you don’t care that much.
- Have unrealistic expectations. Read the information about the event, the speakers, the sponsors. Understand their roles and responsibilities with respect to the subject matter, and what kind of information you can learn through the agenda topics, as well as conversations you can engage in.
- Fail to read instructions and prepare. Read the registration page carefully. Review driving directions & traffic. Add the event to your calendar. If payment is required, take care of it.
- No-show. If you can’t make it, let the organizers know. They would like to have an accurate count for food orders, room capacity, and possibly waitlisted folks.
- Take it out on the registration desk. If there’s a problem, ask to speak to an organizer. the folks at the desk doing check-in probably weren’t at fault for mis-printing your name. Yelling at them is not going to get you the answer you want – but being nice to them can get you what you need.
What SHOULD you do?
- Participate – strike up conversations, invest in an exhibit opportunity if it makes sense, ask questions in the sessions, if you see a staff person struggling with a heavy object, lend a hand. There are a myriad ways to make a good impression.
- Show up on time. Early-birds: that means you, too. There are no gold stars for folks that want to register while the organizers are trying to set up. They’re even more anxious to get started than you are, promise.
- Dress professionally for the tone of the conference. Logo shirts are usually a good idea — but you may want to check to see if attire is “business” – that is, suits required.
- If you have special needs, let the organizer know in advance so that we can accommodate you to the fullest extent possible.
- Share the love on social media. Post to LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook any insights or photos. Not only will it give you content, but it will be picked up and shared by organizers and speakers! and you may get a few more followers in the process.
- Follow up with folks you want to start building relationships. Invite them to connect on LinkedIn, invite them out for coffee, ask them a follow-up question about the topic you discussed, bring up a tidbit from a conversation that shows you were genuinely interested in what they had to say.
What have you done at events you attended that made a difference in your business?