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May 8, 2017 By Jessica Felts

How to rock your next sales conference

May 8, 2017

By Jessica Felts

Read More from Jessica Felts

May 8, 2017

How to rock your next sales conference

By Jessica Felts
Product Marketing Manager

If all you’re taking away from conferences and trade shows is a swag bag, a hangover, and a stack of dead-end leads, you’re probably doing it wrong. But a change in strategy and some advanced planning can help you shake those Willy Loman blues. Before you register for South by Southwest, CES, Dreamforce or another heavy-hitter, let’s level up your conference game with these suggestions from seasoned sales professionals, including our own Director of events!

Book your room early. Find a hotel that’s no more than a short walk from the conference. “You want to be close to where the action is,” says Spyro Poulos, a long-time business development executive in the greater New York City area. That way, you can run out and meet a client for a dinner in a matter of minutes. Make your reservations too late and you risk getting stuck “on the outskirts of town at the mercy of cabs or shuttle services,” Poulos warns.

Suss out who’s attending. Make a list of people you want to connect with in person at the conference. “If appropriate, connect with them on LinkedIn in advance and suggest meeting up during a break or after the event at happy hour,” says Kelli Lampkin, a sales manager at NetSuite Oracle in Boston. Set a goal to connect with five people on your list each day of the conference, even if it’s just a quick booth-side conversation, Lampkin adds.

Listen like it’s your job. Nobody likes getting cornered by the salesperson hell-bent on delivering 10-minute monologue about how fantastic their product is. Instead, ask people what they do, what they care about and what their business challenges are. “You have to be interested to be interesting,” Lampkin says. Sales trainer and long-time keynote speaker Thom Singer agrees. “Customers do not want to be sold to,” says the Austin-based Singer, who speaks at around 60 professional conferences a year. “They want to buy from people they know and trust.” And the best way to build that rapport is to ask questions and pay attention to the responses.

Work the buddy system. Everything’s easier with a wingman or wingwoman. At happy hours, breaking the ice becomes effortless with a teammate in tow, Poulos says. Plus, you’ll have twice the interests, personality and brain trust to stoke the conversation embers, he adds. Working in tandem also can save you time at the booth, says Steve Benson, founder and CEO of the sales app Badger Maps. One person can play gatekeeper, handling the small interactions with every tire kicker who stops by, Benson says. When the gatekeeper detects an actual lead, they can pass the lead onto to their teammate for a more in-depth conversation, Benson explains.

Host an event. If your company has the budget, sponsor a happy hour or dinner for current customers and the prospects you’re wooing. “Mixing these two groups can be especially effective for shortening sales cycles,” Benson says. Invite a dozen people or several dozen ‑‑ the choice is yours. Rather than enlist someone from your team to give a brief, informal speech to your guests, have a long-time customer do it. “Nothing’s greater than having someone who’s already using your product to allay fears,” Benson explains.

Bethany Murphy, LogMeIn’s director of events, agrees that hosting an event off the trade show floor can be incredibly valuable, especially at large shows, which tend to overwhelm attendees. “In-depth conversations are difficult to have at a booth, given that attendees are usually in a rush to get to a session (or frankly, just on the hunt for swag!),” Murphy says. “I always try to incorporate a hosted event, as I have found the ROI to be much greater than the ROI from the trade show itself.”

Be memorable. You don’t have to spend a fortune to stand out. If your company doesn’t have the budget to sponsor or host a happy hour, get creative. Lampkin is a fan of interactive displays that get sales teams out from behind their booth. “At several tech conferences last year my team dressed up in inflatable sumo wrestler costumes to demonstrate how NetSuite tackles spreadsheets,” she says. “We walked around the expo floor and took selfies with our prospects and had many fun, memorable encounters.”

Get on the speaker roster. Giving a talk, sitting on a panel or leading a breakout session gives you instant visibility and credibility. Avoid delving into sales pitch territory. Instead, offer the audience your hard-won insight on the pain points you know will most resonate with them, Benson says. Only take a speaking slot if you’re a capable orator with the time to prepare. “While speaking can get you seen as the expert, doing a bad job on stage can have the opposite effect,” Singer adds.

Personalize your follow-ups. Sending a BCC group email to 500 people you shook hands with won’t help you outsell the competition. Instead, pick the 25 people you had the best conversations with and send them a handwritten note via snail mail. “Yes, it takes time to write each person a handwritten note versus a group email or text,” Singer says. “But you will be one of the only people who do that, and you will stand out from the crowd.”

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