Q. Dear Zenagos,
I go to networking events and industry conferences to find clients for my consulting business, but I don’t feel like I get as much out of these events as I should. How can I get more out of conferences?
Preparation and practice are key. Benjamin Franklin and Winston Churchill have both been attributed with saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Heed this time-tested advice and get the most from your valuable networking time by doing some work in advance of the event.
Review the Conference List
Many conferences will provide a list of attendees prior to the event. These lists are gold! You may not be able to identify everyone who could be a potential client – you never know who knows who – but you will be able to locate some promising prospects.
Research Your Fellow Attendees
Start with the promising prospects that you identified and then research as many of your fellow attendees as you have time to investigate. Learn what you can about their companies and then write and memorize one or two open-ended questions that you can ask your prospects in order to show interest and build rapport if and when you meet them.
Set Up Meetings at the Conference
Great business-to-business (or “B2B”) salespeople network their way to the conference attendees and set up a meeting at the conference. If you can get some meetings scheduled before you even leave for the conference, you are ahead of the game. There are lots of creative ways to get the prospect’s attention. For example, your company can offer an award to a thought leader at the target company and then throw a lunch or dinner at the conference to present the award and celebrate the thought leader and the company. Some organizations will limit the amount that an employee can accept as a gift from another organization, but a lunch will often fit under the threshold.
Practice Talking about Your Company and Offering
When you are asked, “What do you do?” you need to be ready with a couple of quick sentences that explain your company and offering. If you deliver this description well, the other person will look interested, possibly leaning in toward you, and ask a question or make a fun comment. Keep practicing until you get this reaction.
Know Your “Ask”
When you do get an engaged conversation going with a prospective customer, be ready with your “ask” – the one thing that you are hoping that they will do. Obviously, you would like for them to become a paying customer (and they almost certainly know that), but don’t ask for everything all at once. Just ask for the next meeting. Each ask should add value for the prospect, so they become more engaged and become interested in the next meeting. Before you go to the event, decide what next step you can provide that adds value and have that ready as your ask.
Be a Good Listener
People buy from people they like – and few people enjoy a pushy salesperson – so instead of just pitching, take your time and show some interest in the other person’s company and offering. Use some of your prepared questions, and be genuinely curious. If the other person finds you engaging, then you will get an opportunity to describe what you do.
Communication is an imperfect art, so there is always something you can do to improve your presentation. Putting in a little time before the conference will help you to hone your skill and take advantage of your opportunities.
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